Seeing Saw

 I’d imagine that Halloween used to be Lionsgate’s favorite holiday. Instead of handing out free candy, the movie studio would give revelers the gift of Saw—a new movie every year—at, naturally, a steep price.

And while none of the Saw movies were ever blockbusters (Saw II was the highest, ahem, grossing installment, earning $87 million), they were so cheap to make that each one must’ve felt like a grotesque cash machine.

The franchise officially petered out in 2010 with Saw 3D: The Final Chapter. But, just like Jigsaw, these things are hard to kill. And today, Lionsgate has re-released the original Saw movie to mark its 10th anniversary.

The original was instrumental in introducing the phrase “torture porn” to the masses. Some critics found the movie pretty vile, and even those who appreciated its bloody creativity had to admit it was one of the most sadistic flicks to ever land on the big screen. And, of course, we had very little use for the movie here at Plugged In. Of the original Saw in 2004, PI reviewer Marcus Yoars wrote:

The graphic movie Se7en is the closest cinematic comparison point we can come up with here. And like that film, Saw has a few clever moments of tension (using a camera’s flash as the only light source during an intense hunt for an intruder, for instance). But its shock factor is strictly based on the glorification of a psychopath’s inhumane mind games. So touting torture as a treat becomes its beating heart—something that should automatically send most morally minded moviegoers running for the exits. And yet, sadly, it won’t.

Over the years, I think every reviewer at Plugged In has seen a Saw movie. And as the premise wore thin, its makers ratcheted up the violence. My own introduction to the franchise was through Saw IV. I wrote that the movie’s “reason for being is to depict torture and mutilation as graphically, grossly and realistically as possible—nothing more.” A fair assessment, I think, looking back over the intervening six years. Honestly, I can appreciate a good onscreen scare. But Saw IV wasn’t even particularly scary. Just gross. Gross and pointless. I was indeed horrified by this horror flick—that it was ever made at all.

And the movies really did get progressively worse. Saw 3D was, in terms of story and content, the absolute worst. Almost universally panned, the movie was severely restricted in Australia, with only moviegoers over the age of 18 allowed to see it. Germany banned it altogether. Here in the United States, Saw 3D was edited down six times before it qualified for an R rating. PI’s Meredith Whitmore, naturally, hated it, writing that “any so-called lessons dealt by these serial murderers are themselves evil at best, devised by human beings—if they can be called that—with no more moral authority than a jackal.” She suggested those who see such films aren’t interested in morality, but rather “vigilante ‘justice’ and how many ways body parts can be severed, ripped, sliced and mashed.”

Saw 3D marked the end of the franchise (for now), and at least a pause in the whole torture-porn horror movie genre. It and Hostel were the two main purveyors of such bloody chills, and with their passing, fright-flicks moved elsewhere: the hand-held cameras and jump scenes of the Paranormal Activity flicks, the atmospheric terror of The Conjuring and others. Oh, there’s still plenty of blood to be found. The Final Destination films, with their squirm-inducing scenes and creative deaths are perhaps the movies most like Saw. But few films now emphasize disembowelments for disembowelments’ sake quite like the Saw movies did.

No, it seems the real inheritors of Saw’s bloody scepter reside on TV—in the Hannibals and the American Horror Storys and, to some extent, The Walking Deads of the small screen. Television is as bloody as it has ever been. And sometimes it seems as though the blood doesn’t so much serve the story as be the story.

So if you’re walking through the mall this weekend and see a poster for Saw, consider the blood it has spilled and the legacy it has spawned. And then walk on by. Quickly.

Who wrote this?

Paul Asay has been writing for Plugged In since 2007 and loves superheroes and finding God in unexpected places. In addition, Paul has also written several books, with his newest—Burning Bush 2.0—recently published by Abingdon Press. When Paul’s not reviewing movies, he hikes with his wife, Wendy, runs marathons with his grown kids, Colin and Emily, and beats back unruly houseplants. Follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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