Before I got married, a bunch of my friends threw me a bachelor party. It must have been a great one, because I don't remember much about it, including some Polaroids of me & the guys standing with drinks-in-hand and our dorks hanging out. One asshole co-worker (who wasn’t even invited) decided to pass them around at work the next day. It was one of the more humiliating experiences of my adult life, especially after receiving a few comments like, "Hey, Dave, was it cold in your apartment? Haw-Haw-Haw!"
Anyway, there was a lot of liquor & drugs at this party but no women (probably a good thing). None of us had money falling out of our asses back then, so rather than strippers, my best man brought a stack of VHS porn videos from his own collection. They pretty-much played non-stop that night...at least until everyone was too wasted to change the tapes.
I haven’t watched any porn since that night, so I couldn’t tell you what it’s like in this day & age of downloading anything your sick mind can think of. But back then, some of the movies had “plots,” so to speak; threadbare - almost pointless - stories which did little more than pad out the running time in-between endless sex scenes. I would imagine, since the advent of DVD, when you can simply skip to the good parts, the job of an adult film “screenwriter” is as thankless as being a bass player for Metallica.
But whether or not you are a fan of adult films, you have to admit that the genre, no matter how artful, acrobatic or amatuerish, nearly always delivers what they promise. In that sense, porn is a lot like McDonald’s. No, you aren’t going to get fine cuisine, nor are you ever going discuss with others the succulence of the Quarter Pounder you grabbed from the drive-thru two weeks ago. And if you absolutely love Quarter Pounders, there isn’t a single McDonald’s on the entire planet that cannot provide you with another one which tastes exactly the same. Like porn, McDonald’s is a safe investment, because you know what you’re gonna get.
Porn stars may come and go, but the industry carries on, providing the same erotic entertainment for bachelor parties, sex addicts, voyeurs and lonely guys since time began. McDonald’s employees may come and go, but the franchise keeps pumping out the same quick, convenient and somewhat-edible burgers since Ray Kroc built it into franchise starting in 1954.
In a way, the Saw franchise, a horror film series which started in 2004, is just like porn and McDonald’s. It has since become a brand-name itself, mainly by stripping-away any initial pretences and giving viewers exactly what they want.
The original Saw is similar in tone and intensity to Seven, in which there is a serial killer who goes to extreme measures to make his morally-questionable victims see the errors of their ways. But unlike Seven, Jigsaw himself doesn’t kill anyone outright, nor does he attack the innocent. Every victim has a dark secret. He targets drug-addicts, sleazy opportunists and heartless bureaucrats who either don’t appreciate the life given to them, or care how their actions affect others. Jigsaw then places them in elaborate, painful and potentially lethal traps through which they must take extreme measures in order to survive. The traps themselves reflect the immorality of their own lives, the most famous being a reverse-bear-trap attached to a young addict’s head, and she must cut-open someone else to retrieve the key which will unlock the trap.
For the first two movies at least, the concept of forcing the morally-questionable to partake in these twisted games makes Jigsaw a not-entirely-unsympathetic antagonist. In a morbid way, we can sort-of understand his motives.
But of course, the primary appeal of the Saw films is similar to porn. Yes, there is a story, so to speak, but the lethal mechanical traps by which the victims live or die is what draws audiences. There was an actual plot to Deep Throat, too, but it was still just a hard-core sex film. We didn’t really care about Linda Lovelace‘s sexual peculiarities. Nor do we ultimately care about Jigsaw’s agenda.
Subsequent Saw sequels took this and ran with it, to the point where, beginning with Saw III, even people who don’t deserve an agonizing death meet horrible fates. By now, any creativity from the filmmakers was geared more toward devising clever traps to amp up the gore.
Jigsaw himself dies in Saw III, but there are seven films in the series, and through sometimes-genius, sometimes-ridiculous developments, the increasingly-elaborate torture continues. In fact, traps in later movies are such engineering monstrosities that the viewer knows they couldn’t possibly be constructed within the time frame established, let-alone by one individual. But plausibility ceased to be a factor long before the franchise played itself out. Despite all of the myriad plot-twists & flashbacks attempting to, not only explain how Jigsaw could continue to kill, but influence others to do his work, the bottom line is that those responsible for these films know most viewers simply want to see how creatively someone can be killed.
Remember the old Road Runner cartoons, where Wile E. Coyote tries to come up with creative ways to kill his prey, only it never works out in his favor? The Saw movies are kind-of like that, except Wile E. Coyote’s traps never work and Jigsaw’s always do. We know Wile E. Coyote will fail...the amusing part is seeing how creatively he fails. Dozens of Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons were made in the 40s, 50s and 60s. They may have different titles, but all have the exact same plot, and even a die-hard Looney Tunes fan would have trouble citing which gag appeared in which title. Similarly, the Saw films are virtually interchangeable, and only a real die hard could accurately tell you which traps appear in which movies.
I have all seven Saw movies on DVD, and I watch them back-to-back about once a year. Not because they are masterpieces. I like them because of their purity of purpose. Like porn, McDonald’s and Road Runner cartoons, you know exactly what you’re gonna get with a Saw movie. In fact, when I truck out my discs, I simply start with whatever film is at the top of the stack and work my way down; seeing them in sequence is not really necessary. Do you really think there is a guy alive who ever refused to watch Behind the Green Door 2 because they hadn’t seen the original first? As a horror fan, as much as I hate to admit, sometimes I just like watching people die, just like porn fans like watching other people fornicate.
Which is why the Saw series is arguably the greatest movie franchise of all time. Unlike Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Alien, James Bond, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Lethal Weapon or The Godfather (all of which had one-or-more shitty sequels), we walk away from every Saw film thinking the exact same thing...“Wow, that was really fucking gross.” The films promise nasty-ass death, and deliver every single time. As a gorehound, you could randomly select any of the Saw films and, despite all of the intrusive plot points, be satisfied with your choice. Even then, those plot points could be considered the pickles you pick off of your Quarter Pounder; you’ll still love the burger and not miss the pickles.
It’s this unwavering cruel streak in every film which arguably makes Saw such a consistent franchise. These movies are not works of art, but at the same time, they never raised fan expectations on the level of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, two movies so polarizing that entire websites are dedicated to fans’ hatred of them. You don’t see any websites spewing their hatred of Saw V or Saw VI, because they are essentially the same movie. In fact, if you are truly a Saw fan, choosing one film over another is almost an exercise in hypocrisy. Saying you hate one film is like saying you hate them all, at least if you’re being truly honest about why you enjoy such sadistic entertainment in the first place.