The Saw Franchise – A Retrospective (Part 1)

Following my reappraisal of the Foo Fighters discography, I decided to look back at something completely different this time…


Saw was correctly praised as one of the most original and harrowing horror films of recent years when it hit in 2004. The series as a whole however has seen its legacy lose stock with every poorly received release, culminating in the critically panned final chapter Saw 3D. In the context of horror franchise’s though, should highly revered works like Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween be considered classics whilst Saw is banished to the same torture porn and overly commercial dustbin occupied by Final Destination and Hostel.

In the words of Raoul Duke ‘it is time for an agonizing reappraisal of the whole scene’.

One thing that isn’t in doubt is that the original Saw is widely considered a classic. This comes in despite of Danny Glover doing his utmost to undermine the whole thing with his over the top portrayal of crazed detective David Tapp, who one can only imagine is definitely too old for this shit.


Glover aside, the rest of the cast is particularly strong for a horror film. Cary Elwes impresses in an unfamiliar role as Dr. Gordon and series co creator Leigh Whannell’s Adam is charismatic and likeable, even if Whannell’s acting is a little rough around the edges.

Series favourite Shawnee Smith also makes her first appearance as Amanda in the infamous reverse bear trap scene which is one of the most memorable of the entire franchise.


This scene is a cause of consternation. Not because of the violence, but because there is a plot hole so huge that it threatens to undermine everything that follows.

In the sequels the Jigsaw killer John Kramer repeatedly delivers the mantra that he has never killed anyone and that he detests murderers. The whole point of the series is that Jigsaw is trying to offer his victims a chance of redemption, an opportunity to see the world in a new light.

During the reverse bear trap scene Amanda is tasked with cutting open a heavily sedated but conscious man who lies prone on the floor, to retrieve the key that unlocks the reverse bear trap. Amanda succeeds in this gruesome task and so walks free and learns to appreciate her life (and also becomes Jigsaws right hand man.)

The problem lies with the man who has the key inside him. What is his game? Where is his chance for redemption? This man is seen as little more than cannon fodder by Kramer. An afterthought even. Kramer treats the poor soul with the same contempt that he himself has suffered since being diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. This smacks of hypocrisy on Kramer’s part and downright negligence on the part of the film makers.

The reverse bear trap scene aside though there is no denying that the inaugural Saw film was a shot in the arm for the horror genre that had been moribund since Blair Witch Project, and also a pop culture phenomenon.

Saw II, released a year later, saw a change in tone from the original but carried on with a linear story and was the introduction of the ‘house of horrors’ style set up that would come to frame the rest of the franchise.

Donnie Wahlberg becomes the protagonist and holds Saw II together in many ways as a lot of the acting is your standard horror film fare with the characters badly written and forgettable.

Alongside Wahlberg, Shawnee Smith’s Amanda comes to the fore and this is the first film in the franchise where we get a good look at Tobin Bell as Jigsaw.


Bell, Smith and Wahlberg ensure that Saw II is a worthy sequel. The gloomy, psychological horror from the original is replaced by a more nasty and brutal feel – almost like an episode of the Crystal Maze as imagined by Edgar Allen Poe, with the emphasis strongly swinging away from the characters and towards the elaborate traps.

Saw II would set the blueprint for all five films that would follow it. Either a group of strangers wake up in a strange place and have to perform a series of barbaric tasks in order to escape or one person encounters a series of traps populated by people from their own life. This always ends with a big, Sixth Sense style reveal at the climax and the common theme that links all seven films together is sacrifice.

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