Mad Monkey Vs The 7 Deadly Saws
Hello. I want to play a game. The rules of the game are simple. Laid out before me – like an assault course covered in barbed wire and poop – is the entire Saw series. If I’m able to successfully navigate all seven of its deadly chambers (also known as ‘films‘), I will have earned the right to live another day. Through this purifying trial, I will learn to appreciate the sweet, precious, beautiful nature of life. Chances are, it will also make me sleepy and irritable.
Follow me, if you dare, as I journey through… The 7 Deadly Saws!!!
Pulling open the rusty iron door and tentatively entering the first chamber, I see the inside is not as bad as I’d feared. It does, however, seem familiar, as though it were cobbled together from the detritus of places I‘ve already been. The air has a murky green tint, like in Seven; there’s a grubby atmosphere of nihilism and S&M, like a Nine Inch Nails video; and those fiendish traps look like they were left over from Cube.
And I think I saw Marilyn Manson masturbating in a corner.
Saw is (or should be) a simple story. Two strangers awake in an unsanitary bathroom to discover they’re the subject of a grisly game. Each man is chained at the ankle and has been given a simple instruction – kill the other man if you want to go free. It’s the kind of elegant premise that can be effective in a low budget horror, and at times Saw uses it well to create a sense of claustrophobia and suspense.
Unfortunately, where the film falls down is in its insecure need to cram in a whole bunch of other stuff, as though the filmmakers were afraid we’d be bored by their primary story. Saw takes every available opportunity to get out of that filthy bathroom, bombarding us with an assortment of flashbacks and side plots, all of which serve to dissipate the tension created by the two key protagonists‘ predicament. This needless abundance of plot is Saw’s biggest weakness, and it will prove to be the Achilles heel of the entire series.
Even so, Saw is a solid entry into the horror genre. Derivative it may be (even its villain, Jigsaw, a man with a morally superior attitude and a taste for spiteful punishment, feels like a riff on Seven’s John Doe) but Saw’s honest attempt to rely on suspense and atmosphere (rather than the cheap gross-out tactics that dominate the sequels) means it just about scrapes through as a better than average example of twenty-first century horror.
6 SEVERED FEET OUT OF 10
Saw II (2005)
Please bear with me while I collect myself. Phew. At least he’s not singing.
Saw II feels in many ways like the first true Saw film. This is where the formula for the series was set in stone – open with a gruesome death, torture a bunch of mismatched folks as they make their way through another set of Jigsaw’s traps, torture the audience with a tangled mishmash of plots, then finish up with a montage as Charlie Clouser’s bombastic theme (easily the best thing about the series) kicks in and all the crazy plot twists are finally revealed.
This is also the first time Tobin Bell (as Jigsaw) gets to take a shot at becoming a modern horror icon. The first film’s unnecessary mystery over Jigsaw’s identity meant Bell had minimal screen time, but he’s front and centre in part two and he acquits himself well. Horror films need a good villain, and Bell plays the calculating (and insufferably sanctimonious) bad guy perfectly.
All in all, I liked Saw II a little better than part one. The parallel stories are tied together more effectively this time, it has a more satisfying ending (seriously, what the hell happened at the end of the first film?), and it benefits from the increased presence of Tobin Bell as the asshole with the master plan. I can’t deny that New Kids scare almost ended my journey through The 7 Deadly Saws early, but ultimately this was an easier chamber to survive than the first.
7 STABBY SYRINGES OUT OF 10
Saw III (2006)
My confidence bolstered by two relatively easy instalments, I enter chamber number three only to be overwhelmed by a stench from the very bowels of hell. The clanking of infernal machinery is all around, the floor is sticky with some unnameable substance, and from afar I can hear inhuman wails of agony and despair. It’s just like London.
Saw III sees Jigsaw and his nutbag sidekick Amanda (the Harley Quinn of the Saw series) kidnap a doctor to ease Jigsaw’s worsening cancer. Also, eight thousand other things happen, because the philosophy of these films seems to be that if one story is good then eight thousand and one stories must be eight thousand and one times better. Maybe it’s unfair to expect the makers of Saw to understand that less is more, but this issue of cramming in plotlines like Japanese businessmen on a bullet train gets worse with each sequel as the story ties itself in knots trying to connect its brand new twists and turns to all the previous twists and turns.
The second sequel is also where the series starts to feel more spiteful. Almost all attempts to create suspense have been abandoned in favour of finding creatively cruel ways to maim and kill characters we barely know. The end result is that Saw III feels like the cinematic equivalent of a freak show, except instead of Bearded Lady and Dog Faced Boy we’re being invited to gawk at Eviscerated Woman and Man Drowning In Liquefied Pig Carcasses. Whether you consider this a negative I’ll leave up to you, but I will say if the intention of director Darren Lynn Bousman was to disgust rather than frighten, he succeeded admirably.
There are good things about the film, though. A scene in which Jigsaw undergoes cranial surgery via a power drill is grotesquely disturbing, and Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith both turn in solid performances as Jigsaw and Amanda. In fact, the twisted relationship between those two characters was by far the best aspect of the film. If only they’d focused more on that and dropped some of the other crap.
4 LIQUEFIED PIG CARCASSES OUT OF 10
Saw IV (2007)
Almost halfway though and my journey is becoming arduous, folks. After the previous chamber I’m feeling cold, tired, and it hurts when I pee. Using Jigsaw’s disgusting bathroom was a bad idea. I know he has cancer and I imagine all the planning involved in his elaborate traps probably keeps him pretty busy, but would it kill him to run a mop over that place?
