Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Manic Movie Month: The Saw Franchise

It feels pretty surreal that we are in 2017, just weeks away from a new "Saw" movie, but to be perfectly honest, I am not surprised at all. It has been seven years since we last heard from John Kramer (aka Jigsaw) and all his henchmen, and since the movies has evolved into this generation's answer to "Friday The 13th" and "Nightmare On Elm Street", it was probably just a matter of time before we got another installment of good old torture porn.

It all started though in 2004, with the first movie that was a very small budget film (just over 1 million dollars) directed by James Wan, who have gone to do several more big horror movie franchises like "Insidious" and "The Conjuring". With the smallest of means, James managed to create a very interesting movie that quickly became a smash hit, bringing in over 100 million dollars in the box office, which just like any other horror movie franchises, led to way, way too many sequels, and they all were made in a rapid pace.

The "Saw" movies dominated the cinema on Halloween from 2004 to 2010, but it was also quite clear that the public was getting sick of all the gore and traps. Each subsequent movie made less and less money, with the low point being the 6th movie, making only around 68 million (still a profit by 57 million though). These movies were cheap to make, and also pretty easy to come up with its story, so it is just the dream scenario of a horror franchise. Besides the movies, we also got several horror attractions, from roller coasters to mazes, and also two very shitty video games (trust me, do not play them, you are gonna get cancer).

So yeah, "Saw" has had a good run, but does the movies still hold up, and do we honestly really want an 8th movie? Well, let us discuss, here are my takes on "Saw I-VII", and my expectations for the upcoming 8th installment entitled "Jigsaw".

Oh, and there might be spoilers here, but knowing the amount of "plot" these movies have, I think you can deal with it.


The first movie is to me not a master piece by any means, but it is still a movie that is important for the evolution of horror movies, because horror is a genre that always searches for the next big thing, a new angle to make us all scared. That is why we have cycles in horror movies, because when one movie makes it big, everyone else is trying to copy the formula. That is why slashers (like "Friday The 13th", "Nightmare On Elm Street", and "Halloween") became popular in the 80's, and why home footage videos (like "The Blair Witch Project" and "Paranormal Activity") were huge in the beginning of this millennium.

While I do not think there are tons of copies of "Saw" out there, it did create its own genre branch in the horror tree, which most of us just call "Torture Porn", where a homicidal maniac kills his victims with complicated attraptions. It sounds kind of goofy, and to some part, "Saw" is just that, but I think James Wan does a great job in creating a horror villain in John Kramer (played by the excellent Tobin Bell) that has a lot of depth in him, which automatically gives the movie more depth. He believes that the world needs cleansing, and to get rid of the scum of the world, he sets them in life or death situation that they would never get in to in their everyday lives, trying to get out one of humanity's most primal instinct, the urge to survive by any means necessary.

I also love the fact that most of the main plot of the movie is focused in one room, with two guys (and a dead body) chained to each side of it. We get to follow their struggles, trying to asset the situation they have gotten themselves into, and ultimately figuring out how to escape. The movies takes its sweet time, never rushing past any details, and while some things are kind of far fetched, I think most parts of the movie feels believable. We also get to follow two police officer's race against the clock to catch the Jigsaw killer, and those parts are pretty good too, but it is kind of distracting that one of them are Danny Glover, also known as Roger Murtaugh in the "Lethal Weapon" movies. Apparently, he is still on duty, despite saying "I am too old for this shit" 23 years before this movie's release.

"Now THAT is a lethal weapon"
And let us also not forget the fantastic plot twist, which definitely is gonna turn some heads around. Obviously, I am not gonna spoil that, but it is a pretty satisfying ending that caps off a very good horror movie that deserves its stamp as a modern classic. You just have to be impressed by what these guys were able to make with the limited supply they had, and that they got success from it. If you haven't checked it out already, give it a shot.

Rating: 8,5/10

Saw II

So just one year after the release of the original movie, we get a rushed sequel that had a bigger budget, and bigger expectations. Now that most horror fans knew of the franchise, they went in for more juicy traps.

The second movie is a lot different from the first one, but it still focuses on the same things, how people react to these horrifying situations and how they try to solve the problems they are facing. The biggest difference is that we get to see it from two points of views, with the group of people being trapped of course, but also from the perspective of both Jigsaw and Eric Matthews, whom got a message from Jigsaw that was left from one of his previous victims. Turns out he is the next victim to be put to test, watching his son together with a lit of criminals in a house filled with traps.

I have to admit that I like the set up, and just like in the first movie, it pays off in the end, but instead of getting one room with two people, we get a full house with 8 different characters. It does give us some new dynamics to the movie, but I felt that the intimacy and small scale was the very strength of the first movie, so why take that away and replace it with more characters that are not as fleshed out. Actually, most of these guys are actually out right stupid.

