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Revisiting Saw, On Its 10th Birthday

Saw 10th Anniversary

For the first time in four years, this year’s Halloween season brought a Saw film to the big screen, though it was of course a re-release of the original rather than a sequel or reboot – a reboot likely isn’t far off, however.

Yes, it has already been ten years since that guy from Princess Bride and that guy who wrote Saw found themselves locked in a filthy bathroom, their night of terror giving birth to a new horror icon as well as a hit franchise.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Saw‘s Halloween re-release didn’t exactly compel many fans to spend more money on a movie they’re already paid to see and then likely paid again to own, and the box office take for the weekend topped off at less than a million dollars.

Though many are considering this a big time ‘flop,’ that’s a fairly silly thing to say, considering we’re talking about a re-release of a movie from ten years ago. The lack of fan interest is surely a disappointment to Lionsgate, but nevertheless they made more money off a low-budget movie that has already made a ton of money, so I doubt anyone’s crying right now.

I was one of the few who was at least remotely excited about Saw coming back to theaters, as I’m a fan of the film and I think it’s always fun to revisit older movies on the big screen. Plus, my rewards card had earned me a free ticket anyway, and to say I had nothing better to do yesterday would be an understatement.

So I headed to my local theater last night and cashed in my free ticket. And after being handed that impossible to photograph mini-poster seen up above, the games once again began…

I guess the same can be said about most horror movies, but Saw in particular is quite a polarizing film within the community. Some hate it, and the entire franchise it spawned, while others consider it a high point of the last decade of the genre’s output. I fall into the latter group, and have been defending James Wan’s gory debut ever since I first experienced it, back in 2004.

The term ‘torture porn’ is one that has unfortunately become synonymous with Saw, and it’s a term that I couldn’t possibly be more against – ESPECIALLY when it comes up in conversation about Saw. The basic gist of the label is that classifies horror movies driven by mindless blood and guts, the comparison to porn indicating that the money shots are there but the story isn’t.

Though the label does accurately describe many films that came in the wake of Saw, it most definitely does not describe Saw. In fact, if there’s a theatrically-released horror movie in the past decade that has more of a story than any other it’s probably Saw, which is one of the most story-driven films, and franchises, in the entire genre’s history.

There’s truly nothing mindless about it, which is why the label it often garners is so damn infuriating.

The real joy of Saw is the way that such an initially simple idea becomes such a complex narrative. The premise, boiled down to its essence, is two dudes waking up in a bathroom, and what starts as a fun room escape game quickly becomes a labyrinthine story full of sub-plots that weave into and out of one another. Again, labeling the film ‘torture porn’ dismisses all of that incredible writing, and criminally downplays the real strength of the movie.

Whereas most horror icons mindlessly stalk and slash their victims, Jigsaw brings something completely different to the table. He’s got a distinct method to his madness and he chooses his victims wisely, intent on using his macabre torture devices in an attempt to teach them a lesson and make them appreciate their fragile lives. Torture porn? More like horror with a purpose, which is again rare for the slasher genre that Saw manages to rise above.

An intricate puzzle that comes together piece by bloody piece, Saw is as much fun to watch now as it was ten years ago, and I found myself forgetting so many of those little details that form the complete whole of the film. The true hallmark of a good movie is that it can be re-watched over and over again without losing any of its luster, and though Saw is very much a twist-driven movie, it impressively holds up all these years later. Though I knew it was coming, for example, I still got chills when Jigsaw stood up off that bathroom floor.

And yes, they were multiplying.

One of the most impressive things about the film, looking back, is just how much it brought to the genre. I can count the number of bonafide horror ‘icons’ the genre has given us in the past decade on two hands, and a good portion of those came exclusively from the original Saw. Jigsaw, Billy the Puppet and Amanda were all introduced in one fell swoop, along with a host of iconic images that are forever engrained in the minds of horror fans – from the pig mask to the reverse bear trap. Pretty incredible, when you think about it.

Of course, there is a nagging problem with Saw, which is as much of an issue now as it was 10 years ago. The acting, particularly from the two leads, is serviceable at best and cringe-inducing at worst. Cary Elwes is a fine actor but he’s painfully bad at several points throughout, resulting in intense and horrifying moments coming off fairly comical and goofy. I’d almost like to see the exact same movie remade with better acting, because the poor performances definitely have a negative impact on the overall feel of the film.

As for the franchise as a whole, I appreciate and respect it as much as I do Wan’s original. The sequels aren’t all good, I’ll admit that, but the fact that each new one continued the story laid out in the original, even AFTER the early death of Jigsaw, is pretty impressive and worth respecting. For seven years, I loved the annual tradition of watching that story grow (and having a front row seat to some truly gruesome torture), and so I more than forgive any minor issues I have with those sequels.

While it’s true that any of us could watch Saw in the comfort of our own homes, likely free of charge, I’m glad Lionsgate re-released it, as it encouraged me to finally revisit the film. And though most of the horror community doesn’t seem to appreciate the revival, I for one do. It’s refreshing to see a studio re-release a hit film rather than remake it, and I’m always happy to support them when they do.

After all, don’t we all say things like ‘ugh, why don’t they just re-release the original?’ whenever upcoming remakes are announced? Sadly, this past weekend’s box office results are a shining example of why they don’t.

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If you don't get enough of me here on Halloween Love, you can also find me on Dread Central, iHorror and Shock Till You Drop. Contact me via john@halloweenlove.com.
  • @SBofSelfAbuse

    Couldn’t agree more about the torture porn label. I can’t stand it – especially when it’s tied to Hostel and Eli Roth. It’s also very dumb in relation to Saw. I don’t have a lot of positive things to say about the sequels (I actually only recently decided to plow through them all – I had only seen the first three films up until like a month or two ago – still have to get through the last two), but I the first one is a modern classic in my opinion.

    Didn’t make it out to the theater to see it, but I watched it recently, and it definitely holds up. Most of the things I like best about it are actually not really things that have become “iconic,” and are mostly never really even talked about. Probably those little details like you mention.

    My favorite part is where Zep is holding Dr. Gordon’s family hostage and pointing the gun at them while listening to the heartbeats (reminds me something out of an old Argento movie). And when he’s hiding in the closet (the Black Christmas shot), and when he comes out in the sheet. I also like the scene where Adam’s in his apartment in the dark, and keeps flashing his camera until the pigmasked figure finally jumps out at him. The shotgun trap and Danny Glover are also high points.

  • John Squires

    That’s so funny, because I just tweeted about that Zep scene, as soon as I finished this post. Not something I really took note of the first time I watched the movie, but such a brilliant little touch. All of the scenes in Gordon’s home are fantastic. The stuff with ‘the man is the closet’ feels most like a James Wan film, looking back on it.

  • John Squires

    As for Hostel, that’s another film that doesn’t deserve the ‘torture porn’ label. There’s a lot of torture, for sure, but there’s also a really original story there that’s quite good and very compelling.

  • Thomas Raven

    I agree with you for the most part. Unfortunately, those awful performances in the first film truly grate on my nerves. But taken as a whole, I think the Saw franchise is better than most horror franchises. Most peak with the first film. This one had room to grow. I loved the story of Jigsaw despite the low budgets and absolutely agree that the series deserves better than the dismissal it’s received from certain segments of horror fandom.