It’s Halloween 2020, and my first October 31st at home in 25 years. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, and the time is right. I’m watching the entire Saw franchise in one day. The eight films total just about 13 hours, so I better get started. Let the game begin!
In the classic original, Adam and Dr. Gordon find themselves locked in a warehouse, chained to thick pipes. They don’t know why they’re there, but they have clues…and saws.
We’re introduced to the Jigsaw Killer, the cancer patient who kidnaps people that take their lives for granted (with the help of dedicated disciples) and puts them in traps to test their willingness to do horrible things to survive. It sets the precedent of absolutely gut-wrenching scenes and twist after twist. I’ve seen this one quite a few times, so it doesn’t shock me anymore (plus the deaths are fairly mild compared to the later films), but I still admire the writing and direction. I miss Team Wan-nell.
Most memorable trap: The reverse bear trap. Amanda wakes up with a contraption on her face that will explode if she doesn’t get the key, which is currently lodged in a dude’s stomach.
Favorite quote: Dr. Gordon–“He doesn’t want us to cut through our chains. He wants us to cut through our feet!”
Saw II (2005)
Seven seemingly unrelated people (including Amanda from the previous movie) wake up in a decrepit house. They’re being slowly poisoned by nerve gas and need to find the antidote. Meanwhile a team of law enforcement officials have cornered John the Jigsaw Killer, who taunts them while they try to free his captives.
James Wan steps down from directorial duties (Darren Lynn Bousman takes over), but Leigh Whannell still retains writing credits (along with Bousman). As can be expected for a sequel, the gore ante is upped, and we open right with a trap. We also get more backstory on Jigsaw. It may not have the element of surprise the first one possessed, but it’s a solid sequel.
Most memorable trap: The hand trap. Addison puts her hands through two holes to reach for an antidote, and her wrists are held in place by blades.
Favorite quote: John–“Oh yes, there will be blood.”
Saw III (2006)
Jeff, a man embittered by the hit and run death of his son is faced with the people responsible for letting it happen. Meanwhile, Lynn, a doctor, is tasked against her will with keeping an increasingly sickly John alive. Further meanwhile, the surviving members of the previous films’ law enforcement team are still at work hunting for Jigsaw. In addition, we meet John’s wife Jill.
Bousman returns to direct, with Whannell writing and Wan contributing to the story and producing. It’s actually a pretty clever premise. The franchise is striking in its promotion of embracing life, forgiveness, and working together. Brute force and selfishness are never the answer. Not bad, as far as third movies go. The timeline and logic of the series is consistent.
Most memorable trap: The rack. The hit and run driver is crucified on a contraption that slowly turns and crushes his limbs.
Favorite quote: Lynn–“There’s no preventative treatment for what you have.” John–“I remember you saying that to me once before in almost the exact same tone. Leave it to a doctor to find such a cold, clinical way of saying I’m a dead man walking. Looking at me, how long would you say I have left?” Lynn–“I’d have to examine you. Even then, a frontal lobe tumor is unpredictable. The growth depends on the rate of mitosis versus apoptosis and–” John–“I’m sorry, but is all this crude medical equipment around me causing you to believe that you’re still inside a hospital?” Lynn–“No.” John –“Then why are you speaking to me in that graduate school medical jargon? LOOK AT ME! Now you’re looking.”
Saw IV (2007)
SWAT Commander Rigg, first introduced in Saw II, is the main focus. Jigsaw is punishing him for being obsessive about the case (a cardinal sin in the Saw franchise is being a workaholic, worse than being a murderer, really), and has set before him a series of tests. Meanwhile, the FBI is getting involved, and Jill is a person of interest.
Bousman directs for the last time. Team Wan-nell are executive producers, but writing credit goes to Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. It opens with an extremely gory autopsy then moves to a trap. I’m feeling a bit desensitized. The traps are always varied and fiendishly inventive, but the storyline is starting to feel repetitive. However, this one is interesting in that it moves away from the small space setting and involves more of an element of choice.
Most memorable trap: The scalping seat. A woman is strapped to a chair with her hair ensnared in rotating gears.
Favorite quote: [Rigg tells his wife Tracy that he can’t go with her to help her mother] Tracy–“You won’t. What you can’t do is save everyone.”
Saw V (2008)
Going back to the group-of-people-trapped format, five folks who according to Jigsaw have abused privileges they were born with, are forced to play a game. As per usual, the investigators on the case are drawn in as well.
David Hackl takes over directing from Darren Lynn Bousman, while Melton and Dunstan return to write. Team Wan-nell still retain executive producer credits. The quality of the writing, which up until this point was pretty smart or at least coherent, is starting to drop. For example the newspaper headline “Boyfriend Kills Detective’s Sister” is an awfully lazy way to provide exposition, especially since in the next scene said detective tells his coworker the story after they come across said boyfriend’s corpse. “Looks like justice was served,” observes the coworker pleasantly with no suspicion whatsoever. However, I’m still impressed at how seamlessly Jigsaw’s proteges are retconned into the storyline, going back even to the first movie. And despite how unvarying the plot is, the twists are still pretty unpredictable.