Speaking of stupid, the plan that Jigsaw has for this particular game is incredibly reliant on a ton of factors, and if even one of them goes wrong, then the kid died for nothing. I am sorry, I just cannot believe that Jigsaw has taken everything into consideration, and that he knew exactly what would happen. He may be a psychological mastermind, but he is not Nostradamus, he cannot predict everything.

So yeah, the second movie has flaws, and some of the acting is just silly, but there are some good things in here, and once again, I like the core idea of this story. I have no problem going through this one, especially knowing what came after it...

Rating: 6,5/10


This is the movie that James Wan should have said "Alright, we are done here, no more "Saw" movies from here on out", and it certainly looked like they intended it to be the very last in the series.

It all focuses on the mortality of Jigsaw, and how his legacy should continue on. While facing death through cancer, Jigsaw takes on the mentor role for Amanda (played by Shawnee Smith, who is most famous for various sitcoms), one of his previous victims who survived. But while Jigsaw does this to save man and give them a chance to atone for their sins, Amanda has a more cynical sight of things, seeing it as a mean to eliminate evil, without any chance of redemption (in other words, straight up murder).

It all leads to a main story where a man named Jeff Denlon goes through a series of test to let go of his vengeance for the murderer of his son, while in the mean time his wife is tasked with keeping Jigsaw alive. This sort of set up is the most common one from here on out, and I just gotta say that I hate it. I kind of get what they are trying to go for, following one main character's path to salvation, but all of the tests he is going through directly affects whether other people survive or not, the victim's victims have no control at all. And like that was not enough, there is no real consequences of letting these side characters die from the traps, which simply does not make sense.

Despite the dumb set up, I do kind of like this movie more than the second one. It has a lot more emotional depth to it, and the relationship between Amanda and Jigsaw is really interesting to follow, as is also seeing both of their point of views on these tests. It does make for a movie that is split in two, going back and forth all the time, which is not the smoothest ride to say the least, but the acting is not half bad, and we do get some memorable moments here and there. Not a brilliant movie by any means, but it is a fitting ending to the trilogy. Unfortunately, it was not the end of the series...

Rating: 7/10

Saw IV

From here on out, the movies just takes a big tumble, becoming a shallow, confusing, flashback filled gore fest that is doing its all to make the Halloween deadline each year. Just the fact that Jigsaw is physically dead is a clear sign that these movies had no chance to get any positive recognition, and it really does not help that the man who replaces him, detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), has the charisma of a brick. Seriously, I never really saw John Kramer as an amazing horror villain, but you did understand his motives and thoughts. Hoffman is just as grey as there is, he is simply awful.

This is MY franchise now
And the story for the fourth movie is not too good either, that focuses on another detective that goes through the same procedure as the main victim in the last movie, trying to save people from their personal traps while also continuing his investigation. That is probably the best I can describe this movie, because it is confusing as hell, leading to yet another ending twist, only this time it is pretty predictable and dull.

This is ultimately a very forgettable movie, probably the one I remember the least from watching the whole series about three years ago. The characters are bland, the story is dumb, and it has very little original content when compared to the previous three installments. The only positive thing I can say about it is that it has some memorable traps, like the first one where two people are chained in the middle of a room, one with its eyes sewn shut, and the other its mouth done the same. It is a creepy scene that does not really have anything to do with the plot, other than just showing off an innovative trap. Its maybe for the best...

Yeah, I have nothing more to write about this one, move along.

Rating: 4,5/10

Saw V

The fifth movie is... kind of an odd one in the series, because it seems like the traps are put in as a side plot, while  the main story is Hoffman playing cat and mouse with other detectives who are on to him. I cannot remember the last time I actually wanted the main man to be captured, even killed, but spoiler alert, Hoffman survives. Just my luck.

It is kind of a shame, because I really like the thing they were going for with this movie's victims. Five people are captured and are asked to "do the opposite of your instincts". They are all faced with a new challenge with every room they enter, and while each trap is not very unique in any kind of way, it all leads up to a very good ending that might not be too hard to figure out, but is still impressive nonetheless.

It sucks though that the other half of the movie is fairly uninteresting, and while the ending is not too shabby, the lead up to it is just not good enough. Once again, Hoffman is just a bore, and all of the new information that comes to the viewer only helps enhancing the confusion. I know that I sound like a psychopath, but get back to the god damn killings already, I do not care about this disgrace of a successor.

So yeah, there is really only one grade that I feel is fitting for this incredibly torn apart movie.

Rating: 5/10

Saw VI

Despite being just another bad movie in this series, I have to say that the sixth movie is quite memorable, and for several reasons actually.

