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By The Numbers: Saw Franchise



I absolutely love horror films, though I’m particular to the slasher flicks. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me since I grew up during the genre’s heyday of the 80s. Sadly the form has died a slow painful death, being brought back occasionally with a viable remake. But we've also seen somewhat of a reinvention in genre, specifically with the franchise Saw.


Say what you will about the horror genre, if it's a successful movie, there will be sequels until the end of time. That being said, Saw might be the best example of a franchise keeping it entertaining and fresh without delving in to the ultra ridiculous like other franchises (I'm looking at you Michael, Jason, and Freddy). That doesn't mean there aren't superior films in the Saw series, as well as stinkers. But unlike many other long running franchises, just about everyone of the films in this franchise are re-watchable. So, to celebrate 20 years of killing the box office, I went through the whole franchise!


I am also keenly aware that horror films are not for everyone, and the torture/gore presented in the Saw series is hard to stomach, even for hardcore fans. As much of a horror fan that I am, I do find that I need to be in the mood to re-watch a lot of these films. I am not a fan of the torture genre, but I feel like this franchise walks the edge of that as the lessons of Jigsaw make sense and hard just evil for evil's sake.


So, without further adieu, here are my rankings for the Saw franchise!

 

Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (2010) - Let's just get it out of the way and start with the worst entry in the series. Now as I say worst, it was still more entertaining than a lot of other horror films that have this type of longevity. Or even when you simply match it up against the worst of any other franchise.


Unfortunately, Saw 3D, the supposed farewell to the series, doesn't quite live up to the standards set by its predecessors and does what just about every desperate horror franchise attempts to invigorate the box office. They entered the realm of 3D.


Saw 3D, as a lot of 3D films do, feels extremely gimmicky. The traps, while still gruesome and creative, are pushed to the extreme, often crossing into the realm of absurdity. The shock value is dialed up, but it feels forced, and the horror becomes more about spectacle than substance. I do appreciate the player of this game, Bobby (Sean Patrick Flanery), as a liar who claims to have survived Jigsaw previously. His deadly attempt to claim fame and fortune is not terribly different than what we see on a daily basis in society today. But I was terribly disappointed to see some of the innocent people that paid the price for his decisions, namely his wife. Unlike previous flicks, he was not able to save anyone, but himself, which did not seem terribly just.


The narrative continues to unravel Jigsaw's legacy, with some attempts to tie up loose ends. However, the story feels disjointed, and the new characters introduced lack the depth and development seen in earlier films. The series' complex timeline becomes a headache to follow, and the plot twists feel more like retreads. I was also incredibly disappointed at how the creative team wrapped up the Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) storyline. Sure I loved the return of Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), but I truly saddened to see John Kramer's wife, Jill (Betsy Russell) meet a grisly end with one of his traps. I did not think that was righteous or accurate in the Saw universe.


Saw 3D receives a 2/5. While it's not without its moments of gore and suspense, it ultimately feels like a misguided conclusion to the franchise, relying too heavily on 3D gimmicks and excessive brutality without the narrative depth that made the earlier films in the series so compelling. There's also a good reason why we waited seven years for a new entry.

 

Saw VI (2009) - Saw VI aims to rejuvenate the series with a dash of social commentary, and it certainly offers some fresh elements.


Saw VI injects a dose of real-world relevance by centering its story on health insurance. It takes the franchise in a new direction, tackling societal issues in the midst of its gruesome games. Jigsaw's moral philosophy becomes more explicit, as the victims' past sins are tied to bureaucratic corruption and healthcare decisions.


The traps and gore, as expected, maintain their gruesome creativity and shock value, even though they may be perceived as slightly over the top. This installment successfully balances the horror with some character-driven storytelling, offering deeper insights into Jigsaw's motivations and moral code.


I enjoyed the spine of the franchise that shows John Kramer's wife, Jill (Betsy Russell), complete the last of her husband's requests. I also appreciated Mark Hoffman's (Costas Mandylor) antagonist, and near death experience. But, as I stated earlier, I was dismayed in the follow up movie to see how Hoffman used his new life to exact revenge on Jill. So this ending did not make me happy as the final story unraveled.


While Saw VI doesn't entirely escape the convolution that plagues the later entries, it feels like a fresh attempt at revitalizing the franchise. It's a step in the right direction, bringing some substance back to the series.


Saw VI earns a 2/5. It does not recapture the brilliance of the original, but it satisfy all the check boxes of being an entry in the Saw formula, providing a glimmer of hope for the franchise's future. Thankfully we didn't delve into Jigsaw Goes to Hell or Jigsaw: The Dream Child.

 

Jigsaw (2017) - Released as an unexpected revival of the series, Jigsaw attempts to recapture the essence of the earlier films while introducing a new generation of horror enthusiasts to Jigsaw's twisted games.


