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