Back in 2004, the first Saw was released. I was nine-years old. A year or so later, hosting a sleepover with two school mates, my mum allowed us to rent the 18-rated DVD from Blockbusters. Sue isn’t a bad mum. In fact, she’s ace. But was it appropriate to let primary school kids watch a bloke hack off his ankle in an abandoned warehouse? Come off it, ma.
The boys were picked up by their parents at around 3am. But I was hooked. Proper. Back then, the film was original. Critics weren’t so into the red herrings, twists, and life or death (mostly death) events of serial killer Jigsaw’s game, but it smashed the box office and won over a legion of horror fans. Adrenaline junkies weren’t left out either. SAW – The Ride at Thorpe Park is well scary.
Unlike gorefest horrors before it – Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Cabin Fever, Wrong Turn – Saw didn’t rely on inbred vultures hunting down packs of teens post-graduation. Its message was brutally clear from the off: survive “the game” and you will be rehabilitated for your sins. Spurred by Jigsaw AKA John Kramer’s terminal cancer, he’d cherry-pick people who he felt didn’t appreciate life. Drug addicts, coppers, a dealer, a moody teen and more were all victims of his gory crusade.
Alas, like most good franchises, after the third film, it became a dusty regurgitation of a same-ol’ story, relying on shock-but-not-that-shock tactics and dark-web-level torture porn. Today, a ninth film joins the sickly Saw franchise, Spiral: From The Book Of Saw. The reboot is fronted by funnyman Chris Rock (who, er, wanted to branch out into horror) and follows police trying to stop a Jigsaw copycat killer. But after 16-years of Saw, do we need it? Do we care?
To prepare for its release, I did what any sane, level-headed horror fan would do: watched all eight Saw films in 24 hours. Here, I present my very serious and scientific findings, rating the films from best to worst, and reporting on what it did to my ’ed. Bloody hell.
Ah, where it all began. “My name is I’m fucking confused, what’s your name?,” asks Adam Stanheight, one of two men waking up in a derelict building, chained to a drainpipe by their ankles. He’s accompanied by Dr. Lawrence, who is told by a groany 40-a-day-type voice, “Everyday of your waking life, you’ve given people the news that they’re going to die soon.” That voice would be later known as John Kramer AKA Jigsaw. Bam. Story is set.
Once Adam finds a bag containing two hacksaws, it becomes blindingly obvious what’s about to happen. We don’t have to spell it out for you, but we will: Dr. Lawrence takes a saw, ties his shirt around his ankle, and cuts through deep enough that he loses a foot. Pretty shocking stuff.
What’s it done to my head? Brilliant. Brought me right back to that sleepover. Good times.
Saw II (2005)
Director James Wan passes the blood-soaked baton to Darren Lynn Bousman for the second instalment of Saw, opening with police informant Michael Marks awaking in a room with a spike-filled mask around his head. He has approximately one minute to cut his eye open and find the key that’ll set him free, granting him a few more eye-less years. Nutty.
This is the best film in the franchise. It’s like Big Brother on crack: a group of ungrateful sods are trapped in a house going from room to room, finding more twisted games in a bid to find antidotes that’ll save them dying from a poison slowly seeping through vents.
Turns out eight heads are not better than one. They all die, unable to get past the wicked Jigsaw. Except Amanda, the only known survivor from the first film. She’s fucking in on it.
What’s it done to my head? So far, so entertained.
Saw III (2006)
This is a good one. John Kramer is in his dying days, so his batshit apprentice Amanda Young kidnaps Dr. Lynn Denlon and shoves a collar around her neck that’s lined with shotgun shells. It’s linked to Kramer’s heart rate monitor, and will be set off if he dies or she moves out of range.
Denlon tries to reason with Amanda, explaining that, in all honesty, Kramer needs a proper fucking hospital. Amanda replies with, “Tell me something I don’t know, stupid cunt.” Ouch.
The flashbacks – a recurring theme in all the Saw’s – are particularly messed up in this one. There’s a man chained to hooks through his limbs and skin, and a woman wearing a vest that’ll tear her torso in half unless she retrieves a key from a jar of acid. Both are goners.
