Originally crafted by series creator James Wan out of papier-mache, clay, and black ping-pong balls for eyes, creepy ventriloquist puppet Billy became an instant horror icon upon his debut and a long-standing mascot of sorts for the Saw series. Appearing in each and every entry in the popular franchise, Billy the puppet has played a significant part in Jigsaw’s plans. Whether it be through a monitor or on his little tricycle, Billy has acted as game master and mouthpiece for Jigsaw. As the series progressed, and its twisted timeline unraveled, Billy’s appearances sometimes served as time markers for where each film fit in the Jigsaw universe. More importantly, Billy’s role took on a deeper significance the more audiences learned about John Kramer’s transformation into Jigsaw.
The ventriloquist puppet’s protruding cheeks with red spirals painted on, black eyes with red pupils, and messy black mop of hair contributed to his menace. Yet, his red bow tie and tuxedo outfit made a deviously playful mockery of the victims he taunted. Billy is as important to the Saw series as the Jigsaw killer himself. In anticipation of Billy’s upcoming return to theaters this Halloween season, we revisit his appearances in each film.
Nothing about the first installment of this series was as instantly as iconic as the introduction to this very creepy puppet. Appearing on the TV set before Amanda Young, explaining the rules involving her reverse bear trap, was a harrowing primer for the Jigsaw killer’s unnerving tests. When Amanda successfully retrieves her key from the stomach of her cellmate, Billy rides in on his tricycle to congratulate her. What a creepy prize. Viewers then get to hear Billy’s chilling laugh during the sequence that shows Adam’s abduction prior to the events of the film, where Billy taunts him before a pig-masked figure knocks him unconscious. Billy lands one last jump scare, by catching Detective Tapp and Detective Sing unaware when they uncover Jigsaw’s latest hideout and the blankets hiding the puppet. The mysterious nature of Jigsaw and his creepy puppet at this early point of the series only furthered the demand for more.
Despite such a memorable debut, Billy’s appearances in this sequel were rather sparse. Seen at the beginning of the film, he explains the rules of Michael Mark’s test, where he reveals that Michael has 60 seconds to remove the key from behind his right eye. When Detective Eric Matthews deduces the location of Jigsaw’s hideout and enlists a SWAT team to descend upon it, Billy greets the SWAT officers trying to climb the stairs by rolling in on his tricycle. The puppet’s maniacal laugh signals a series of booby traps, killing some of the team. Once the traps are fully sprung and the carnage complete, Billy eerily rolls back to the darkness from whence he came.
During a flashback, Billy is first seen being painted by Kramer, in preparation for Amanda’s trap in the first installment. He’s featured again in another flashback, this time in the background as Kramer and Amanda discuss her loyalty toward his ideals. This ties in with the film’s major events, in which Billy relays the rules of the game for Detective Allison Kerry and Troy, two victims of traps that had no way to win or survive. With Kramer too sick to create and rig the traps himself, the trap tampering raises suspicion toward Amanda. Billy also serves as a mocking nod to Jeff Denlon’s dead son, laid haphazardly next to his tricycle in a similar position of Jeff’s son when he was killed. Finally, Billy can be glimpsed through Kramer’s heart rate monitor when Jeff kills Kramer, indicating just how intertwined Jigsaw is with his puppet while hinting that he’s no longer in control.
With most of this film following Lieutenant Daniel Rigg as the prominent game victim, Billy first appears on the TV set when Rigg regains consciousness, setting in motion a series of tests Rigg must complete within the 90-minute time-frame. The first test occurs immediately after, where Billy explains the rules and instructs the obsessed SWAT commander he should leave a chained woman behind. FBI Agents Strahm and Perez, following Rigg’s trail, find Billy in an office sitting on a chair in the dark surrounded by candles, with a tape recorder around his neck. Billy’s eyes move toward Perez and he begins whispering. Agent Perez leans in to hear what the puppet is saying, only to place herself directly in harm’s way when Billy’s face explodes. Billy’s trademark laugh begins as the agent collapses. Finally, Billy’s origin is revealed; a flashback sequence shows Kramer created a far less creepy version of Billy as a gift to his wife Jill for their unborn son Gideon. Billy’s appearance, from cute to creepy, is a direct reflection on John Kramer’s state of mind and growing darkness.
Billy’s first appearance in the fifth installment is during the opening sequence, which sees the puppet relaying the rules of the Pendulum trap to Seth Baxter, a trap that reveals to be rigged against Baxter as a means of revenge against Baxter for killing Mark Hoffman’s younger sister. During the Fatal Five tests, Billy relays the rules of each of the four different games that test those involved with an arson that took the lives of eight people. Billy’s role as gamemaster may have sounded like John Kramer, but it was actually Mark Hoffman behind it, operating with less than noble motives. In a flashback scene that expands on Kramer mentoring Hoffman, a small prototype of Billy is seen on a workbench in Kramer’s workshop.
Billy’s long history of explaining the rules of the game continues, this time beginning with the opening trap that pits two corrupt lenders against each other. Billy also handles two out of four of the tests that insurance executive William Easton undergoes. In a new twist, though, one of those two tests Billy conducts in person, hanging from a noose of barbed wire. It was a visualization of how the trap would work for William’s file clerk and secretary, forcing him to choose which one would live and which one would die.
The “official end” to the franchise meant going huge for a grand finale. Shot in 3D, the series wrapped up all various story threads, brought back forgotten characters, and included much more Billy. The opening test is introduced to its trio of victims by Billy in person this time, instead of over TV set. It’s also the first test to be played out in public. The men involved in the game opt to sacrifice the woman instead, her blood splattering across Billy upon her death. The film’s foremost victim, Bobby Dagen, is tasked with a series of tests by Billy. The instructions for each test are relayed via the trademark TV, except for Bobby’s second test, where the creepy puppet appears inside a cage in person. Hoffman’s return to his lair after escaping the reverse bear trap in Saw VI reveals multiple unused iterations of Billy, some unfinished, giving insight to how many puppets were used in Jigsaw’s intricate planning. Billy’s appearances continued to be a mirror for the Jigsaw killer, and his final appearance that shows him getting blown up in Hoffman’s destruction of the warehouse coincides with the end of the Jigsaw killer. Luckily, it wasn’t so final after all…
Details on Billy’s appearances in the film are scarce so far, but based on the trailer, it’s clear he’ll be terrorizing new victims of Jigsaw’s games on his trademark tricycle. From the shadows, it seems he may have gotten an upgrade with glowing eyes. Lionsgate has also released 5 character posters for the film; each one sporting Billy’s look with the tagline “He is everywhere.” No, that’s not creepy at all.