Jigsaw presents a fresh start, and it smartly avoids getting bogged down by the increasingly convoluted backstory of the previous films. It brings back the classic elements of moral tests and elaborate traps, which are as inventive and gruesome as ever. The film maintains the core suspense and tension that fans of the series have come to expect.


However, Jigsaw falls short in character development. The new characters are underwritten, lacking the depth seen in the original Saw. The narrative feels disjointed at times, and some plot twists are predictable, making it less effective in terms of shock value. Plus, seriously, how many lackeys did John train or inspire? I think at this point it's just ridiculous.


Jigsaw receives a 2/5. It makes a valiant attempt to breathe life back into the franchise but doesn't quite capture the magic of the earlier films. It's a serviceable addition to the series, offering some thrills and traps, but it struggles to match the quality and intensity of the original Saw.

 

Saw X (2023) - I truly did not think it was possible, but they went ahead and did it anyway. They brought back John Kramer (Tobin Bell, obviously) in the flesh and blood. To be honest, when that was first rumored, it sounded ridiculous. But as the story began to leak and the trailers hit the circuit, it started to make sense and even sound intriguing.


In the most recent entry into the franchise, we see John go to extremes in order to save his own life. He tracks down a shadowy doctor who performs life saving miracles. Unfortunately for all involved, the miracle turns out to be a ruse used to dupe late stage cancer patients out of their lifetime earnings. Not an uncommon story for the desperate, which is why this set up is so intriguing.


The events of this film take place after Saw II, but before Saw III, which means we get to see Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) again. Sadly, John's older appearance can easily be overlooked by his cancer. He just looks bad on purpose. On the flip side, Amanda's appearance cannot really be explained away, and it is quite obvious she doesn't look the same as she did in episode II or III. Her haircut did not help. I only mention this because it literally took me out of the film at times. Overall though, it was an nice entry in the franchise because it brought back John Kramer as the actual focus.


Saw X gets a 2.5/5. This may be the best tenth film in any horror franchise. I never thought we'd see John Kramer as the actual tester ever again, which I think they pulled off admirably. But I fear they will keep trying to accomplish this rather than reinvent the franchise again.

 

Saw V (2000) - Saw V marks another chapter in the series. Unfortunately, this installment is where the franchise begins to show signs of strain and redundancy.


Saw V takes a different approach, focusing more on police procedural elements rather than diving into the personal stakes that made the earlier films so compelling. While the traps remain gruesome and inventive, they start to feel formulaic and lack the emotional impact seen in previous entries.


The narrative, while still complex, becomes less engaging as it meanders through a series of investigations and plot twists that, at times, feel like they're simply there to extend the runtime. The characters, both new and returning, don't receive the depth or development they deserve, which is a missed opportunity.


Despite these drawbacks, Saw V retains a level of suspense and continues to explore Jigsaw's moral philosophy, albeit less effectively. For fans of the series, it still provides a fix of traps and gore.


Saw V receives a somewhat underwhelming 2.5/5. It's a passable entry in the franchise, but it fails to capture the raw intensity and character-driven horror of its predecessors, marking the beginning of a dip in the series' quality.

 

Saw IV (2007) - Continuing my journey through the Saw series, Saw IV is the next stop in the gruesome franchise, and it's a mixed bag for this horror movie nerd.


This installment attempts to tie up loose ends and unravel the intricate web of the Jigsaw mythos. While it brings some closure to certain storylines and characters, the narrative becomes increasingly convoluted. The timeline is jumbled, and it often feels like the filmmakers are trying a bit too hard to connect all the dots.


In terms of traps and gore, Saw IV doesn't disappoint. The gruesome creativity of the traps remains a highlight, and the film continues to push the boundaries of what's possible within the confines of Jigsaw's games.


Despite the convolution, Saw IV still retains the series' trademark suspense and moral dilemmas. The characters' emotional struggles and moral choices are central to the story, offering a glimpse into the twisted philosophy of Jigsaw.


In my ranking, Saw IV earns a moderate 3/5. While it maintains the gory thrills, it falters in terms of narrative clarity. It's a decent entry for fans who want to delve deeper into the Saw lore, but it doesn't quite match the quality of the earlier films in the series.

 

Spiral: From the Book of Saw (2021) - In my continued exploration of the Saw franchise, Spiral stands out as a promising deviation from the series' well-worn path. Released in 2021, it's a welcome breath of fresh air, providing a unique take on the classic Jigsaw formula.


Spiral introduces a new protagonist, Detective Ezekiel Banks, portrayed by Chris Rock, who brings a more grounded and relatable perspective to the story. The film combines elements of a detective thriller with the traditional Saw horror, creating a more engaging narrative with a stronger focus on character development.


While the traps and gore remain present, they feel less gratuitous and more focused on serving the story. This installment maintains the suspense and psychological tension that defines the franchise but with a slightly different tone and style. The traps are still inventive and gruesome, but they are used to reinforce the message at the heart of the film.


