Search

A Red Splash in the Pan: We Won't Ever Have Another Series Like Saw


Stuck in a moment you can't get out of.

What's a tagline from your childhood that makes you nostalgic and feel old at the same time? How about "Follow your nose, wherever it goes?" If cereal boxes wanted to make a lasting impact in the 90's they certainly succeeded. As horror movie taglines go, I could think of the famous "Do you like scary movies?" from the Scream franchise, another staple of the 90's. As far as that decade of nostalgia and pop culture history goes, the trends that came from it are often looked back upon fondly, sometimes revisited in remakes or returns to familiar characters and franchises. If I wanted to explore into Hollywood's recent fascination of returning to old SNL characters and 80-90's comedy, I'd be (re)writing another article entirely (coworker discouraged me from giving that dead horse another beating). So while certain words or sayings take us back before the Audi's what feeling does the quote "If it's Halloween, it must be Saw". This takes me back to every TV "spot" (who remembers those?) that existed around October. The full-length trailers that showcased this film series opened almost every R-Rated production I remember seeing in the theatres as a teenager. And when I was a teenager, this list heavily included the Saw movies.


R-Rated horror films have always been appealing, to larger audiences, while also risking the limitation of getting the same sized audiences as a PG-13 flick. This has always been true, but something different happened in 2004 with the release of Saw, a movie by James Wan with a budget just shy of a million dollars and a peculiarly non-descript advertising campaign. The film opened at Sundance Film Festival after a long debacle in funding the film and Lionsgate Films was eager to jump on it. The film, while featuring a recognizable cast including Danny Glover and Cary Elwes, is considered an independent success, with a huge profit of over 55 million dollars gross sales in the U.S. alone. In the continued success of the film's box office career multiple sequels were made, annually and succeeded one after another. The advertising for these films coined the term "if it's Halloween it must be Saw" because there simply wasn't any year between 2004-2010 that didn't have a Saw film. Each film one after another broke R-Rated and horror box office records, so they kept releasing them. This is crazy to think of, but was actually not unheard of in decades before trends of horror franchises succeeding in all their gory glory. The Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th are two example of this. There were six films in the Friday the 13th franchise between the years 1980-86, and yet they are distinguished to this day for their creativity and uniqueness among themselves. Between 2004-2010 we have 7 Saw movies. Are these films as distinguishable from each other as our 80's slasher flicks are?


No, they're not. But we'll get to that later.

Scott Patterson stuck in a career trap.

So what's the appeal? Well I was a teenager at one point, and the fanbase of the franchise existed to appeal to the barely-legal audience of the Audi's who were just old enough to get mom and dad's signed permission to see them. That's not even mentioning the larger audience of PG-13 audiences who managed to sneak past ushers and hide in the back seats of these screenings. Teenagers love horror films! They crave the violence and the screams and the peril!! There is and always will be a shared love for horror films by young audiences, but the genre is not usually taken too seriously by critics, and this franchise is no exception. There certainly can't be argued that this series was not popular by critical acclaim. The highest rated film in the series (the original) is sitting pretty at 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. The other films exist in the realm of the 20% range today (although I swear Saw V was under 10% went it was first released). I would say these movies might have existed at a time when less people took critics as seriously. Today Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic are popularly used and each film listed can be summed up as a percentage of positive vs. negative reviews. In the late 90's to early Audi's people like myself relied on the local Journal Sentinel review or which direction Ebert's thumbs were pointed. I would also say that certain films, even today, appeal to audiences in a way that will always go beyond reviews, and that was something the Saw franchise pulled off. So inflammatory were these reviews that a general consensus was arrived at giving these films the term "torture porn." (Don't look that up.)

This term which is synonymous to the term "splatter films" is broken down from a trend that existed long before this franchise, one that stepped away from shadowy boogeymen and focused more on the grimness and gore of their victims. These films have existed for many decades including Cannibal Holocaust most notoriously and the Dead trilogy by George A. Romero, each with their own intentions. Some say splatter films existed less as a thriller diversion working off our nightmares and anxieties like most movies of the time did and spent more time shining a light on atrocities as political allegories. Films like these were constantly threatened by controversy, court cases and censorship, and therefore, they started to go away. Then there were more.


In the 2000s – particularly 2003–2009 – a body of films was produced that combined elements of the splatter and slasher film genres. The films were dubbed "torture porn" by critics and detractors, most notably by David Edelstein, who is thought to have coined the term...the extent to which torture porn lives up to its sensational reputation has been disputed." - Wikipedia

Don't call it a comeback.

Almost as if these films were the enfant terrible cousins of splatter films, torture porn movies don't necessarily send the same message as their predecessors. Romero's film Day of the Dead focuses on issues in the military and controversial scientific studies done on human subjects throughout history. Does this justify watching a man screaming until his vocal chords are rip