Perhaps it’s my being a millennial, but binge watching has become somewhat second nature in regards to how I consume media. I feel no shame admitting I watched the entirety of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt the same day it aired, and I’ve been victim to the dreaded, “Are You Still Watching?” judge-filled taunt from Netflix after a handful of Goosebumps season rewatches.
However, this binge-watching practice is almost always reserved for television series. I don’t know why, but it sounds so much more socially acceptable to say, “I sat through a whole season in a day,” rather than, “I watched all of the Saw movies in a single sitting.” Which is exactly what I did.
Long after the slasher films redefined the horror genre, the duo of James Wan and Leigh Whannell gave us a new horror icon with Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw, sparked a new horror franchise, and brought ultra-violent, ultra-gory, ultra-realistic horror films to the forefront. Saw became a phenomenon and, seven films later, we’re still creeped out by the question “Would you like to play a game?”
The first five Saw films are available to stream on Netflix — and WalMart had a beautiful $7.00 combo pack of the last two. Considering how easy it is to “tune out” when watching films at home, I set myself a few rules to ensure that I had the maximum watching experience:
1. Bathroom breaks are only to be taken between films. No pausing.
2. Lights must stay off.
3. Texting/dicking around on the internet was permitted for 15 minutes between each film.
From the not-so-comfort of my Craigslist purchased faux-leather couch, fueled by three different Lunchables and enough kettle corn to satisfy an entire sold-out screening of Minions, I was ready.
SAW: CARY ELWES NEVER BLINKS
As the old green and thunderstormy Lions Gate logo flashed on screen, followed by the spike and barbed wire logo of Twisted Pictures, I swear I was transported back to 2004. The first Saw film holds a special place in my heart because it was the first R-Rated film I ever snuck into a theatre to see.
Oh my god. I forgot how adorable Leigh Whannell is as photographer Adam Stanheight. I also forgot how great it is when Whannell’s Australian accent randomly slips through. As I watch these two initially struggle with the chains around their ankles, I can’t help but think that a ballerina might be able to pointe her foot out of that chain.
The green lighting draped over this film is gorgeous, and unsettling. I had completely forgotten how well crafted this film was considering how many films have tried (and failed) to copy this style in the years since its release.
Shit, the entire artistic direction for this film is absolutely incredible. Everything about the original room in Saw looks disgusting and that backed-up toilet is the thing of nightmares. At this point, I’m almost 45 minutes in and I’ve already consumed one entire bowl of kettle corn.
One down, six to go. This is going to be a long binge.
Although she survived, The “Reverse Bear Trap” is the signature trap of the entire franchise. We see this bad boy over and over again, and it’s nice to be reminded of how truly horrifying it was in the beginning.
SAW II: OH MY GOD THE NEEDLE PIT
Directorial reins were passed over to Darren Lynn Bousman for the second film, but Whannell stayed on as screenwriter.
Right away we’re thrown into the film with “The Venus Flytrap” facemask scene. This kill started the trend of opening the Saw films immediately with one of Jigsaw’s test subjects. Inspired (I assume) by the reverse bear trap, we’ve got a guy with a key behind his eye and a fly-trap iron lady mask around his neck.
OH MY GOD, PUT THE SCALPEL DOWN. JUST DIE. JUST DIE. OMG NOT THE EYE!
The last time I watched Saw II was in high school. A group of my pals and I watched the film in pieces every day for a week in homeroom. Our teacher had no idea we were doing it, and we always had a bullshit PowerPoint presentation ready to pull up any time he walked by. Sorry, Mr. Kolakowski.
Saw II is without a doubt the film that elicits the most visceral reactions from me. While the kills in this film aren’t particularly creative or gruesome, they’re all ones that play with pretty universal pains. Eye trauma, fire, the staircase that breaks your legs (so they bend backward), self-mutilation, being thrown into A PIT OF NEEDLES and a box that slits your damn wrists are all pretty imaginable and relatable. They’re quick, dirty, and make me twitch.
I’m also a huge fan of any movie that kills off Lucy Camden from 7th Heaven.
The Furnace. Fun Fact: I live next door to a crematorium so I can say with certainty that cooked human smells an awful lot like barbeque.
SAW III: ABSOLUTELY APESHIT
Another bowl of kettlecorn, 15 minutes of screwing around on Imgur, and the decision to add some Cake Vodka to my strawberry water and we’re on our way to Bousman’s second directorial effort and the final Saw screenplay from Whannell.
After some talking between Detectives Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) and Allison Kerry (Dina Meyer) at a crime scene, we get the opening kill scene the film should have just started on — a guy chained to the floor with the chains going through his body. One of his chains is in his mouth and through his chin, meaning he’d have to rip off his own jaw to live. That sounds a little inescapable to me.
