Halloween – specifically October – has become synonymous with horror, and every October saw the release of a new entry into the ever profitable killing machine, Saw. That was until the final chapter, an open-ended entry that left fans (blades, spinners, puzzlers, whatever your title may be) buzzing without a single limb to severe. Wracking in a worldwide total of almost $879 million, it went on to become the second most profitable horror franchise in history, resting directly behind the Alien films; one that has been telling audiences for almost forty years that in space, nobody can hear you scream. For a horror franchise to produce seven films and nearly a billion dollars in revenue in only six years is monumental; a telling sign of its continuing hand in the universally adored October horror. And if you’re a horror fan, then you know very well that if it looks dead, and it feels dead, then it really isn’t dead!
Returning to theatres this Halloween weekend is Jigsaw, marking a return to the twisted legacy created over a decade ago by the game master Jigsaw/John (Tobin Bell), a formally ill man who plans on showing players the true meaning of life though his infamous do-or-die method. Through a series of tasks, one or a group of players must survive a rigged stage of macabre, playing off their own moral wrong-doings in the hope that they’ll see tomorrow. Despite its success – an indicator of a population’s lust for mindless gore – there’s a large portion of audiences that are completely divided on what the blood soaked franchise has to offer, and that’s where I step in.
Over the course of two days, I participated in seven games across seven films, witnessing the birth and subsequent death of both Jigsaw and the franchise he carried on. While no actual blood was shed, there were countless bathroom breaks and lost appetites, as bodies were burned, flayed, sliced, maimed, crushed, hung and generally mutilated for our viewing pleasure. In the end, you could say I had a renewed look on life.
Here are the Saw films ranked.
7. Saw VII: The Final Chapter (2010, Kevin Greutert)
After 6 years of morally reprimanding folks for being addicts, prostitutes, thieves, money launderer’s, liars, cheaters, rapists, murderers, or anyone within their vicinity, the franchise’s supposed swan song manages to exhaust itself on a premise that promised blood (“oh yes, there will be blood!”). And blood is what we get, though it’s all inexplicable, centred on a despicable and worthless character – a man who has made millions off the lie that he’s a survivor of Jigsaw’s game – wrapped around a redundant police procedural that feels more like a bottom tier episode of Law & Order: Saw Victims Unit. There are a couple game-worthy traps, most specifically the opener – which plays off the social trend of spectating – but for the most part, the final chapter feels sidelined in a game that’s been stuck in overtime.
6. Saw VI (2009, Kevin Greutert)
By the inevitable sixth entry into a franchise that has dumped more buckets of blood than Dead Alive and Ichi the Killer combined, it’s apparent that the ability to craft genuinely honest and sympathetic characters with real flaws is out of range. Instead, Saw VI tosses us into the cutthroat reality of life insurance, and the conniving players that cast clients out into a sickly, unapologetic world. Half the films divided between the lone insurance agent Will (Peter Outerbridge), now trapped between his own moral code and that of his job, and the backtracking of Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), who struggles keeping his tracks clean and us entertained. There’s a biting satire at the core of Saw VI’s games, offering a slight spin on a formula that lost its boot in the proverbial horse its beating. However, it never actually manages to tear skin, gnawing on its own foot in a doomed effort to balance itself between cutting edge and simply cutting. By the time the game is over, it’s realised that Saw VI’s show and tell style is all show with no tell, as some of the franchises greatest display of practical effects eclipse what it’s trying to say.
5. Saw III (2006, Darren Lynn Bousman)
Leigh Whannell, back behind the pen for his third and final time in the series, wanted “….something that would almost make someone who was really invested in the story cry.” Whannell never accounted for crafting a script that everyone could be invested in, picking off established, sympathetic characters without mercy, while introducing fresh players that simply feel like old wounds. There’s the estranged wife, the aggressive and vengeful father, the key players in his own trial against the man who struck and killed his son. Despite these new faces, there isn’t a breath of fresh air in this entire entry. Instead, a mean streak thuds at the heart of Saw III, one that refuses to remain downbeat, denying us anyone to root for; though this isn’t the films fallacy. Amanda Young (Shawnee Young), Saw II’s final girl turned Jigsaw disciple, struggles throughout the film with her self-affliction and apparent mental illness, one that’s treated without any gravity towards its suffering. Some of the franchises most palpable traps are showcased here, as well as a cringe-worthy scene of Operation, though it’s unfortunately not enough to keep itself afloat. Its refusal to take its torment – be it mental or physical – with any tact, magnitude or consideration is Saw III’s most hideous and egregious act, causing its methods of mayhem to be its least offensive punishment in the franchise.