On February 14th, I will begin watching Saw at midnight. I have to start early because I’d like to get a nap in somewhere near the halfway point, and there are now seven movies I must get through, with an optional eighth. When I started doing this in 2006, it was just a double feature to celebrate the DVD release of Saw 2. Now, coming up on the 18th year of this tradition, it has turned into a full annual marathon of some of my favorite horror films. I am so proud to be taking the Saw franchise as my Valentine again.
It’s a series that I will often jump in to defend. The Saw movies get a lot of hate, that is, in my opinion, unearned. Their reputation for being gory, over-the-top torture porn doesn’t do justice to the writing, the effects, or the moral complexities of the messaging. It completely discards the fact that, through genius editing, you barely see any gore whatsoever in the first two installations. I’m also awed by the fact that they tell a coherent story. Over 8 films, we meet the victims of the traps, get a self-contained movie in each, but also learn more about John Kramer as a villain throughout.
I have made the claim that the worst Saw movie is better than the worst movie from any other horror franchise. That belief has been somewhat shaken by the 2021 release of Spiral, but it remains true for the 8 official Saw movies. I would rather watch Jigsaw any day than watch Jason Goes to Hell, The Curse of Michael Meyers, or the dreaded Dream Child.
If there was a fatal flaw in the early Saw movies, it was their marketing. From the terrible “He finds ways for his victims to kill themselves” Saw teasers all the way to the utter lack of advertisements for Saw: The Final Chapter, the marketing failed to capture any nuance whatsoever. If you treat these movies like nothing but a gorefest, that could very well be all you get out of them. I can attest, however, that there is a lot more there.
The first paid writing job that I got to publish under my own name, was a deep dive into the Saw franchise. I used that as a portfolio piece to break into movie reviews, and work my way into the field of horror journalism. When I got to do my first paid test at writing YouTube scripts for a horror channel and they asked me for a script with a quick turnaround, Saw was my go-to movie. Even a few years ago, when I started podcasting, they wanted to know what I felt comfortable talking about, and I knew my answer.
Like any other series of movies, Saw has its weak links and its faults. I had to watch 4 several times before I completely understood the timeline. They killed off two of the most interesting characters far too early in the series without having an adequate replacement. The special effects suffered in the seventh entry, which was released to theaters in 3D.
The good more than outweighs the bad, however. We have complex characters, flawed victims, and interesting villains. The social commentary of these movies is unrivaled. What starts with recurring themes of corruption and police brutality ends up tackling other big themes, journalistic bias, health insurance profiteering, and the commercialization of trauma. These are all things I look for in my horror movies, and I don’t even mind the healthy helping of gore — especially with all the love and care that went into the practical effects of most entries.
Knowing a series inside and out so well gave me a place in the horror community that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I have done deep dives and reviews and articles and so much other content about this franchise and loved every minute of it. This right here is just my way of saying thank you to these movies that have made me feel so at home for so many years. It is also an invitation. If you find yourself with the free time this Valentine’s Day, consider this your sign to revisit the Saw franchise. It may just be better than you remembered.