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Franchise Flashback: Saw

The games begin again after 7 years with the eighth entry in the Saw franchise, Jigsaw, hitting theaters this Friday.  All seven prior films are streaming on Netflix but if you don’t have time to watch them all again or for the first time, we’ll try to recap things here with our latest Franchise Flashback.

Saw (2004):  The first, and definitely still the best, Saw kicked off the brutal horror franchise with Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and Adam Stanheight (Screenwriter Leigh Whannell) waking up in a disgusting bathroom shackled by their ankles to pipes and slowly coming to realization that they will have to cut through their own ankle with the provided hacksaws in order to escape alive.  The simplicity of this first big game is what lets it hold up against the sequels that came after and the franchise’s first big twist, that the dead body in the room with Lawrence and Adam is actually John Kramer (Tobin Bell) aka Jigsaw, is still pretty fantastic and it’s also revealed that Lawrence refused to take John’s cancer case, giving the first look into John’s method for choosing victims.  There’s also some side business with Danny Glover as obsessed, disgraced cop Tapp (who would star in the first Saw video game but not with Glover’s likeness) and Zep, a pre-Lost Michael Emerson who is thought to be the Jigsaw killer but is really just another pawn.  Saw also set up the character of Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith), who would play a major part in Saws II and III and is also the first person we see in one of the Saw franchise’s infamous “reverse bear traps”

Best Trap: The original and iconic Reverse Bear Trap

Saw II (2005): Probably the movie with the most on-screen/alive John Kramer, Saw II picks things up with Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) tracking John to an abandoned factory after he’s brought into the case by a cassette left at a game and found by Matthews’ former partner Allison Kerry (Dina Mayer).  John reveals that Matthews’ son Danny (Erk Knudsen) is one of 8 people in an abandoned house that is filling with nerve gas but, if Matthews stays and talks to John for a certain amount of time (I think it’s like the remaining run time of the movie so, like 80 minutes?), he’ll get his son back unharmed.  The victims in the house are told there are syringes of an antidote hidden throughout the house and a combination to the front door is hidden as well.  Amanda is one of the people in the house and one of the other victims, Xavier (Franky G) eventually becomes the secondary villain of the movie, leaving people to die in traps and eventually killing the others to find a number on the back of their necks that will unlock the code to the front door of the house.  Amanda and Danny team up and Danny kills Xavier with a hacksaw but Matthews, who fails his “game” by forcing John to reveal the location of the house but, when they get there, Matthews finds out in a typical Saw shocking twist that the game was hours ago and Danny was in a safe in the room he was talking to John in the entire time, hooked to an oxygen mask and the door on a timer to open at precisely the time John said Matthews needed to stay talking to him.  Matthews is shackled in a bathroom by Amanda, who reveals herself to be John’s apprentice, and is left to die.

Best Trap: For realistic horror factor, the Hand Trap, the box with reverse razor blades, so you can slide your hands in but you can’t slide them out without slitting your wrists.

Saw III (2006): In the third installment of the franchise, John dispatches Amanda to kidnap Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh) in order to try and keep him alive and also the eventually perform some gnarly improvised brain surgery.  Lynn’s husband Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) is also taken and placed into a game where he must try and help the people involved in the death of his son, including the driver who killed him while driving drunk.  To Jeff’s credit, he does try to help everyone but the traps all complete their function and all three victims are killed.  Jeff eventually finds his way to the room where Lynn has operated on John and it’s revealed they are married but estranged.  Amanda shoot Lynn just as Jeff enters the room and he shoots Amanda with a gun he got in the game left by John.  John reveals to the dying Amanda that Lynn wasn’t being tested, she was, and she failed by killing with no chance at escape, which clashes with John’s philosophy of trying to give his victims the missing piece they are lacking in their lives by persevering through extreme trauma.  Amanda killed Detective Kerry with an unwinnable trap after she picked up the Jigsaw case following the disappearance of Matthews. The final twist is that John offers to call an ambulance for Lynn if Jeff forgives him but Jeff slits his throat and the room seals, preventing any chance to save Lynn and leaving Jeff stuck in a room with 3 corpses.