Anyway, just as it seems as though all hope is lost, I see a familiar face in the distance. It’s Luke off Gilmore Girls! Does this mean Lorelai is in here, too?
Of course not. There’s no delightful Lorelai Gilmore here. That’s because all the fourth deadly Saw chamber holds is BOREDOM AND RIDICULOUSNESS. And also more Donnie Wahlberg.
Here’s the story: With Jigsaw and Amanda both dead, an FBI agent (the aforementioned Luke off Gilmore Girls) is called in to figure out who’s continuing Jigsaw’s twisted assholery. Then blah blah cop movie clichés, yadda yadda torture, yawn yawn flashbacks, etcetera and so on, montage, theme, crazy plot twists, the end.
Now look here, makers of Saw IV. It’s not our fault you killed off both your villains at the end of part three and didn’t bring either of them back as robots, zombies, or robot zombies. Please do not punish us for your bafflingly short-sighted decision by inflicting this boring nonsense on us. And could you ease up on the fucking plot twists? At this point in the series, attempting to make sense of the ongoing story is like trying to follow Inception while riding a rollercoaster next to a screaming toddler after being kicked in the head by a donkey.
This fourth chamber has hurt my tiny brain. If you don’t mind, I’m going to lie down for a bit, maybe get some sleep and dream of a magical, far off place where no one is getting mangled by evil machinery.
1 DANGLING DONNIE WAHLBERG OUT OF 10
Saw V (2008)
Hiya! Samantha P Marmoset here! Big brother is curled up in a foetal position right now, mumbling about ‘The Horror’ or something. What a pussy LOL! I gave him a sandwich and some of those Ramones albums he likes so he’ll be feeling better soon. In the meantime, I’m going to tell you boys all about Saw V.
Ewww, gross! A guy’s guts just totally came out!
This film is about a man looking for Jigsaw’s accomplice. I’m supposed to tell you the man is Luke off Golden Girls, but I don’t know why. One of Frank’s lame jokes, I guess. Some other people are being electrocuted and decapitated and stuff, and now Frank says one of them is from something called Barfy The Vampire Slayer (sounds made up to me).
So yeah, this film is boring. Lots of scenes where men walk around with guns, then lots of scenes where people get squished and blood shoots out everywhere. And where was Jigsaw? I thought Jigsaw was the bad guy in these films? I didn’t understand any of this and it was icky. Worst of all, no kissing or dancing! I mostly like films about kissing or dancing.
Frank’s singing along to those stupid Ramones now, so he must be well enough for the next chamber. I need to go anyway, have to feed the cats HAHA! Seeya!
2 BISECTED HANDS OUT OF 10
Saw VI (2009)
Look, I was thinking – do we really need another Saw review at this point?
Alright, fine. Here’s your bloody review: It’s just as boring and ridiculous as the last two, except this one comes with a cack-handed attempt at social relevance by torturing bankers and private medical insurers. I liked seeing Shawnee Smith return, but that’s about it.
1 LUMP OF HACKED OFF FLAB OUT OF 10
Saw VII (2010)
I’ll give the makers of this one some credit – they pulled out all the stops to produce probably the most grotesque Saw yet. There is almost no part of the human anatomy that isn’t stabbed, sawed, ripped off, pulled apart, pierced, burned or severed in this film. If you watch the series purely to see creative bodily carnage, you will not be disappointed by Saw VII.
That said, it suffers from the same issues as its predecessors: too much plot, too many characters, too little suspense, too many attempts to tie everything together into one labyrinthine whole, and – maybe worst of all – not enough Jigsaw. Costas Mandylor’s character (Jigsaw’s acolyte, Detective Hoffman) has never been an adequate substitute for Jigsaw, and to make matters worse this final film sees Tobin Bell making only the briefest of appearances. The villain is everything in a horror film, and the weak villain in parts IV to VII has been a huge flaw. They painted themselves into a corner when they killed off Jigsaw in part three, and it’s a mistake from which the series never recovered.
If you split the Saw saga into two parts – I-III: Jigsaw Era and IV-VII: Hoffman Era – this film is the best of the Hoffman Era. It’s just as daft and convoluted as the others, but it entertains in its own mindless, blood-splattered way; and I enjoyed seeing Cary Elwes return for one final – if painfully obvious – twist in the tale.
4 EXTRACTED TEETH OUT OF 10
So that’s it. I made it. I survived The 7 Deadly Saws. Beaten, bloody and bruised, I limp toward the exit. Long has been the way and hard, just like John Milton said, but the end of my ordeal is in sight and sweet, sweet freedom is almost upon me.
But wait. This is the end. The grand finale. And we all know what happens at the end of a Saw film. That’s right, this is where I dramatically reveal the many crazy twists and turns you never saw coming! Please commence humming the climactic Saw theme now:
DUN-DUN-DUN! DUN-DUN-DUN, DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN!
Remember Marilyn Manson masturbating in a corner? That was me all along! And the person writing this review? Someone else altogether! The bit with my sister? Actually written by my uncle Albert! That guy over there? He’s a dog in an overcoat!
DUN-DUN-DUN! DUN-DUN-DUN, DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN!
Only now do you realise that my diabolically elaborate plan all along was to do something involving something about something that relies heavily on something and will lead to your inevitable something!
DUN-DUN-DUN! DUN-DUN-DUN, DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN-DUN!