Saw-did hor­ror: How to ruin a great movie’s legacy

The Dominion Post - - Culture - JAMES CROOT

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the cin­ema for Hal­loween, noughties an­ti­hero Jig­saw is back. Seven years af­ter he last graced the screen, Tobin Bell’s vig­i­lante ‘‘moral killer’’ John Kramer ap­par­ently re­turns (or at least the move­ment he started) in the new movie Jig­saw (pre­views in se­lect cin­e­mas on Oc­to­ber 27 and 31, be­fore it opens na­tion­wide on Novem­ber 2).

Like 1980s slasher se­ries A Night­mare on Elm St, Hal­loween and Fri­day the 13th, the fran­chise went from an out­stand­ing start to ever-de­creas­ing se­quels, cul­mi­nat­ing in the truly re­pug­nant Saw 3D in 2010.

To pre­pare you for Saw‘s once seem­ingly un­likely re­turn, Stuff of­fers this guide to the se­ries so far:

Saw (2004) ★★★★1⁄2

Shot in only 18 days for about $US1.4 mil­lion (then $NZ1.95m), Mel­bourne film-school grad­u­ates James Wan and Leigh Whan­nell’s hor­ror movie was orig­i­nally in­tended to go straight to video. The de­cep­tively sim­ple premise sees two men – sur­geon Dr Lawrence Gor­don (Cary El­wes) and pho­tog­ra­pher Adam (Whan­nell) – wak­ing up to find them­selves trapped in a room with a dead body and chained to the wall by a leg iron. A dic­ta­phone in­forms them that Gor­don has only got a cer­tain num­ber of hours to mur­der Adam or Gor­don’s wife and daugh­ter will be killed.

A true cin­ema of unease, di­rec­tor Wan (who later went on to di­rect The Con­jur­ing) does a ter­rific job of al­ter­ing film speeds and play­ing with light to skil­fully keep the au­di­ence, quite lit­er­ally, in the dark.

Saw II (2005) ★★

The one in which Don­nie Wahlberg has a bad day as De­tec­tive Eric Matthews. Taunted by the Jig­saw killer, he hunts him down to his lair only the dis­cover he has kid­napped his son, along along with seven seem­ingly un­con­nected oth­ers, in a Big Brother-style house.

Like so many hor­ror se­quels, Saw II is an ex­am­ple of more be­ing less. In­stead of two in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters be­ing trapped in a room, we have eight for­get­table stereo­types run­ning around a house. In­stead of a sim­ple premise we have a con­vo­luted sce­nario in­volv­ing Matthews’ dull do­mes­tic dra­mas, pro­longed philo­soph­i­cal chats with main vil­lain and id­i­otic be­hav­iour by the house­mates.

Saw III (2006) ★★

The one where Jig­saw is in a bad way. Hav­ing sur­vived a bru­tal beat­ing in Saw II, the gar­ru­lous game-play­ing geek now faces his great­est foe – a frontal lobe tu­mour. Con­fined to his bed, his fu­ture looks bleak un­til ap­pren­tice Amanda (Shawnee Smith) suc­cess­fully abducts Dr Lynn Den­lon (Ba­har Soomekh).

Although orig­i­na­tors Whan­nell and Wan were in­volved in this script, this lacks the spark and sur­prise of the first in­stal­ment and fol­lows what now seems like a pre­dictable for­mula –gorenog­ra­phy aimed solely at the hard-core and iron-stom­ached fan base.

Saw IV (2007) ★★

The one where Jig­saw’s reign of ter­ror ap­pears over. But although he and Amanda are ap­par­ently dead, the au­topsy of his body holds a nasty sur­prise. Se­creted in his stom­ach is a cas­sette tape con­tain­ing the mes­sage that the games have just be­gun.

Four looks to serve up a po­ten­tially lunch-los­ing, open­ing de­tailed au­topsy fol­lowed by a tra­di­tional Jig­saw set-piece in­volv­ing two guys chained to one an­other. From there, you pretty much know the drill (and chains, pok­ers, saws and other tor­ture de­vices). The schiz­o­phrenic plot is kind of a hy­brid be­tween Han­ni­bal Rising, Seven (com­plete with homage to that film’s shock­ing de­noue­ment) and an R18 episode of The Amaz­ing Race.

Saw V (2008) ★★

The one where heroic po­lice de­tec­tive Mark Hoff­man’s (Costas Mandy­lor) es­cape from Jig­saw’s traps is in­ves­ti­gated by FBI spe­cial agent Peter Strahm (Scott Pat­ter­son). Hav­ing had a near fa­tal brush with a Jig­saw trap him­self, he’s con­vinced that Hoff­man may not be the good guy he pur­ports to be.

Gore-hounds will be a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed as the set-pieces in­volv­ing Heath Robin­son in­spired con­trap­tions are fewer and fur­ther be­tween as the script mixes the usual car­nage and du­bi­ous moral­ity with what is es­sen­tially a very ob­vi­ous de­tec­tive story.

Saw VI (2009) ★★

The one where Jig­saw acolyte Hoff­man at­tempts to carry out the dead se­rial killer’s last wishes. They in­volve a grue­some game where health boss Wil­liam Eas­ton (Peter Outer­bridge), who de­nied John Kramer (aka Jig­saw) cov­er­age for the ex­per­i­men­tal treat­ment he sought for his can­cer, must make life or death de­ci­sions about his col­leagues.

Self-billed as pro­vid­ing some sort of con­clu­sion, Saw VI at­tempts to fill in all the miss­ing pieces of Jig­saw/Kramer’s past. It also tries to shoe­horn in crit­i­cism of fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions who make bad lend­ing de­ci­sions and launch an all out as­sault on the health in­sur­ance sys­tem and its re­liance on for­mu­las. How­ever, un­derneath this ve­neer of top­i­cal­ity, Saw VI still pri­mar­ily aims to tit­il­late with ‘‘tor­ture porn’’.

Saw 3D (2010) ★1⁄2

The one with the high­est body count, largest num­ber of traps and big­gest bud­get. There’s no mis­tak­ing that this sev­enth in­stal­ment aimed to farewell Jig­saw and his ac­com­plices with a bang.

Orig­i­nally planned as a Harry Pot­ter/Twi­light-es­que two-parter, this sees the seem­ingly in­de­struc­tible Hoff­man at­tempt­ing to si­lence Jig­saw’s widow, Jill Tuck (Betsy Rus­sell) and self­pro­claimed Jig­saw sur­vivor Bobby Da­gen (Sean Pa­trick Flan­nery). But while the se­ries has clev­erly and ju­di­ciously steered clear of the usual sex and violence hor­ror com­bi­na­tion in the past, there are far too many fe­male vic­tims to pass with­out com­ment, rais­ing the spec­tre of misog­yny. The open­ing act in par­tic­u­lar, is a nasty piece of cleav­age-bar­ing work.

Saw III in­tro­duces the first of Jig­saw’s ap­pren­tices/acolytes.

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