At this point, I’m starting to question how bloody hard it is for the coppers to locate these people. This is pre Find My iPhone, mind.
What’s it done to my head? Getting on a bit. But still entertained. One and a half limp thumbs up.
Saw IV (2007)
It’s all getting more disturbing, but by this point, old tricks are being used. Nevermind, the traps are still as messed up as the rest. There’s a scalping seat that Brenda is tied to by her hair, leaving her semi-scalpless unless a code is found. The bedroom trap, where Ivan’s arms and legs are tied to columns with shackles on its end. And, the worst, a spike trap, where Morgan and Rex are tied to a leather harness while their bodies are impaled by metal spikes. The spikes cause Morgan flesh wounds, but as for Rex? They impale his arteries every time Morgan pulls one out to, hopefully, stay alive. Ah ah ah.
Horror: Borderline illegal
What’s it done to my head? It’s getting a bit too fucked up by this point and leaving me a little shaken. Who thinks of this shit?
Saw V (2008)
Christ alive, only five down. Detective Mark Hoffman is still kicking about, even after an FBI Agent discovers he was one of Jigsaw’s apprentices. Eh? That’s a bit silly.
The film opens with a murderer, Seth, waking up chained to a table under a swinging pendulum blade. Same old, same old. He’s sliced in half. Slicing seems to be a recurring theme in this one. Later, five people are tied to their necks with a wall of live blades mounted behind them. One of them is decapitated, the other is killed by an explosive bomb, another is killed by one of the game’s contestants, and the last remaining two slice their arms open with a saw to retrieve ten pints of blood and unlock the door to freedom.
All in a day’s work, innit?
What’s it done to my head? By this point, I’m sure I can break out of these traps myself. It’s tedious, stupid, crap.
Saw VI (2009)
Right. Loan sharks. Bastards, the lot of ’em. Jigsaw reckons so, too, by locking two in head harnesses with screws pointing to their temples. They have one minute to cut bits of their flesh out and pop it onto a weighing scale which will then render them free. Eurgh.
Eddie, a chunky bloke, starts lopping off fat. Simone? She goes for her arm, killing Eddie in the process. This has got to be the most shocking start to any of the Saw films.
But there really isn’t anything new in this plot. Kramer’s now been dead for three films. What are we still doing here? This one also happens to be the most preachy. All that “appreciate life” malarky makes it an exercise in blood-soaked morality. Lame.
On we go.
Horror: Saw: It Again. Inventive traps, but after six films back-to-back, I wouldn’t mind a bit of respite with a Drew Barrymore film.
What’s it done to my head? Zzzzzz
Saw 3D (2010)
Ha ha. Saw in 3D. This was never going to be a good idea, was it? Even the movie poster is bonkers, with what’s his name rising from the ashes of a weird stadium arena-type thing. Anyway, after all the criminal hype of Jigsaw’s past murders, a man pretends he too was a survivor. Guess what happens next?
He wakes up in a psychiatric hospital with an hour to save his poor wife.
This one is truly rotten. If history tells us anything, it’s that 3D doesn’t work, man. It’s worth mentioning that I didn’t actually watch this in 3D. Couldn’t find my specs. Sorry!
Also, this Saw has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes rating of all of them: 10 per cent. Ha.
Horror: A truly deadpan reprisal of a franchise that should’ve been kidnapped, thrown in a blender, and put in a Jigsaw torture game with 9.5 seconds to rescue itself.
What’s it done to my head? Oh, piss off.
Here we are. The final. The end. It’s not massively scary, this. Probably because, by now, I’ve been rendered an emotionless creep with a bloodthirsty lust for the more obscene. I was pretty normal before this.
Anyway, there are five people locked in a barn with buckets on their heads and chains around their necks, tasked with various deady games for survival.
Bob’s your uncle. I’m off to the pub.
Horror: They’ve lost the plot.
What’s it done to my head? I’ve lost the plot.