Best Trap: Amanda’s unwinnable “Angel Wing” trap that Detective Kerry is killed in

Saw IV (2007): Arguably the weakest entry in the franchise, Saw IV’s main goal was to introduce the new villain going forward, Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), whose true nature is revealed in the movie’s final twist but it’s a convoluted mess to get there with SWAT leader Rigg (Lyriq Bent) going to different locations to try and find the location of Detective Matthews, who will be killed in 90 minutes. One the videos at each location, Jigsaw is also trying to get Rigg to put himself in his mindset, forcing Rigg to don one of the infamous pig masks, for instance, and putting a serial rapist in a trap himself. Saw IV also introduces Jill Tuck (Betsy Rusell), John’s ex-wife, who is questioned FBI agents Strahm (Scott Patterson) and Perez (Athena Karkanis) and more of John’s backstory and what led him to create his first “game” is revealed.  It’s also revealed in a bit of plot contortion that the creators probably thought was more clever than it was that Saw IV is pretty much taking place simultaneously with Saw III, as Agent Strahm follows Jeff Denlon to the room he was sealed in and he’s able to get the door open and shoots Jeff in self defense when Jeff believes Strahm is in on the game and knows where his daughter is.  Strahm is also out for vengeance because he and Perez stumbled into a trap involving a Billy puppet that exploded in Perez’s face.  Rigg finds Detectives Matthews and Hoffman and both are seemingly trapped in a game controlled by Art Blank (Justin Louis), another pawn in his own game who was supposed to press a button after the 90 minutes had elapsed to free himself, Hoffman and Matthews but Rigg kills him with one second left and Matthews’ head is crushed by ice blocks and Hoffman reveals himself as the new Jigsaw and leaves Rigg to bleed out from a gunshot wound he got in the confusion and seals Strahm in the sick room with the corpses of Amanda, Jeff, Lynn and John.

Best Trap: Probably the “Feel What I Feel” trap where Rigg forces rapist Ivan onto a bed mechanism that will rip him limb from limb if he didn’t blind himself by activating two buttons.

Saw V (2008):  Saw V is pretty much entirely focused on building on Detective Hoffman’s villainy and backstory after the reveal that he was running things following John’s death and it’s revealed that he wasn’t really a true believer like Amanda and he was blackmailed by John into assisting because Hoffman killed the man who killed his sister, Seth Baxter (Jaris Jarsky), with a Pit and the Pendulum trap that was designed to frame Jigsaw.  Hoffman planted evidence and manipulated police files and also did the physical setup of the traps that the increasingly weak John or Amanda could not do.  After leaving Strahm and Rigg for dead, Hoffman emerges from abandoned meat packing plant where Saw III and IV took place with the daughter of Jeff and Lynn, who he had kept safely hidden away and he’s received as a hero and promoted but Strahm finds a hidden exit in the sick room and escapes after surviving a trap where his head is placed in a glass cube that fills with water and looks to expose Hoffman, forcing Hoffman to go on a rampage to cover up all his tracks and eliminate anyone who might be able to connect him to John and the games.  Meanwhile, whether following John’s plans or his own, a new game involving five people who were involved in various ways with a building fire that killed 8 people and there’s a pretty clever twist that all of their games were supposed to be completed together, as the final challenge involves filling a container with enough blood to trigger a door opening that would have only required a relatively small amount from each of the five but it’s a lot when down to only 2.  While the new game is happening, Strahm becomes obsessed with getting Hoffman, harassing Jill and causing his boss Agent Erickson (Mark Ralston) to become suspicious and Hoffman manages to plant evidence and manipulate events to make it seem like Strahm is the new apprentice.  Strahm tracks Hoffman to the house from Saw II, which has a secret room in the basement with a glass coffin and there’s a tape that compels Strahm to enter the coffin. He instead waits to ambush Hoffman and throws him in the coffin but, that was Hoffman’s plan all along, and Hoffman lowers to safety while Strahm is crushed by the walls as they close in.

