The Movie Guru: Before ‘Spiral,’ catch up on the ‘Saw’ franchise
Before “Spiral,” there was “Saw.”
Actually, there were a lot of “Saw”s. While the latest revival attempt for the long-running torture horror franchise is premiering exclusively in theaters today, May 14, all eight of the earlier movies in the series are available for streaming. If you’re interested in checking them out but don’t want to commit a full day to marathoning gore, here’s a guide to the “Saw” franchise.
“Saw” (HBO Max)
Though critics have never given much credit to the series, the initial entry was by far the best reviewed. This is where the psychology for the series is laid out – Jigsaw feels he’s testing the will to live of those he kidnaps and puts in his complicated torture devices. “Spiral” director Darren Lynn Bousman said this philosophy will also drive the events of the new movie as well, so if you want to get some insight into it this might be the best place to start. The gore is also more purposeful here than it is in later films, and if you don’t already know it the twist ending is surprisingly well done.
“Saw II” (HBO Max)
Here’s where we get the template for the rest of the series, for good or for ill. The Bouseman-helmed “Saw II” (he also directed the third and fourth installments) adds a storyline where the police are hunting down Jigsaw and alternates it with the torture. The two always come together at the end, though the contortions it takes to make that happen are sometimes too strained to truly qualify as a clever twist. This one doubles down on both the gore and the look into Jigsaw’s psyche, but wasn’t as well liked by audiences.
“Saw III” and “Saw IV” (HBO Max)
More well-liked than the previous movie but also more divisive, “Saw III” ups the disturbing factor by not only making the traps more complicated but by bringing in a grieving father and dead kids. It also gives more Jigsaw backstory and creates a relationship with his murder protegee. “Saw IV” actually happens at the same time as “Saw III,” for reasons you discover are important during “Saw III,” and gives even more Jigsaw backstory. It also ups the disturbing factor even more, this time with pure torture rather than tragic emotional elements.
“Saw V,” “Saw VI,” and “Saw: The Final Chapter” (HBO Max)
This is where it gets tragic, at least as far as the series’ dignity is concerned. Following Mark Hoffman, another Jigsaw protegee, the last three movies stay grisly but take a sharp slide in quality and overall coherence. The final movie, which was filmed for 3D audiences and so is even more gimmicky than usual, ends the main series with a whimper. Unless you really are marathoning the entire series, feel free to skip all three of these.
This is the movie the “Spiral” creative team really wishes you didn’t remember. This first attempt at a series revival came seven years after “Saw: The Final Chapter,” and unfortunately for fans didn’t make enough money to justify its own sequels. It did manage to be considerably more coherent than several of the previous sequels, however, with a solid if predictable twist. “Spiral” has already said it’s going to go in a different direction – there will be more focus on the cops than the torture scenes, and some humor will be incorporated – but “Jigsaw” still managed to be an interesting look at what might have been.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.