Most memorable trap: The necktie trap. The five strangers are locked in place with a noose that strangles them if any of them steps forward–but the keys to the trap are in a glass box on the other side of the room, so they have to take turns running to get their individual keys. (And no, it doesn’t occur to any of them to try sharing one key.)
Favorite quote: Jigsaw–“If you’re good at anticipating the human mind, it leaves nothing to chance.” (Yet another, more depressing, theme of the franchise–people are predictable in their self-serving attitudes.)
Saw VI (2009)
Returning to the character-being-tested formula, this time we have William, the CEO of an insurance company being forced to make decisions and learning lessons regarding his notions of the worth of human lives, namely that of his staff. Meanwhile, law enforcement officials are still gamely trying to solve the mystery of the Jigsaw killer.
Kevin Greutert takes the reins as director, and Team Meltstan returns to write. Wan and Whannell are still credited as executive producers. This one comes across as a bit preachier and heavy-handed than the previous films (I kid you not, William keeps a tank of pirahna fish in his office), but its message that people are humans and not numbers is worthwhile. It’s pretty decent for a fifth sequel.
Most memorable trap: The carousel. William is faced with six employees, and he can save two, but only by incurring injuries to himself.
Favorite quote: Dave and Shelby are trying to convince William to spare them on the carousel: Shelby–“Mr. Easton, Mr. Easton, my parents are sick, okay, they need me, I’m all they have.” Dave–“You’re fucking lying! Your parents hate you! They cut you off!” Shelby–“What? Shut up! That’s not true!” Dave–“Fuck you! It is true, I sit next to you!”
Saw: The Final Chapter AKA Saw3D (2010)
The survivors of Jigsaw’s traps come together to form the world’s most hardcore support group. They’re led by the charismatic Bobby, who has completely fabricated a tale of escaping Jigsaw in order to sell books. Which naturally gets him in a heap of trouble with John. Meanwhile, the investigation of the murders continues to limp along.
Greutert and Team Meltstan return to direct/write, ditto for Team Wan-nell as executive producers. This one is leaning toward cheesy, and not just because it’s 3D. Some of the survivors in the support group are from the actual movies, but some are just made up for this one, which is a cheat since over the last six movies we’ve exhaustively seen Jigsaw’s every move. (Not to mention that a “growing number” of escapees, as reported by the news, ruins the concept of how difficult it is to actually win any of Jigsaw’s games.) The rationale behind the selection of victims playing the game is starting to unravel, too, with a bunch of randos unrelated to the main story thrown in. In addition, one character goes on a killing spree, and the body count climbs gratuitously high. The people who are relevant to the plot didn’t really do anything that bad. A phony self-help guru and his squad aren’t technically hurting anybody. It’s not like they’re workaholics. Aaaaand while I’m griping, the new lead cop on the case, Gibson, is the most bland, vanilla, forgettable character in the franchise. Do I care if he ends up in a trap? I do not. I won’t even notice he’s gone. I had to grudgingly admire the ending though.
Most memorable trap: The public execution trap. This one takes place in a store window, in a highly visible area with dozens of witnesses; two men and a woman, all part of a love triangle, are each chained to a buzzsaw and forced to choose who gets sawn in half.
Favorite quote: Dr. Gordon, patronizingly, to Bobby–“Bravo! To be able to sustain such a traumatic experience and uh…and yet find a positive in that grisly act. It’s a remarkable feat [heh heh feet], indeed…if not a little perverse.”
We start completely fresh with a brand new cast (aside from Tobin Bell returning as Jigsaw–what a trooper): a group of five game-players and new law enforcement officials.
Team Wan-nell still have credit as producers, but direction has been taken over by Michael and Peter Spierig, with writing by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger. I tried, but I couldn’t really care much about all these unfamiliar faces, even if some of them are loosely tied to Jigsaw’s family and shoehorned into the storyline. The traps are disappointing and derivative, for the most part. The series really should have ended with 3D. Welp, at least they didn’t put him in space.
Most memorable trap: The grain silo trap. Mitch and Anna are buried shoulder deep in grain, then assailed by falling sharp objects.
Favorite quote: [Eleanor is about to perform an autopsy on a Jigsaw victim with a bucket on his head]–“He looks a little ‘pail.’ “
Well, I made it. So much for the Saw movies, at least until next year when it gets a shiny new take on the franchise starring Chris Rock. Darren Lynn Bousman directs, with writing by Team Stol-finger and production by Team Wan-nell (and Chris Rock too). I am grudgingly curious. See ya then, and happy Halloween!