Hey, Beyond The Voiders! Here before you is the first segment of a new series I'll be doing on Top-Notch franchises that were stopped after 3 films, forming a trilogy or, SHOULD HAVE been stopped after 3 films, making the story a trilogy. The first franchise to lie down on my operating table is none other than...
The 'Saw' Trilogy
(Should have stopped after 3 movies, but hey, I understand there were still millions to be made.)
(Small spoilers in this article.)
Back in the early 2000’s, Horror was hot as ever. And although the third entry had seemed to wrap-up the series at the time, SCREAM's heavy influence on the genre was still going strong. The adrenaline shot Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson injected into the veins of the Horror genre in late 1996 and early 1997 was necessary, as our beloved genre hadn’t had an explosive hit in years. But, at the beginning of this century, not too many films were taking chances with originality, and suffered from the played out, self-aware character angle. Screenwriter Todd Farmer is on record stating that all notes regarding the ‘Jason X’ script (which was conceived in the late 90’s/early 00’s) said the movie needed to be more like 'Scream.' To me, Farmer's statement proves that studios didn't know how to take the next step forward in Horror cinema, yet.
Then, in 2004, word hit the internet that a short film (SAW) was being made into a feature-length film by the original short's writer (Leigh Whannell) and director (James Wan). The buzz was strong, but too much hype can make a movie seem not as good as it actually is on the first viewing. Lucky for me, and people with a passion for the genre, when 'Saw' was released in October, 2004, it was everything us Horror fans were promised and more. Wan and Whannell delivered.
My first thought, about half way through the first movie was "This is a mixture of 'Scream' (1996) and 'Seven' (1995). There were two reasons I thought that:
A.) The protagonists each have to play a tape, and on those tapes is a deep voice; a voice that reminded me of the killer in 'Scream'.
B.) The "intelligent serial killer on the loose" shtick.
Like I said, to my delight, 'Saw' was much more than that. It tricks the audience right up to the very end. And being a guy who, 90% of the time can guess a whodunit, I just didn't see that finale coming.
Screenwriter Leigh Whannell played one of the main characters and did a damn fine job with his double duty. 'Saw' actually has a lot going for it; the acting is tip-top, the gore James Wan added hit the spot, and the music... oh the musical score just doesn't get as much credit as it deserves. It really is up there with John Carpenter's 'Halloween' score and Fred Myrow's 'Phantasm' score. 'Saw', as great as it is, really benefits from the feeling the music emits, especially with that brilliant ending.
Saw 2 (2005)
The word "sequel" can sometimes mean death for any type of movie franchise. I admit, some sequels of on-going franchises I'm fond of aren't all quality-filled, but at least they don't bore me. Then, of course, there's some that shouldn't ever have gotten made. Now, let's go back to the Fall season of 2005, I was pretty busy on the opening weekend of 'Saw 2'. It was no big deal, I planned on catching it the following week. In between that first and second weekend, though, most of my friends were talking about this low-budget, Horror sequel; they were saying how fantastic it was. I couldn't wait to see it!. But, a dreadful thought kept hitting me: "Will this movie really do the first movie justice?" “How could it?” I thought. 'Saw' had sharpness and rawness that was going to be hard to duplicate. I knew Leigh Whannell was back as the screenwriter, but I had to wonder if the new director Darren Lynn Bousman could keep the torch burning. The answer was and is a strong "Yes".
The movie pulls off a dauntless opening, then follows up with a fist full of intense scenes. In 'Saw 2' we get to lay our eyes on the Jigsaw Killer very early on. A killer who was only seen a couple of times in the first movie. He's up front and center as opposed to being hidden. This was a smart decision because, even in the dialog-only scenes between Jigsaw and Detective Mathews, the sense of fear and anxiety are almost aromatic.
Whannell and Bousman switched up the routine a little bit, too. There's more victims to start off Jigsaw's "game" in this sequel. Much like the characters Adam and Dr. Gordon in ‘Saw’, the new batch of victims all wake up in the same predicament. This movie keeps the shocks coming right through the very end, with another twist I didn't expect. 'Saw 2' gave us interesting character information, and moved the story forward.
Saw 3 (2006)
Bousman & Whannell handled directing and writing duties again, respectively. This third installment we have Jigsaw calling all the shots without law enforcement to keep him company as in the previous film. 'Saw 3' went further with both mental and physical torture, and the filmmakers went as far as they should have. This movie hits all the right spots. In many ways it's the perfect 'Saw' film. The first two movies had their own strengths; 'Saw 3' takes those strengths and sprints with them. I personally feel the big twist was easier to spot this time around, but that's just because I knew to look for it. In 'Saw 2' I had no idea they were going to pull off another "Oh shit" moment. By 'Saw 3' it was expected, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Now, let's talk about the ending. After the twist is revealed, we get one more surprise seconds before the film ends. I won't say exactly what it is in case you haven't seen these movies, but you plan on doing so. And yes, the final twist is THAT GOOD! It's such a dark and aberrant choice to end with, but this boldness is what made the first three movies work. The filmmakers didn't go the happy ending route, and I don't think they should have. I still, to this day, think about how fucked up, yet genius the ending to the third movie is. The surprise I'm talking about gets ruined in the sequels, which is one reason I think this amazing and perplexing story of the Jigsaw Killer should have only been a trilogy.
My conclusion is, if there were no more sequels after the third entry, this franchise would have gone down in history as one of the BEST TRILOGIES in any movie genre, period. There's a lot of people that look back, thinking the original 'SAW' is just another Horror movie with too many sequels, and that's a shame. The sequels, part 4 and on, guilty pleasure-ish as they are, did not make the three films before them any better
There's one more thing I'd like to mention. Just because I feel 'Saw' should have ended as a trilogy, does not mean I'm insulting the new movie due out in 2020. In fact, I'm looking forward to it. I respect the fact that Chris Rock, Samuel L. Jackson and Darren Lynn Bousman are trying to make a good Horror movie. I have faith in all three of them! And of course, Tobin Bell’s performance will always be a pleasure to witness in a 'Saw' movie.
Have you listened to our HORROR Podcast? This week on Beyond The Void Horror Podcast. We watched two brand new horror comedy movies! Nekrotronic (2018) about demons, ghosts and laughs. Wildly stylistic. Then The Banana Splits Movie (2019) which takes murderous kids show robots on a rampage disassembling the cast and your childhood. Check it out! Listen on iTunes Here or on Spotify here!