The inclusion of social commentary and the exploration of systemic corruption provide Spiral with a sense of relevance that elevates the storytelling. It successfully revives the franchise by striking a balance between the familiar Saw elements and the introduction of fresh perspectives. Plus, let's not over look Chris Rock's performance. I'm not saying he deserved an academy award, but it was really nice seeing him pull off the tense and horror performance. I also loved seeing Samuel Jackson as his dad. Their relationship played out very realistically.


Spiral earns a respectable 3/5. It offers a promising new direction for the Saw series, combining classic horror elements with a more grounded, character-driven approach, making it a noteworthy addition to the franchise.

 

Saw III (2006) - As a dedicated horror movie nerd, I've eagerly delved into Saw III, the third installment in the chilling franchise. This film dives deeper into the twisted psyche of Jigsaw, the enigmatic mastermind behind these macabre moral tests.


Saw III continues to explore the psychological and emotional torment that is characteristic of the series. Jigsaw's backstory unfolds, humanizing the character and adding complexity to his motives. While the film maintains its grotesque traps, the narrative now delves into character development, offering a more profound understanding of the victims' sins and their potential for redemption.


The traps in Saw III are as elaborate and gruesome as ever, and director Darren Lynn Bousman keeps the tension high throughout. This installment feels like an evolution of the series, maintaining the suspense and shock value while digging deeper into the moral quandaries that define Jigsaw's games. As far as trilogies in the realm of horror goes, the first three of this franchise are fantastic. This, to me, wraps up the original storyline because we see the end of Amanda (Shawnee Smith) and what will be the handoff to Hoffman (Costas Mandylor).


In my ranking, Saw III deserves a respectable 4/5. It successfully builds upon the established formula, offering a more emotionally charged and character-driven experience. While it may be a tad convoluted at times, it's a solid entry in the franchise and further enriches the lore of the Jigsaw Killer.

 

Saw II (2005)Saw II presents an intriguing shift in the franchise's dynamic. There are definitely days when this is my favorite installment in the series. It serves as the blueprint on moving forward with series. It takes the terror out of the confined room and plunges us into a booby-trapped house of horrors, where several victims must confront their own demons and make agonizing choices.


While it doesn't quite reach the pinnacle of its predecessor, Saw II offers its own unique brand of horror. Jigsaw, played masterfully by Tobin Bell, is back with his moral tests, and this time, there are more victims involved, increasing both the complexity and the body count. The traps are more elaborate, gruesome, and, dare I say, creative, providing an array of wince-inducing moments that horror fans relish. Plus, let's not forget the rules. Jigsaw makes it very apparent in this installment that you need to listen and follow the rules or else.


The film successfully retains the element of suspense and mystery, with a race against time to save the victims, making for a thrilling experience. The moral dilemmas faced by the characters add depth to the narrative and elevate the tension.


Saw II earns a solid 5/5. While it loses some of the original's subtlety, it compensates with a higher body count and inventive traps. It's a commendable sequel that keeps the franchise's gruesome legacy intact.

 

Saw (2004) – The inaugural Saw film isn't just the inception of a horror franchise; it's a game-changer in the horror genre. This first iteration has not always been at the top of my list, but during my most recent viewing, I realized the simplicity of the film increases the dimensions it can go with every sequel. From the twisted mind of James Wan and Leigh Whannell, Saw introduces us to the brilliant yet sadistic Jigsaw Killer, setting the stage for a series of gruesome moral trials.


What makes the first Saw so compelling is its storytelling and simplicity. The majority of the film takes place in a single, grimy bathroom, where two men are shackled and forced to confront their darkest secrets. The tension and psychological torment are palpable, making this film a masterclass in suspense.


While Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and Adam the photographer (Leigh Whannell) are the focus of the film, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, and Monica Potter add a fantastic secondary storyline. The two aforementioned actors are detectives trying to track down this new serial killer and the latter plays the wife of the missing doctor who is being held hostage with her daughter.


While there is gore, Saw is more about the mind games and moral dilemmas Jigsaw presents to his victims. It's a character-driven horror film that keeps you on the edge of your seat, not just for the traps but also for the plot twists and revelations. It also truly sets the stage for the games that become a mainstay in the series.


Saw gets an undisputed 5/5. It's the benchmark for the entire franchise and a must-watch for anyone seeking a horror film that challenges both the characters and the audience in a way that's truly disturbing and unforgettable.

 

So there you have it. From start to finish, the Saw franchise. I will add I’m not sure how much further this franchise can go without completely re-inventing itself and/or continuing the Spiral storyline. We have 10 films in the franchise to date. Good or bad, as this is one of the most financial successful films in history, we're sure to see more. Whatever the result, I just hope Saw continues making innovative, scary films!




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