Donnie Wahlberg on the horror block

STEVE TILLEY - Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:00 AM ET

Having made a lasting impression in The Sixth Sense, Donnie Wahlberg is now starring in another movie about seeing dead people. Or bits and pieces of dead people. A severed foot here, some congealing blood and brains there ...

Yeah, Saw II isn't a PG-13 thriller about Bruce Willis having afterlife issues. But Wahlberg, the former New Kids on the Block frontman, is no stranger to criticism, and he bristles at those who would call the sequel to last year's low-budget ickfest, opening in theatres Friday, a mass-market snuff film.

"I think it's entertainment. I don't have to defend it," said Wahlberg, who shot Saw II in Toronto this past summer. "I would be more critical of the people who go and remake The Fog. It's a crap movie to begin with, and now you're going to try to recycle it on kids because you think they're stupid, when they're actually smarter than we are."

Wahlberg stars as a police detective whose son (Erik Knudsen) has been kidnapped by Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), the serial killer from the first film. But instead of two guys, one room and a saw, Saw II has eight people, a house slowly filling with lethal nerve gas, and a few syringes of antidote scattered here and there, guarded by deadly traps and devious puzzles.

"Being a fan of the first one, I knew there was a real core audience for it," said Wahlberg, whose roles as a kidnapper in 1996's Ransom and a disturbed psychiatric patient in 1999's The Sixth Sense opened eyes, and doors, in Hollywood.

"If the sequel wasn't done well, it would be a problem. And I didn't want to be part of the problem," he said. "It's like growing up being a Led Zeppelin fan and you somehow find yourself doing a remake of Stairway To Heaven, and you screw it up. I didn't want to do that."

The man who helped spawn the musical demon known as the boy band invoking the name of Led Zep? Without being struck dead by lightning? How is this possible?

But Wahlberg defends NKOTB, saying that unlike the pre-fab bands that followed in their footsteps, the New Kids had genuine talent. Talent that was quickly eclipsed by fame.

"We became something bigger than anyone imagined or anyone even really desired," said Wahlberg. "With that came a lot of adulation, but also a lot of criticism."

Wahlberg's first significant post-New Kids project was helping to launch the music career of younger brother Mark, writing and producing songs for Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch's debut album, Music For the People.

"That was sort of my mastermind project, and I immediately tasted different levels of respect," he said.

The senior Wahlberg's move from music to film hasn't been as swift nor as critically hailed as his younger brother's, whose credits include Boogie Nights and The Italian Job.

But he's on something of a hot streak now, with three more films either shooting or in post-production, and work begun on a pair of TV series for Warner Bros., one of which will be loosely based on Wahlberg's childhood in Boston.

There's even been talk of having Wahlberg direct Saw III -- the film's ending definitely leaves room for another sequel -- or perhaps a New Kids on the Block reunion tour, as a way of showing critics that they were the real deal all along.

And yet: "At the end of the day it's all about self respect," Wahlberg said. "It's not really about proving anything to anyone else. In the end, it's really about proving it to yourself."


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