It’s Halloween season, and not long ago, for seven straight years, that meant a midnight release of the newest chapter in the Saw saga. Bloodthirsty horror fans flocked to the theaters from 2004-2010 to countless characters maimed, stabbed, sliced, and dices in a number of creative and disturbing ways. Love them or hate them, the Saw movies never gave viewers less than what they promised, lots and lots of blood and torture. It’s been ten years since the release of James Wan’s inventive, surprising, low budget original film, Saw. In honor of this anniversary, I’ve ranked every chapter from worst to best.
7. Saw V (2008)
The franchise’s production designer, David Hackl, takes over the reigns for the fifth chapter in the Saw franchise, and the results are pretty much what you’d expect from someone who specializes more in visualization than direction. The elaborate, senseless, now multi-person contraptions saturate almost the entire 95 minutes, leaving no time for any kind of coherent plot or storyline. Tobin Bell has far from worn out his welcome when he continues to haunt each movie with flashbacks. The background stories and flashbacks have become so convoluted that it’s impossible (and completely unnecessary) to keep track of anyone left in the series. By this fifth movie, Saw has become more consumed with cranking out preposterous kills than creating any kind of comprehensible story arc, yet the cash keeps rolling in. There’s no “lesson” behind these deaths or life appreciate to be earned. It’s just a vapid, unrelenting torture porn. Are we done yet? Oh wait, we’re just getting started.
6. Saw 3D (2010)
The self-proclaimed final chapter of the franchise brings audiences what it never, ever wanted: to witness terribly acting, a sloppy plot, and horrifically disgusting deaths in 3D. Although this conclusion make a long shot attempt at wrapping up the story and taking viewers back to the beginning, we’ve all come so far, vomited so many times, and repeatedly lost our way that we have forgotten who Dr. Lawrence Gordon even is when it’s revealed that he not only survives, but gets vengeance on the last remaining cohort who distorted Jigsaw’s original vision. The only reason Saw 3D has a leg up on the above entry is because it made an actual attempt to come full circle, and I’m never one to withhold credit where it’s due.
5. Saw IV (2007)
Jigsaw is able to continue his games posthumously with a conveniently previously unmentioned accomplice to carry on his work, Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Madylor). With Saw IV also comes with the addition of a new group of writers, who proceed to make these films exceedingly more complicated and gruesome. How many different kinds of sharp things an you set on a timer to penetrate and main every orifice in the human body? The endless connections that are revealed between the countless characters in order to keep the franchise going becomes a bit exhausting by the time this chapter comes along, but the ticket sales keep rising, so why not? So let’s throw in a twist and a surprise return character and keep this train moving!
4. Saw VI (2009)
Yet another director takes a stab at keep this Halloween money machine producing, and it’s Kevin Geutert’s turn at bat. Previously an editor of all of the films in the franchise, Geutert succeeds in bringing a more precise and detailed eye to the director’s chair, crafting an actual honest to God story that following the FBI’s hunt as they close in on Jigsaw’s last remaining killing companion. Tobin Bell continues to haunt us from the world beyond as John Kramer, who has turned into nothing but a box office draw, since, even with all of his dramatics, he serves as the most competent actor since Danny Glover and Monica Potter graced us with their presence in the original. Saw VI possesses the same flaws as the rest of the films, but Geutert’s sharp eye and smart move in creating a cat and mouse story to keep audiences following along gives the franchise a short burst of fresh air in a series that’s otherwise been sucked dry.
3. Saw III (2006)
James Wan rejoins the franchise for the third installment, which features a near death John Kramer who is desperate to stay alive long enough to keep a watching eye over one last test. Saw III makes its one and only attempt to project a semblance of genuine human emotion when it tries to balance the grisly, twisted brutality with a storyline following a man dying of cancer and his father/daughter-like relationship with Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith). The increasingly elaborate death traps combined with the death of both master and protege lead to a relatively satisfying wrap-up for the legacy of Tobin Bell. If only the series had ended here.
2. Saw II (2005)
With a slightly bigger budget and an expanded cast of characters to torture and “punish” for not fully appreciating life, Saw II, fares surprisingly well considering it was made without James Wan. The first sequel focuses on an entire house full of various horrors, forcing Jigsaw’s players to navigate through multiple puzzles, which is a different approach that Adam and Dr. Lawrence’s one room prison in the original. Audiences are treated with a more in depth look at Jigsaw himself in Tobin Bell’s most active role in the franchise, which a thirst quencher for fans of the first film who spent a year wondering about who John Kramer really is. Saw II dips its toes deeper into the gore pool, succeeding in its goal of making audiences twice as squeamish as they were watching Cary Elwes saw off his own foot. And to think, I hated needles before I watched this movie.
1. Saw (2004)
Regardless of the extensive list of characters, excessive gore, and continuous twists added to the rest of the installments of this franchise, the shock and awe of the original that started it all can’t be outdone. I went to see Saw in the theater with a group of about ten friends, and the reactions from all of us along with the rest of the audiences was one I’ve seen only a few times. From the raucous laughter that reverberated through the crowd when Cary Elwes as Dr. Lawrence Gordon began maniacally hacking away at his own leg, to the sudden intake of breath and silence of dropped jaws when the corpse lying in the middle of that bathroom floor stood up and walked out, slamming the door behind him. This low budget horror film spawned six successful sequels and secured its spot among those movies responsible for the rise of the torture porn genre, therefore Saw, and James Wan, more than deserve the number one spot.