HE JUST RIPPED CHAINS THROUGH HIS ACHILLES TENDONS. NOPE. NO WAY. I’M DONE.
Just kidding. I’m not done.
Saw III’s opening kill is followed with another “non-storyline game” death with Kerry (from the previous film) kidnapped and strapped to a harness hooked into her ribcage with keys retrievable only by submerging her hand in a vat of acid. Although Kerry manages to unlock the harness before the timer expires, the harness tears her rib cage away from her body anyway, killing her in one of the most visually horrifying moments of the entire franchise. Jigsaw’s modus operandi always allows a way to escape, but Det. Kerry’s trap (and presumably the chained man) did not. WHOA. PLOT TWIST.
The film then focuses its attention on a doctor named Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh) who is tasked with keeping John Kramer (the Jigsaw killer) alive while another man named Jeff has completed his own game. Lynn is rigged with a collar armed with shotgun shells pointed towards her face that will blow if Jigsaw dies, or if Lynn movies out of range.
This is where the Saw films go absolutely ape shit, starting on full frontal frozen female nudity. A guy named Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) is the main test subject in this film, and he is tasked with saving (or killing) those that were somehow involved with the untimely death of his 8-year-old son.
EXCUSE ME. THERE ARE PIG SLUSHIES BEING POURED. I CAN’T. It’s been years since I’ve seen this and it’s just as fucking gross as I remember. I might throw up.
And this is when we learn that the films are not running in linear order. Sneaky bastards.
“The Rack.” This is probably one of the more gruesome ways to go, because of how slowly and painfully it kills you. Kudos to the FX team though, those bone snaps are good.
After watching a woman hanging in a meat freezer being sprayed with ice-cold water at random intervals, turning her into an icicle, a dude chained at the neck to a bottom of a pit slowly being filled with liquefied pig corpses, and a guy hooked into a machine that twists his limbs (including his head) one by one until they all snap…yeah, I’d say these a little bit more extreme than the traps that came before.
The Pig Carcass Pit. I audibly gag every single time I watch that scene. Dying sucks, but dying a disgusting and humiliating death where you’re choking on blendered pig carcass is way, way worse.
I need more vodka.
SAW IV: AIN’T NO PARTY LIKE A DUNSTAN/MELTON PARTY
We bid farewell to Whannell as a screenwriter and bring on the duo that will eventually finish out the franchise, Feast creators Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan. (They’re the guys making the new Halloween, FYI). Bousman remains in the director’s chair, and we’re at the point now where Saw films have become an annual Halloween event. This is also the first Saw film I was able to see in theaters without having to sneak in.
The fourth film opens with an autopsy of John Kramer, and it’s real, real sick. There’s some gorgeous juxtaposition of color from the gray/blue morgue and the bright red blood on his corpse, but the sound of a buzzsaw cracking bone sounds a little too much like going to the dentist’s office for me. Not a fan.
OH GOD THEY PEELED HIS FACE OFF! That’s it. I’m getting cremated.
Genuine question: did Jigsaw singlehandedly keep Radio Shack in business with his mass purchases of little recording tapes?
After thinking I wasn’t going to get an opening kill, Dunstan/Melton have my back with a trap shows two men chained at the neck to a winch. One man has his eyes sewn shut and the other has his mouth-sewn shut. The two have to work together to survive, but because they cannot communicate, the two try to kill each other and only one walks away surviving. After cutting open his mouth, that is.
I’m kind of impressed with the amount of diversity in these films. Granted, they’re still pretty white, but I’ve seen at least two people of color in every film so far.
Realizing that the films can’t survive on kills alone, Melton and Dunstan incorporated some backstory into these films, making Jigsaw and his ex-wife Jill a little more relatable. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, but it’s pretty depressing. Who needs depressing when we’ve got gross kills?!
A lady pimp is scalped by a machine pulling her hair back, a serial rapist has to stab himself in the eyes or lose all of his limbs (and presumably bleed out), an abused woman and her abusive husband are impaled together with rods and she must “save herself” by removing them (and thereby killing her husband), a man had to willingly push his face and arms through razor restraints to escape (only to fall into a tangle of razor wire), and two ice blocks completely obliterate Donnie Wahlberg. While these kills aren’t quite as “holy shit” as the previous film, the addition of a backstory helps push Saw into a territory other than just “gore for the sake of gore.”
Ooh. And boom. This movie took place at the same time as the previous film. Damn, son. That autopsy was after the events of this film.
Yeah. I’m really into Melton/Dunstan writing the films.
Razor Face. Anyone who has nicked themselves shaving knows the pain of a razor to the face. Now multiply that by, like, 100. NOPE. NOPE. NOPE.
SAW V: EVERYTHING’S BETTER WHEN YOU WORK TOGETHER!
