After SAW came out in 2004, people went insane with knock-offs, each one trying to be gorier and more greusome than the last. It was the height of the “torture porn” genre. Everyone and their mothers was making one of these movies, and you know what? They all sucked. Here’s why.
Warning: There may be spoilers ahead.
1.SAW Isn’t a Horror Movie
“Blasphemy!” you may be saying, but save that for the exorcism movies. Go back and watch the first SAW movie. It’s not horror, it’s a psychological crime thriller.It’s also not that gory (which is odd, considering that’s kind of what it’s known for). SAW is about detectives trying to solve a crime. Yes, it’s also about people being kidnapped and trying to escape, but so much of the story is focused on the detective work.
Now granted, the future installments in the series definitely became more in-line with the horror genre, focusing more on the kills and deaths, and the fear of being one of Jigsaws victims, but the first movie focuses on the psychological. It’s about being in a life-or-death situation, and doing whatever it takes to survive, or realizing that you can’t survive.
Remember how a big part of the movie was Lawrence’s family being kidnapped and held hostage? No, you probably don’t, because when you think of SAW, you think of a guy cutting his leg off. Well, the kidnapping was a big part of the movie. Remember how detective Tapp became obsessed with Jigsaw, and went a little crazy in the process? Didn’t think so, but again, the detective work was a huge part of the first movie (like I said, it’s more of a crime thriller than a horror movie).
But the knock-offs go straight to horror, they want gore and blood, and death and killing. It’s all about the killing. These people can’t escape, there’s no hope for them, there’s also no sympathy for them in most cases.
2.Jigsaw Isn’t a Murdering Psychopath
Take a look at Hostel, The Collector, Would You Rather, or really any other SAW knock-off. What do these movies have in common? I’ll tell ya. The villain is a murdering psychopath who wants nothing more than to watch his victims die and suffer in greusome, horrible ways, and has no remorse about any of it.
And that’s exactly why they fail. John Kramer, or “Jigsaw,” the villain of the SAW series isn’t a murdering psychopath, he’s a cancer patient, angry about the death of his unborn child, who genuinely wants to help people. He doesn’t put people in these traps because he wants them to die, he truly believes he’s helping them. But he’s not insane, he wants them to feel the pain they inflict on others. In Hostel, the people who kill their victims kill them because it’s exciting and exotic to kill an American, because they get a sick sense of pleasure from it.
Jigsaw wants his victims to suffer, he wants them to understand pain, but he also wants them to survive. He wants them to be strong and push through the pain like he’s had to do for so much of his life. He wants them to understand pain so they can change.
This scene perfectly expresses Jigsaw’s mindset. To give some background, the detective he’s talking to killed the guy who killed his sister in a trap he made to look like a Jigsaw trap. Jigsaw is furious with him, because he didn’t give the victim a chance, he was going to die from the start.
3.SAW Was Clever
One thing the SAW movies did with each new installment was ask themselves, “how can we make this new? How can we keep this interesting?” And they changed up the format almost every time. The first movie is about 2 people chained in place, finding clues, trying to escape. The second movie is about a group of people, trapped together in a house, trying to find an antidote and understand why they’re there. The third movie was about a nurse being forced to keep Jigsaw alive, and a man facing a number of trials, one room after the other. Every new installment was significantly different than the last. It kept it fresh every time.
Even the dynamic between Jigsaw, his victims, the detectives, and his helpers changed throughout the series. We learn in SAW III that Amanda, Jigsaw’s closest accomplice, just wants to kill people. She doesn’t care about them, and creates traps where they can’t escape. We learn that Hoffman, who is a double agent, working for the police force and secretly helping Jigsaw, is in it for his own reasons, which aren’t quite in line with what Jigsaw wants.
Hostel didn’t change it up until the third installment, and it was still, basically, the same thing, just in a different setting. I’ll admit, I did like that they made Americans the bad guys in that one. But it was still basically the same formula.
SAW was also clever with how it killed its victims. It was, in one sense, the most original slasher film series ever, because of the diversity in how each victim died. No two traps were quite the same, although some were similar, but even if they were, the victim and the outcome were different.
4.The Beginning and End Were Epic
Each SAW movie after the first started with a trap. It set the mood for the whole movie, and it was something you looked forward to with each new installment. “What are they gonna do this time?” It was always exciting to see what happened. From there, it went into the actual story of the movie, and sometimes that first death came back later on, sometimes it set up the first scene.
Each SAW movie ends with a big reveal about that makes the events of the movie come full circle. Usually it’s something you don’t expect, but it was always really interesting to see how things were tied together. The first movie we learn the dead guy in the middle of the floor isn’t dead, and we learn that Zepp is just as much a part of Jigsaw’s game as Lawrence and Adam. In SAW II, we learn that the footage is just a tape, and everything on it already happened. Every installment had a big reveal, and it was always epic.
Knock-offs of the series may have had deaths at the beginning, and may have even had big reveals at the end, but nothing compared to those in the SAW movies.