A Bloody Good Time 07.24.14: Ranking The Saw Films
Posted by Joseph Lee on 07.24.2014
From the genre-changing first film through the franchise's last gasps with The Final Chapter, 411's Joseph Lee ranks the Saw films from best to worst!
Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)
Last week's edition of "Where Are They Now" also had a poll. In spite of some more obscure choices, you guys went with A Nightmare on Elm Street as our pick for August. You'll get that mid-August. Until then, I want to play a game.
This week we're going to go into the Saw series and rank them, because it's been a few years since the series ended and I think there's been enough time that we can properly look back on it. I thought about doing this right after Saw 3D but that was still fresh so I held off until now. Well, actually this just got pushed back as I came up with more ideas but you get what I'm trying to say. Jigsaw and his traps had seven moves that came out in the span of six years, which is actually quite amazing compared to most franchises. The films were low budget, they made a lot of money and they had devoted fans. If Paranormal Activity never happened, they might have run the series into the ground more than they already were.
Yes, the Saw series probably should have ended at the third or fourth film. Yes, there are some out there who think that the movies are a little "same-y" and those same people probably dismiss the series as "torture porn" anyway. This edition of ABGT isn't for you. It's for people like me, who love the Saw series and its characters, traps, twists and gore. However, let me be clear. Just because I love the franchise doesn't mean I'm not going to be critical of it. I love Friday the 13th too but I can still recognize when Jason shows up for a terrible movie. Let's get this started with the worst in the series.
Needless to say, there are some serious spoilers here. If you're a fan you've already seen them all, and the series ended four years ago anyway. Get over it.
#7: Saw IV (2007)
After Saw III was over, there were some questions that needed to be answered. At the time, it was thought that the series would be a trilogy and then in the eleventh hour of production they decided to leave it open. So the film killed off both Jigsaw and Amanda while leaving the fate of Jeff and his daughter unknown. The idea was that Jeff would then spend a fourth (and again, rumored to be final) movie exploring Jigsaw's death traps yet again in order to save the one thing he cared about most. Saw IV completely ignores that.
In the first five minutes we establish that yes, Jigsaw is dead. We do this with one of the most graphic sequences in the entire franchise as we watch his entire autopsy from start to finish. It's nasty but you're able to accept the fact that it's a corpse and not a living person, so it diminishes the impact slightly so you're not vomiting. Because seriously, the top of a man's head is removed and his scalp is peeled back off the skull so that it goes over his face. It's gross.
While the twist is actually kind of great and makes it fit in with the films that came before it (the film is actually happening at the same time as Saw III, so it's like one big movie). The rest of the kills are kind of lacking. Rigg is not nearly as interesting a protagonist as the others in the film. Oh and the story of Jeff and his daughter? Jeff is killed unceremoniously by Strahm while we still don't find out if his daughter is dead or alive. Luckily, this movie gives us Hoffman's heel turn, which sets the stage for Costas Mandylor to gloriously chew the scenery in future movies. Trust me, if those movies did not have Hoffman, Saw IV would not be the worst in the series. Woof.
#6: Saw: The Final Chapter (2010)
When it comes to Saw movies, The Final Chapter is pretty bad. It's only saving grace really is the return of Cary Elwes and the final twist of the movie, which really do give the thing a sense of closure. But we'll get into that a little later. I need to talk about the worst parts of this movie so that you can understand just why the ending saves it from being the worst of the series.
First of all, outside of the twist this really is a bland Saw movie. It's the one with the least amount of reason to exist. The only purpose of the first 85 minutes is to keep the audience occupied until we get to the final five. All the major storylines were wrapped up long before this. The only things we have left are how to deal with the insane Hoffman and whether or not Jill Tuck will actually survive. What's left to deal with? Jigsaw is dead. Amanda's long dead. Most of the police force in the area are dead. It's just Hoffman running wild with no one to challenge him.