More than halfway there, guys! So, I cheated a little bit at this point. Fearful that my ass was going to fuse to my couch, I made a beeline to Taco Bell. I don’t know why, but Nachos Bell Grande makes gory films so much easier to stomach. Try it sometime. (But don’t do it when you’re watching the pig guts in Saw III cause you will probably definitely vomit.)
This is probably my least favorite of all of the Saw films. Under the pressure of cranking out a new film and introducing a new director (David Hackl: the second unit director on Saw II, III, and IV) a lot of little things felt missing from this film, but I still argue that it’s got some fun stuff in it. I did forget, however, how damn insufferable these characters are.
Kill them. Kill them all.
Saw V opens up on not one but two traps. The first is an inescapable pendulum blade that saws a murderer released on a technicality in half and the second belongs to FBI Agent Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson) awakening with his head in a box, only for the box to begin to fill with water. Using a pen, Strahm performs a tracheotomy and survives, but the intensity of watching him slowly drown is pretty panic inducing.
Serious question: Why would anyone want to work on the Jigsaw case given that 90 percent of the people investigating die or end up in a trap? They all better be making some serious bank trying to solve it.
Hey, there’s Jeff and Lynn from Saw III’s daughter. I was pretty sure they were completely going to ignore that remaining piece. Guess not. Good job! Agent Strahm also now has to talk with Christian Bale’s Batman voice after his tracheotomy. LOL.
After whole bunch of Jill Tuck stuff no one cares about and some shifty shit from Detective Hoffman and we’re finally let into the thunderdome of this film, where we see five people (who, of course, somehow are all connected to each other) wearing collars and realizing they’re about to lose their damn heads unless they do as Jigsaw’s tape suggests and “do the opposite” of their instincts.
I was legitimately too distracted with Taco Bell to take notes. Sorry, not sorry. Cheesy fiesta potatoes are the most important things in my life most days. In case you were wondering, the scariest part of Saw V is the wig Julie Benz is wearing.
Well, the idiots don’t learn and one person is killed after each trap, which honestly aren’t that scary or gross to watch, until the remaining two meet at the final trap and realize “Oh shit, if we had worked together we could have all survived.” Sesame Street lessons are getting really dark, y’all.
The final trap for the five people forces them to shove their arms into a buzz saw giving them permanent Vulcan Salutes. Hell, the papercut scene from the Jackass movie between the fingers makes me cringe. A buzz saw between the fingers is pure nightmare fuel.
SAW VI: AMERICA’S HEALTH INSURANCE POLICIES SUCK BUTTS
In perhaps one of the best written of the Saw sequels, the editor of the previous five films, Kevin Greutert, grabbed the director’s chair for the last two films. My butt is starting to hurt. I’m out of Lunchables. I’m out of popcorn. I’m almost out of vodka.
Opening on a kill starring the winner of VH1’s *Scream Queens*, a fit woman and a fat man are in a competition to see who is willing to cut off the most flesh in order to survive. The man cuts fat from his torso but, clearly appreciating life more than he, the woman chops off her damn arm, winning her the fabulous prize of survival.
Our main storyline follows a health insurance executive and points out all of the shitty “rules” of the health insurance game. Much like how his decisions as an exec can determine if people live or die (due to having coverage for health care), his tests include making the decisions for people to live or die.
Good God. It took almost a half hour to get into the good stuff. Jeez.
I forgot how hard this movie drags. Next, he saves an elderly and diabetic secretary because she has a large family rather than his young and healthy file clerk because he’s alone in the world, which is the exact opposite of what his job would have told him to do as an insurance exec.
I’m starting to remember why I had so much fun with this film. The man being tested is genuinely a piece of human waste and I don’t care if he fails. If anything, I want him to fail. I’m not sure if this is the result of watching this many Saw films in a row, or being a cancer patient and dealing with insurance folks.
His second test forces him to take jets of steam onto himself to help someone traveling a maze filled with these steam jet traps, but he fails when the woman he is helping attacks him and gets speared in the head by a trap attached to her. Yawn. This is the lame trap of the film. I’d rather focus on my Lunchable.
In his final test, six of his staff members are chained to a carousel and a shotgun is set to blow them away one by one — but he can save two by driving a spike through his hand. The six on the carousel lie and try to manipulate our tester into saving their own lives. It’s pretty awesome to watch them totally rip each other apart. Finally, he picks the two and his tests are over.
Just kidding, our tester is in a cage with some acid ready to be injected into him, only to be controlled by the family of a man he “killed” by denying him coverage. Whoa. Well, a rejected version of Walt Jr. from Breaking Bad decides the insurance man has to die, and he does. AND IT’S GLORIOUS.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! A whole bunch of side story and Hoffman killing cops later and Jigsaw’s ex-wife straps a reverse bear trap to Hoffman’s head! This is it! The moment we’ve been waiting for! The trap is going to snap!
Just kidding. Hoffman manages to get the device off and rips his damn cheek off his face and screams. CREDITS.