One of those reasons is an old MTV show called "Scream Queens", a reality show where a bunch of aspiring actresses competed in various challenges to win a role in this movie. It is just like any other reality show on the market, but I do have to admit that it was kind of fun to follow, seeing the girls getting scared to death in every episode, and act in various different horror scenarios. And while the winner, Tanedra Howard, did not get the biggest role in the movie, she still had a good impact in the movie, and she did star in what I consider to be one of the most memorable traps in the series. She did a good job, which ultimately gave her a spot in the seventh movie too.

I also believe this is the only movie that captured the "one guy trying to save several other victims" set up actually works fairly well, with an insurance executive named William Easton is going through all these traps making tough choices, affecting all of his co-workers. Close to all of the traps are also very cool and inventive, making it the strongest trap line up in the series. The carousel trap is probably the most iconic trap of the series (besides the reverse bear trap, which is seen in almost every movie).

But the most memorable part of this movie is the ending, where the wife and son to a man that he denied insurance coverage gets to chose whether William lives or dies. I am not gonna spoil this one, but believe me when I say that your reaction will either be WTF or LMAO. Mine was LMAO, with a little bit of ROF on the side.

Still, this is a movie that continues the confusing story line that the previous two movies have gone through, and it is just tiring to watch, and to talk about, so let us just get over with the rating, and go to the last on of the now existing movies.

Rating: 6/10

Saw 3D

So it all came to this, and I just have to say that I was utterly disappointed with this movie, and I had extremely low expectations to begin with.

Let's start with the positive, the opening trap, a glass box out in the public where two men are strapped to a table and a woman to a ceiling, is a good start, and had a satisfying conclusion (that bitch had it coming!). I also like the ending, which did tie up most threads, all the way to the very first movie. What more... The 3D angle is kind of neat? Oh, and Chester Bennington is playing a nazi, that is... something.

He tried so hard, and got so far...
Okay, to the bad parts, and trust me, there are a lot of it.

First off, the main victim, Bobby Dagen, is a jerk, it is a guy that I just cannot root for. He writes a book of how he overcame a Jigsaw trap, making easy money off of it, there is no question that dick deserved to be tested thoroughly. But as bad as he is, he looks like Jesus compared to what I consider to be one of the dumbest movie characters ever. The first person he has to save has a fish hook and line going through her esophagus, which he has to fish up. All she has to do is to stay still and quiet, and she just can't do that. She had one fucking job, and she could not do it! I think Bobby said it best after she died, "WHY WOULDN'T YOU JUST SHUT THE FUCK UP? YOU JUST NEEDED TO SHUT UP!"

Then we have the traps, that are extremely bland and forgettable, and are also going by that old, tired trope "Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil". You know, the thing with the three monkeys covering ears, eyes, and mouth. Especially the "see no evil" is dumb as hell, and it shows just how rushed the movie is. It tries to play in real time, giving the victim a minute to go through the peril, but that whole scene is obviously longer than a minute. God, I freaking hate that scene.

There are even more wrong things with this movie, including the acting, the pacing, and just the dumb story itself. All of this makes "Saw 3D" the clear cut worst movie of the series, and that is saying something. This series has had a lot of ups and downs, but as soon as they started churning out these movies to come out every Halloween, it was pretty clear that the story would be more washed out for every movie. Did it tie up everything in the end? Not really, and frankly, I do not really care, this is just an awful movie that should not have been conceived. Thank god they stopped temporarily after this one.

Rating: 3,5/10

My expectations of Jigsaw

Seven years have gone since the last movie, so I am hoping to god that we at the very least get a decent story, one that the writers have had long discussions about how to improve it further. I am not asking for much, I just want characters that are not shallow shells of human beings, a story that makes sense, and acting that feels somewhat believable. The traps have to be inventive as well, but I am sure they have had time to figure those out (those sick fucks).

After all, this is a horror franchise, so one should not go into a cinema expecting a new "Godfather" or anything like that. As long as it is disturbing and kind of gross, I think it can build some momentum to make others go watch it. After all, it is Halloween, and I do not think there are any other movie that could stand a chance against this juggernaut of a franchise. The followers are still there, and this movie will make buck, I guarantee it.

So, am I going to watch it? I am undecided for now, because while I am intrigued by the whole concept of "Saw" and have seen each of the movies, I only go to the cinema when I think the movie is gonna be a slam dunk, a must watch film. That is why I saw "It", because I knew it would make the original Stephen King book justice. I also saw the new Spiderman movie earlier this year because I loved Spiderman on "Civil War", and I knew it would be a fun superhero movie. With "Jigsaw", I kind of know what I am gonna get, but I do not know what quality it will have. I will watch it eventually, but I can wait.

Ultimately, I just hope that they do not make another 6 movies after this one, and that we do not have to dig up the old tag line "If it's Halloween, it must be Saw".

Stay metal!
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

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