So with so little to deal with on the Hoffman front, we're stuck with a poor story involving a man who lied about being Jigsaw's victim in order to become famous. I'm not going to say that Sean Patrick Flannery is a bad actor. I've seen him in enough projects before and after this movie to know otherwise. I will say that he wasn't right for this part. I don't know if it was the way it was written or if he just didn't care, but he brings this movie down every second he's on screen.
When it goes back to the main story, it's fine. Hoffman deals with Jill by successfully (finally) utilizing the reverse bear trap. Hoffman's takeover of Jigsaw's operation is a little more ridiculous at this point (there are seriously no cops left). But it's just as you think Hoffman is getting away that the movie's final twist is revealed. Dr. Gordon has been in on the scheme ever since he lost his foot and is Jigsaw's new heir, especially after Hoffman perverted Jigsaw's message and killed Jill. It was a great ending to the series, in my opinion. I'm surprised they didn't try to continue on with Dr. Gordon in control but they were right to quit when they did.
#5: Saw VI (2009)
One thing I love about the Saw series is the progressive story and how each movie feels like a chapter of a book or a season of a show. It can be it's own story but it's also part of a larger story. So it was a little frustrating when Saw VI decided to spend more time on a heavy-handed political message that has no place in a slasher film.
First of all, this is the movie I'm talking about when I'm in full support of Costas Mandylor as Hoffman. Some people don't like him but I think he's a lot of fun to watch. Some guys were born to play villains and he is definitely one of those guys. Hoffman's story is great, considering he's far worse than Jigsaw ever was. Jigsaw was bad, but at least he had a purpose (however twisted) for his traps. Hoffman just murders people, including cops, just to keep himself from getting caught. He seems more interested in murdering people than "teaching them". It's a nice change. It's also revealed in this movie that he's the reason that Amanda failed her test in Saw III, so he also killed a fan favorite, even directly.
But the second story focuses on a new group of victims who are all linked by the fact that they either directly or indirectly screwed people over on health insurance. Regardless of how you felt about insurance policies past or present, it was a really forced message that felt extraneous. It did lead to one great moment, as young Brent chooses to kill William (who denied health insurance to his father, who later died) instead of forgiving him. I thought it was a nice twist to show that not everyone makes the right decision when it comes to sparing lives.
#4: Saw V (2008)
While Saw: the Final Chapter is an example of a mediocre movie with a great ending, Saw V is an example of a good sequel with a bad ending. We'll get to that a little later. Let me explain why this was starting out to be one of the best sequels before that ending almost ruined everything.
Scott Patterson's Peter Strahm is a great hero for this series. He's not only determined to solve the Jigsaw case and save lives, but he's intelligent. After Hoffman places him in a trap that's only there to kill him, he still manages to escape. He gives himself an emergency tracheotomy in order to breathe after his head is stuck in a glass box that begins filling with water. It's a great move and shows that even Hoffman's traps can be overcome. And yes, I think it was Hoffman wanting him not to pursue instead of Jigsaw. As crazy as Jigsaw was, I don't think he set up the entire warehouse in order to make Hoffman look like a hero. He was holding a crime over his head to force him to work for him, after all.
This sets the stage for Strahm vs Hoffman and through the entire movie Strahm is showing his intelligence over and over, figuring out that Hoffman is involved and gathering evidence against him. It's a great little chess game between good and evil. Then the movie does a complete 180 and turns Strahm into an idiot. He turns off the Jigsaw tape that explains his current trap, decides that he's going to get vengeance on Hoffman and place him in a box filled with glass. As it turns out, if he listened to the tape and did what it said (as the Strahm from earlier in the film probably would have done), he would have survived. Instead he was killed and framed as Jigsaw's accomplice. It's a complete sacrifice of a strong character just for a shocking ending.
