In light of the 10th anniversary, I thought it was a good idea to explore the horror masterpiece that is, Saw & talk about how it's legacy has been dragged down the toilet by SIX sequels.
The first time I ever SAW (see what I did there? Sorry, I'll go home) Saw, I very nearly turned inside out from how much I shit myself with surprise. It was striking, highly original, genuinely tense, subtle, creepy and most importantly, kept my attention.
Unfortunately, that shocking feeling has worn off annoyingly fast because due to the mostly abysmal sequels, the mystery has been completely shattered. Now I should warn that as I continue, there will be spoilers, so if you haven't seen all of the Saw films, I recommend either stopping after Saw 1 and enjoy the finer things in life or waiting 'til you've seen the rest and come back and read this!
The beauty of Saw 1 for me is the fact it's subtle and genius idea. Originally a short film created by college buddies, James Wan & Leigh Whannell, it was such an impressive idea that it aided them in completing a feature length cop thriller of the same plot and title that incorporated the gritty, horrific atmosphere of a horror. The main premise of the short film was expanded for the full length film and included the trap pictured above, which is described as a reverse bear trap. - Here is the original short film.
With that cracking idea, they made one of my all time favourites; It had a stellar cast including Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell himself & the relatively ageless, Danny Glover and it oozed intensity right from the start. There's no hanging around or build up to the madness, the film begins immediately with two men locked in a room, each chained to a pipe at either sides of the room, armed with hacksaws and in the middle of this bathroom lies the corpse of a man who just blew his brains out with a magnum, and he's holding a tape recorder. They're victims of a serial killer known as "Jigsaw", who engineers death-traps that can only be escaped through punishment.
Already you're hooked and wondering just what the fuck is going to happen, it's truly terrific, a lot of horror these days will have something crazy at the start and then boring, non-atmospheric build up for 20 minutes before it gets back into anything. This goes for the jugular immediately. Unlike the sequels, this isn't a torture-porn fest that comes up with the most over the top and ridiculous ways to kill someone and have excessive gore; really it's not even THAT much of a horror, it has more of a SE7EN atmosphere to it - a gritty crime thriller that is chocked full of twists and turns with horrific happenings throughout.
Pretty much all the traps in this are only shown through the aftermath of what happened, the other films lingered on them for as long as possible, which as a separate film, would have been terrific! But it just didn't fit the atmosphere for this. Like SE7EN, the police arrive at the horrendous crime scene and through strobe flashes of the actual death and forensic evidence, we see what happens. The other films just show you the entire, badly acted, annoyingly edited outcomes and then you're just waiting for the next one, cause the stories are so head meltingly uninteresting!
What I also loved was how plausible it was; each of these traps looked like they could have been assembled by someone or even just set up. Two men tied to a pipe and given hacksaws to cut through their feet as the only means of escape? That's brutal and grim and completely possible to set up! A room that is blocked off by heaps of razor blades and you need to crawl through it to escape? Horrible, possible, inventive! Saw IV though? A fucking machine that requires you to blind yourself with button powered miniature knives or your arms and legs will be pulled off by another machine... set up in a hotel... don't make me laugh. Even worse is Saw V that has a fucking pendulum torture, it lowers every few seconds getting close enough to cut you and want to know the only way to shut it off? Breaking your hands in two vice grips... It's just so... SO stupid.
Just look at the difference in style, quality and atmosphere between the two:
The Razor Wire Maze from Saw
The Pendulum Trap from Saw V
Now I'm happy to give credit where credit is due, these sequels were outstanding for their gory special effects; graphic and over the top, but very impressive and worked excellently with the horror universe. It just doesn't fit with the Saw universe. It's like the Die Hard films, the first is a full blown masterpiece (Second and third are superb also) but A Good Day To Die Hard is one of the most painfully bad films in years, a steaming mountain of shit. It's a daft story sure, but it could potentially work for an unconnected b-movie actioner, what makes it so sickening, it the fact that it's Die Hard. It takes place in a stupid universe where John McClane is basically a parody of himself. It has absolutely NO place in the franchise.
Which brings me to my solution to fixing the Saw franchise, though it's too far gone... Leave the first Saw as is, a stand alone mystery thriller that ends then and there, but from Saw II onwards, change the name of that series to "Puzzle" or something of that nature, like a b-movie rip off of Saw, but has tremendous gore and potential to entertain. Setting all these films in the same universe as the first Saw is just ridiculous. I don't care what anyone says, no engineer can set up half the shit Jigsaw and his crew from the other films set up! They became needlessly convoluted and over the top, with these gigantic lairs that have a trap around every corner. However, if you set them in their own universe, it can be a fun, silly, gore-soaked horror-fest without pissing on something great!
I do however, want to give plaudits to Saw II, despite not being near as good as the first,it's a solid horror film, even with the sequels. A genuine mystery, a great twist (again, not as good as the first) and has some truly visceral moments that can make any horror fan wince, for example; being thrown into a pit of needles. Sure it was the start of a downward spiral into the worst of the worst, Saw VII 3D, but it earns it's place in the books as a great horror. Saw 3D though, yeesh, any fucking excuse to have shit flying at the camera in some way and brings the story to a whole new level of far-fetched bullshit. Saw IV was good too, went back to the cop thriller roots and managed to have some gore, even though those scenes were dumb as shit. They all lacked the raw realism of the first.
The sequels each tried to have an ultra shocking and revealing montage at the end in the hopes of rocketing people into the sky from a powerful blast of unexpected shit, but alas, none of them manage to ever do so. Each ending just makes you go "Really? For fuck sake...". The first Saw however, will make you reach Uranus (there was no way I wasn't going to use that pun) and what better way to finish here than to watch the climactic and chilling ending right now!
The most horrific bit of this of course is the fact Adam is just left there, screaming as the credits roll, it's such a hopeless ending and a rare occasion where the bad guy wins, which is just amazing for horror! Also ends with the haunting "Game over!" that every film tried to replicate and made a balls of.
If you're a fan of all the Saw films then fair enough! I don't hold it against anyone cause they always deliver on practical gore, I'm just saying that especially in comparison, they're absolutely piss poor compared to the first! Saw 3D doesn't count though... there's no saving that one... Saw returns to cinemas across the US for it's 10th anniversary on Halloween, shame there's no Irish screenings, it'd look terrific on the big screen now!
Cheers for reading! Hope you enjoyed!