Best Trap: Strahm’s Water Box test for it’s brutal simplicity and his pretty ingenious solution (although his ingenuity obviously doesn’t in the end)

Saw VI (2009):  Saw VI picks up with Hoffman meeting with Jill and receiving envelopes for five people to be tested per John’s will and the new game finds insurance executive William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) being tested to save people from his company.  He’s a target because John felt that William used a flawed formula to determine who would receive health insurance coverage or not and John was rejected from getting an experimental treatment for his cancer.  FBI agents Erickson and Perez, who was believed dead following the puppet explosion in Saw IV but was hidden for her safety by Erickson, find Stahm’s fingerprints on another game and determine that the knife that cut out the puzzle piece from the failed victim of the opening game where two people had to cut off enough of their body weight to trigger a scale was only used before on Seth Baxter.  The agents are able to find the original tape that played for Baxter and call in Hoffman to hear it with them but, after descrambling the voice, it’s revealed to be Hoffman’s and he kills the agents and the coroner and burns the lab down.  Easton gets to the end of his game and finds himself face to face with the widow and son of a man who died because he was rejected by Easton’s formula and the man’s son Brent decides to take revenge and hits a button in the cage they were being kept in that says “Die” and Easton gets syringes full of acid injected into him.  Jill also receives a letter that Hoffman wrote to Amanda that reveals he knew she was partially responsible for Jill’s miscarriage when she sent someone to rob Jill’s clinic and she calls Hoffman to meet her and puts a reverse bear trap on him with no key, revealing a sixth photo from John’s box that was his, as Hoffman was never truly tested like Amanda was. Jill leaves him and Hoffman manages to get out the bear trap by breaking his hand and jamming it into the trap before it springs and then ripping it off his face, taking a large chunk of his cheek with it.

Best Trap: The “Pound of Flesh” game kicked things off for Saw VI in brutal fashion

Saw 3D aka Saw VII aka Saw: The Final Chapter (2010): The final movie before this upcoming reboot/new storyline, VII picks up with Jill going to an internal affairs detective, Matt Gibson, and she makes a deal to testify against Hoffman in exchange for immunity and protection.  Hoffman meanwhile, having survived the reverse bear trap, kidnaps and murders a gang of skinheads in a trap and leaves the reverse bear trap to frame Jill.  Another game begins with Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flanery), who falsely claimed to be a survivor of a Jigsaw trap and became a famous and wealthy self-help guru because of the lie.  He’s put through a series of traps to rescue his wife and Hoffman sends a video with vague clues to the location of the game to Gibson, claiming to give the precise location if Gibson gives up Jill.  Gibson figures out the game’s location himself and sends a SWAT team while he and a team of other officers raid Hoffman’s lair but Hoffman disguised himself as the corpse of one of the skinheads from earlier and Gibson and his sqaud are killed by an automated machine gun while Hoffman rampages through Jill’s secure location and kills everyone in his path and ultimately captures Jill and kills her with a reverse bear trap.  Unfortunately for Hoffman, Jill’s death activates John’s secret weapon, Dr. Gordon, who became John’s secret accomplice following his ordeal in Saw and assisted John in his surgery based traps and, if anything were to happen to Jill, Gordon was asked by John to take action against the person responsible.  Gordon and two unknown accomplices capture Hoffman and leave him in the bathroom from Saw, shackled to a pipe like Gordon was but, this time, Hoffman has no saw to let him cut off his own foot and Gordon turns out the lights and seals the door, leaving Hoffman to die.

Best Trap: The weird, street art style saw battle where two guys have to decide to either kill each other or let the woman who is cheating on them be killed by saw blades.

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