#3: Saw II (2005)
A lot of people have this ranked as their favorite in the series and while I don't agree, I wouldn't fight you on the subject. This has all of the high points of the Saw movies while very few of the lows. I just happen to enjoy the next two films on this list a little more for various reasons. Saw II was a sequel to a film that no one really thought would be successful, and yet it was. After all, the Jigsaw killer is still around, he has more people to "teach", it sets the stage for an entire series. No one knew at the time that John Kramer would die in the third film and a new villain would take his place.
In this film, we get two stories that end up linking together at the end. That's another important thing about the early Saw films compared to the later ones. The victims of Jigsaw's latest grand game eventually have a role to play in the cops trying to track him down. As the sequels progress it's just another way to get gore on the screen without any real lessons learned or relevance to the main story. In Saw II, it's the most important part of the story. The cops have Jigsaw, he's not going anywhere. They just have to figure out how to save the people inside the nerve gas house.
In addition some great traps (the needle pit always gets me), it also had a great twist. The events in the house were pre-recorded, not live as the police thought. Since the events already happened, Jigsaw is using the footage to test Eric Matthews. However, Eric fails the test and we're left with the reveal that Amanda is Jigsaw's apprentice. This is after Shawnee Smith carries the entire film by getting us on her side and protecting Daniel Matthews (although we don't know why at the time), only to have her be in on it. It's a great twist and it continues the trend.
But seriously, how messed up is that needle pit? If you've got a thing about needles (and I do), it's the scariest moment in the series.
#2: Saw III (2006)
After catching the first two on DVD, this is the first film in the series that I saw in theaters. As a Saw fan, it did not disappoint. At the time, this was supposed to be the end of a trilogy, as I said before. It's hard not to place this at #1 but it's very close. The movie ups the ante in terms of gore and the complexity of Jigsaw's game and even adds some character development to humanize our villains.
While there were rumblings that this would be the end of the series (which were immediately shot down after opening weekend), I don't think anyone expected Jigsaw to die. This isn't a supernatural series. If you kill off the main villain and his apprentice here, there's no way they can come back. Plus, Tobin Bell is easily the best part of these movies. So when Jigsaw and Amanda die, it certainly feels like the end of the series, with just a glimmer of hope in the form of keeping Jeff's story open (only to cruelly kill him off later).
This also has some of the worst gore in the series, and that says a lot. The heroine's face is blown apart, a man's bones are twisted in a rack and another woman's ribcage is pulled out. On top of all that, we're forced to watch as Jigsaw gets brain surgery in order to save his life in complete detail. Ever wanted to know how they take pressure off the brain? You won't after seeing this. It's understandable, however, because this movie is all about going bigger and badder to complete what was then a trilogy. Maybe it should have stayed that way, but as sequels go it doesn't get any better.
#1: Saw (2004)
I went back and forth on if I should give Saw III the number one spot but I went with my gut and decided the first was the best. I think this is the best one if only because no one saw this movie coming. Every once in a while you see a lot of promotion for a horror film and you decide if it could be good or could be bad. Saw was an unknown player at this point, a small independent film that was unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Before Saw arrived to dominate the horror scene, Hollywood was still pushing horror remakes over anything else and the mainstream slasher genre was losing popularity.
Saw, in spite of what some people may believe, is not just a gorefest. It does have a lot of bloodshed, yes, but it's a smart thriller with a lot of clever twists that honestly, may actually be a little underrated these days thanks to the sequels. No one saw the twist coming. You can say you did but I'll never believe you. When the corpse in the middle of the floor suddenly stands and reveals that he was the cause of all this, it's one of the best twists in horror history.
This movie also gave us such memorable moments as the bear trap, the razor wire trap and Dr. Gordon's realization that Jigsaw "doesn't want us to cut through the chains, he wants us to cut through our feet." That moment was played a lot in the previews but it really set the tone for the types of games that Jigsaw wants his victims to play. You can blame the movie for Hollywood's reliance on copying it if you want (although without any of the wit or story in most cases) but Saw is a great horror film.
Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)
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