Saw 1–6: The Best Franchise You Didn’t Watch

This article is obviously for people who didn’t watch the Saw movies. It’s also aimed at people who decided not to watch them because they assumed that the movies were no more than torture porn. Well, fear not because if you skipped these movies due to that thought you are very wrong and you missed a good franchise. If you didn’t watch these movies for any other reasons then this probably is not the article for you. Also, this will contain spoilers but I’ll try to limit them for the sake of getting people to actually watch the movies.

(Image: © Lionsgate)

I know at first glance Saw looks like a torture porn movie and that’s it, no more, no less. It has the makings of it too. The first movie worked on a very tight budget and had like one or two rooms to use for sets to film on. It was finished in 18 days. In a time crunch like that, you better do something stunning or you better GTFO. Leigh Whannell and James Wan did manage to shock even the most jaded horror fans (ex: myself). Going into see the movie way back in 2004 I didn’t know what to expect but I assumed it would suck just like every other horror movie that year.

Little did I know I was walking into an obsession that would last a lifetime, but it’s all about reading between the lines. I’m not going to sit here and try to deny that a big part of the franchise is the torture or more accurately, the traps. No shit people go and see it for the crazy-ass contraptions that Jigsaw puts together and how people either get out or die in them. That’s part of the experience and (to me) part of what makes it fun. Except, the movies aren’t entirely that. If you wanted to see a movie with mindless gore killing and trap porn see Cube (I’m not dissing this movie I really like it but it’s got way more torture porn than saw). The point I’m trying to make is the plot that lies underneath the blood and gore is very interesting. Take away the traps and the violence and you have a decent story.

At its core, the Saw movies are a story about a man who is deluded by a cancer diagnosis. He’s given a set amount of time to live because he has a brain tumor. Upon finding this out he tries to kill himself but when he survives he realizes that he never wanted to be more alive. He also realizes that he shouldn’t have taken his life for granted. Based on this idea (and probably a bit of brain tumor making him insane) he comes to the conclusion that people who waste life don’t deserve it. That they need to be taught a lesson. Within the throes of death, who will die and who deserves to die are two different types of people.

Each movie has a moral at the base of it. It tells a story of a new detective or character. Everyone involved in each test and each trap is there for a reason. It’s not just mindless killing and gore. There are moral choices to be made. Questions to be asked. Discussions to be had. There are problems posed that make you think “What would I do in this situation” or “What could I do in this situation”? Yes, we all like to think we could survive a Jigsaw trap because we value our own lives that much but could we? There are several dozen traps featured in the first six movies that I would have just noped out of and let myself die but a few I think I’d have at least tried to win. Maybe I’d have been successful and maybe not. Yet, it still goes beyond that.

In at least two of the movies, the test subjects are part of a much bigger test. They are the guinea pigs for the real test subject to make choices, so they can learn a lesson about empathy, letting go, or knowing when to give up. There are twists, turns, flashbacks, and all sorts of things flying at you through a decently consistent plot (considering how quickly these movies were made).

Why stop at six you probably are asking yourself or not. I don’t know. Well, it’s because after the sixth movie the franchise devolves into a joke of itself. I’ve seen Saw VII (or Saw 3D as people call it) and it’s a joke. I pretend it’s not canon because really they should have just let XXXXXXX happen in Saw VI and ended the franchise. Yeah, not giving away that spoiler but it would have been an easy out for them and they’d have made the perfect little mini-series if they had done it my way. Yet, that’s not how cash cows work you have to milk them dry. Which led us to a seventh movie, a reboot called JIGSAW which essentially erased literally ALL of the canon of the first seven movies for no reason, and then everyone forgot it happened, and then Spiral.

To be completely fair, Spiral: From The Book of Saw was not nearly as bad as it could have been. Did it have its failings? Totally. Would I see it again? Yes. Would I see a sequel if they made it? Also yes. Am I secretly hoping for a sequel? You bet your ass I am. There are some things that could be improved upon but the overall storytelling and misdirection of Spiral gave a good feeling of the nostalgia of old Saw while telling a new story. Either way, that one gets a pass from me and I don’t really include it with the other 8 movies.

In conclusion, if you are a person who has avoided these movies based on the thought that they are just mindless torture porn…STOP! They are worth a watch, they tell a great story, and the gore is only a small part of it.

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Nadia Valentine

Nadia Valentine

Author, screenwriter, snarky realist and horror expert!