Saw – A Horror Legend Revisited

In Features by Samuel Love

With the ninth film in the series – Spiral: From the Book of Saw – now in cinemas, Lionsgate Home Entertainment have reissued the first eight films in the Saw series on DVD and Blu-ray, in The Legacy Collection. Starting out as a short film in 2003 to help pitch a feature film concept – which would ultimately become the first film in the series in ‘04 – the franchise has become one of the most successful and widely-known franchises in cinematic horror. 

While the quality of the films have certainly decreased with each passing sequel, there’s a lot to like in the blood-soaked series. Classified – perhaps incorrectly – as ‘torture porn’ by some critics (a label which is rejected by the creators of the series and fans alike), the films have earned a reputation over the years for just being nothing but ultraviolent drivel. And sure, there is a gore element to these films that is quite prevalent, and not for the faint of heart. But rejecting this franchise on their violence alone means you’re missing out on some of the best-written horrors in years. While films like I Spit on Your Grave and Hostel exist purely to shock, the Saw films actually back up their horrifying visuals with a compelling overarching narrative with an epic scope not often seen in the genre.

The twists and turns in the Saw series are shockingly cunning, giving the series an intelligence that it rarely gets credit for. The climactic revelations in each film are often more shocking than the splattering violence onscreen – who can forget the first time they saw Jigsaw stand up in the bathroom, way back in the chilling franchise-launching first film? While the sequels never quite managed to nail an ending like that again, they certainly came close with some truly memorable twists that felt earned. Convoluted? Maybe a little. But seeing the pieces fall together in each film’s final act is always a gruesome joy.

But the films belong to Tobin Bell, the man – and voice – behind the notorious Jigsaw Killer, whose terrifying presence is felt throughout the entire series. His performance is truly something special, lending these films a level of quality that is rarely contributed to by the hammy performances of those playing the various victims of the depraved villain. Bell has, quite rightly, become the face of the series and will certainly be what he is remembered for. Jigsaw is one of horror’s most complex and layered characters, and Bell was born to play him.

This feature isn’t going to win over any Saw detractors, and that’s fine. I see your criticisms, and I don’t blindly defend this series. Yes, the so-called ‘torture porn’ elements can be a little much, and some elements of the later sequels can feel somewhat trite and cliché. But on the whole, the series is one that can certainly hold its own in the great pantheon of horror franchises and go toe-to-toe with some of the big boys. It might not come out on top, but it has the guts to put up a bloody good fight. 

The Saw series continues to this day in the afore-mentioned ninth film, which will almost certainly go on to spawn further sequels. Throw in the video games, comic books, and theme park attractions that the franchise has also birthed – not to mention the copious amounts of merchandise – and Saw has become a horror juggernaut. Not bad for something that started out as a short film made for just $2,000 back in 2003.

SAW: THE LEGACY COLLECTION is available now on DVD and Blu-ray, and SPIRAL: FROM THE BOOK OF SAW is now in cinemas.