Merry-Go-BOOM! I know it’s twisted, but there’s something hilariously awesome about a deadly merry-go-round. It’s like playing Russian roulette, but way better.
SAW 3D: IT’S BEEN 10 HOURS. SOMEONE KILL ME.
We did it, guys. We made it. We’re at the final film and I can’t believe I just spent 10 hours of my life watching a bunch of people get hacked to bits to learn how to “appreciate life.”
There’s a pretty sweet opening of Dr. Gordon from Saw crawling through a hallway (missing a leg, of course), and still maintaining the whole “not blinking” acting choice from the first film. He cauterizes his stump on a hot pipe though, and the sound effect alone made me want to vomit.
Not missing a beat, we jump to probably my favorite “non-storyline trap,” of the entire franchise. Two men are on a see-saw of saw blades with a large one in the middle, planted right beneath a hot girl that the two men are apparently both sleeping/in love with. The two initially try to kill each other but once they realize this ho ain’t loyal, they leave her to die…all while in a box in the middle of a shopping center with people watching! Ugh. It’s so good. The screams inside are amplified for the audience to hear. It’s small attention to details like this that truly make this kill superior to the others. It is hands down the best opening kill of the whole series.
And then there’s a flashback/continuation from the last film. I appreciate the film constantly reminding us of what came before it (I’m binge watching and even I’m having trouble keeping up) but this makes the series feel so much more like a television show than a movie.
I’m out of vodka. This is the real torture. Wait, did the news reporter just say the insurance guy from the previous film worked for “Umbrella Health?” IS THAT A RESIDENT EVIL REFERENCE, GUYS?!
Keeping the same director and writers as the previous film, we now follow Bobby Dagen (Sean Patrick Flannery, the non-Norman Reedus member of The Boondock Saints) and his life profiting off of lying about being a Jigsaw survivor. Considering Jigsaw and his helpers aren’t going to take too kindly to a liar like this, it’s safe to assume that he’s going to be captured and tested. Go figure.
Bobby’s right hand man is not only named “Cale”, but he has a blonde middle part like a mid-‘90s boy band singer crossed with a mid-‘90s Baldwin brother. Goddamn, I hope this was intentional. Because it’s brilliant.
Jill Tuck (with some serious Michelle Obama arms) has a nightmare where she’s impaled by a train. I’m pretty sure this scene was solely for a cool kid and a 3-D effect, but it’s a gnarly kill only to be interrupted by…
THE DUDE FROM LINKIN’ PARK PLAYING IS A SKINHEAD GLUED TO A CAR AND HE’S RIPPING HIS SKIN OFF. I COMPLETELY FORGOT ABOUT THIS AND I CAN’T STOP LAUGHING WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY SINGING “IN THE END.”
There’s some cool backstory stuff and a really cool “survivors therapy meeting” scene totally stolen by Tanedra Howard (of Saw VI) with another blinkless performance from Cary Elwes’ Dr. Gordon.
Like clockwork, the 30-minute mark starts our “testing” storyline. Would you have guessed it? It’s Bobby Dagen. All of his tests represent the three wise monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) and he fails. Miserably. His buddy Cale is hung, his publicist is stabbed in the neck from multiple sides, another one of his people is impaled through the eyes and mouth, and his wife (who was innocent and I actually feel bad for) is locked inside of a brazen bull and burned alive. Suckfest.
A turret gun knocks off a bunch of cops in what feels like the most anti-Saw death of all time, but I guess that’s what happens when you leave your life’s work in the hands of Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), who is the epitome of a basic bitch killer.
I retract my statement. Hoffman is putting Jill in the reverse bear trap. COME ON, GUYS! GIVE IT TO ME! LET ME SEE THAT BAD BOY OPEN! COME ON!!!
BOOM! IT’S OPEN! IT’S A GLORIOUS DAY AS JILL TUCK’S FACE SNAPS WIDE OPEN AND WE FINALLY GET TO SEE THE COOLEST TRAP OF THE WHOLE SERIES IN ACTION! THANK YOU BASED GOD!
No less than a minute later, we get the reveal of who is really behind the post-John Kramer kills. AND IT’S CARY ELWES, Y’ALL. Dr. Gordon from the first film has been behind it all along and he traps Hoffman in the original bathroom and leaves his punk ass to die.
The reverse bear trap. It took long enough to see, but the pay off was well worth the wait for fans of the franchise.
It’s over. It’s finally over. Binge watching like this actually made me enjoy the films a lot more than I did before, but I would never in a million years recommend someone to do what I just did. Would you like to play a game?
No. I would like to stretch my legs.
B.J. Colangelo is a filmmaker, performer and contributor to Icons Of Fright, Bitch Flicks, Day of the Woman and others. She tweets at @bjcolangelo.