My History with the Saw Franchise

We live in a strange era, one that is developing nostalgia faster and faster. I’ll admit to being one of the last that would show interest in a new Saw installment, but the trailer for Spiral: From the Book of Saw dropping today very much left me feeling some confused but positive things. 

I was sixteen when I first watched Saw, a kid at a boarding school watching a South Korean bootleg on a laptop surrounded by a bunch of other high-schoolers, and my brain shattered along with everyone else’s when John Kramer stood up from that grimy bathroom floor. I was new to film and hadn’t seen anything else like it to that date. There was a visceral reaction from pretty much everyone I knew, and we built an annual tradition on these movies every Halloween. The franchise became associated with the holiday to the point where the producers and marketing team capitalized on it, trying to keep that link bright in the public’s mind. 

I also had to watch Saw II on a laptop in a dorm room at the same boarding school, late and after the lights had all gone down. It wasn’t as good by a long shot, but the film was still gross and exciting enough to keep me invested. At this point I was sold, and when they announced a third installment I might as well have already bought a ticket.

At long last I was in college and could view these monstrosities in a theatre! When my friends still in high school came to visit for a school trip we snuck away to a nearby theatre to catch a showing. Once again I was overjoyed at the silly gorefest and we spent hours afterward dissecting the traps, the characters, and the production. From there we descended into researching the already announced fourth installment. It was a ridiculous display of adolescent joy in something that gave us the gross factor we’d been looking for (my later love of Cronenberg would be the culmination of this whole thing).

The fourth film, though, is where things began to get rough. This was the one where we began to struggle with the franchise, a film that was kind of a mess and didn’t wholly work for me. The fifth film was the same, one that really stretched the lore and pushed boundaries but didn’t feel completely whole. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed some of the characters (Strahm is ma boi) and the traps continued to be ridiculously excessive, but the fire was going out. The sixth film was a step in the right direction, innovative traps and a structure that was actually a lot of fun. It was also the first film in the franchise that tried to have something to say, attacking the American healthcare system with a vicious tenacity that wound up being kind of meaningful (can you imagine if that film were released today?). I connected with it and found my interest completely reinvigorated.

But then 2010 came around and the seventh film was released. That was…not great. The whole affair was  confounding mishmash if competing ideologies that just didn’t land, with fans as well as critics, and the story came to a merciful close. I was frustrated, partially because at the time we had chosen to see Saw VII over the premiere of Paranormal Activity, the found footage juggernaut that would dominate the Halloween box office going forward. We picked the loser out of loyalty, much to the chagrin of one of our friends, and we sadly chose to watch the death of a franchise instead of the birth of another. It was a tiring day and one that will live in infamy.

But then, seven years later, we got another installment. I don’t know how or why, but all of the sudden a new Saw film was on the docket and I was curious. Not enough to see it in theatres, mind you, but enough to watch it when it hit streaming. It was…not good. It wasn’t awful, and my through-the-floor expectations were probably to blame, but I had fun with it despite what an absolute mess it was. Nothing special, and nothing I’ll revisit, but definitely something to talk about.

And now here we are, with a soft reboot that Chris Rock willed into existence. It’s starring the man himself, alongside Max Minghella and Samuel L. Motha-fuckin’ Jackson. I don’t know what to think of this, but there’s some well inside of me that has been awakened. I love this franchise, goofy bullshit and downsides included, and a passion project always gets me going. When you have a comedian that suddenly wants to play in the horror genre I sit up and pay attention. This recently went well with Danny McBride and the Halloween film from 2018, so I’m cautiously optimistic. This whole endeavor, me discussing my history with this franchise, was a way for me to figure out exactly how to feel about another installment in this wild film series and I’ve come up with nothing. I’m excited, nervous, and weirded out all at the same time. It’s a fun feeling that I only get here and there, mostly with superhero films, and the fact that a slasher movie built around ridiculous traps can make me wonder. Thus is the thrill of franchise loyalty, the idea that even though you’ve been hurt before you can still be excited by something new and creative in a series that has left you with nothing but frustration in the back half. I’m thrilled, annoyed, and confused by all this but at the end of the day I just want a good film. The trailer has the makings of this, even though I’ve yet to be completely sold. 

What about you? Are you interested in this franchise anymore? Confused by the title? I know I am, but I’m still curious about what’s to come. It’s an exciting time and I can’t wait to see what’s coming out soon!

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