I am a huge fan of the original Saw (2004). And not just because I got to annoy the shit out of my high school classmates by repeatedly asking, “did you see Saw?” Get it? Yeah, it wasn’t funny then either, which makes dusting it off 12 years later seem more than a tad pathetic. I’ve seen the original in theaters at least five times. Each year I’d attend Sawfest at my local theater in New Jersey, catching up on all of the previous films in advance of the newest movie’s midnight release. I went into each one with a smile on my face and the memory of Cary Elwes’ severed foot in my heart. In October 2009, when the latest entry, Saw VI, hit theaters, there was no Sawfest. They’d canceled my event; the thing I’d looked forward to, on or around my birthday for years was no more. When it came time for Saw 3D: The Final Chapter in 2010, it was just another movie. What was once so special to me had become so normal. I wanted that feeling back. I wanted to play a game… But alas, game over.
With the poster for the upcoming Saw Legacy reading, “And you thought it was over,” the played out franchise is basically announcing right off the bat, “this movie totally doesn’t need to exist, but hey, come see it anyway!” What started as a brilliantly suspenseful contained thriller, launching the career of James Wan, arguably our greatest living horror director, quickly devolved into a repetitive annual gore-a-palooza, with filmmakers constantly trying to one-up the previous film with newer and more ridiculous traps. We’ve seen legs sawed off; learned, “what the fuck is an Obi?” We’ve discovered first hand that not everything needs to be in 3D and we’ve even bore witness to Donnie “New Kids” Wahlberging it up… What else is there left to do? Perhaps give a tired premise one last, good squeeze?
Do we really need another Saw film, or is this just a shameless cash grab?
From the writers of Piranha 3D, a surprisingly fun, bad movie, and one of the writers of the original short film Clown (the basis for Jon Watts’ recently released feature of the same name), comes Saw Legacy, the eighth film in a horror franchise where the big bad was killed off, for good, no supernatural resurrection, by the end of the third movie. “How can this franchise possibly keep going now without running out of steam?” That question has been asked in every script and production meeting since Saw IV, but all anyone heard was, “steam,” and they replied, “yeah, we can work that into one of the traps, how about in the sixth movie?” And so it was done, for better or for worse. But they’ve continued to write scripts and film movies, and despite not always reaching the lofty expectations set by the original, most of them have been pretty entertaining.
Like seemingly ever horror franchise that’s been run into the ground, the makers of Saw subtitled one of their series entries “The Final Chapter,” only to go back on that promise and make at least one more follow up. In this case the seventh chapter was the alleged final chapter, but with part eight on the horizon, it’s only a matter of time before Saw joins the ranks of such horror franchises as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th (who did it twice), Lake Placid (apparently), and Resident Evil… the last of which I’m sure to get into more in depth before its January 2017 release.
Especially with smaller budget films, like Saw, the studios behind them eventually remember that they like making five million dollar movies that gross fifty million domestically and they ultimately return to the well, rushing yet another of the same through production to have it ready in time for the same slot on next year’s release calendar. The hope is that the new film doesn’t become just another sterile rehash that we shell out fifteen bucks to see, only to impatiently grind our teeth all the way through, because I’d rather put my head in a reverse bear trap and dive into a pit of used hypodermic needles while my ankle is chained to a rusty pipe in the grimiest of underground bathrooms again.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom and saws that are only sharp enough to cut through our feet. Like Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick, Jr. once tried to convince us back in 1998, Hope Floats. Hope in the form of two shining beacons, brothers named Spierig, Michael and Peter Spierig, German brothers who made an Australian zombie movie that caught the eye of an American audience. In 2003, I called out of work and drove 80 miles to catch a screening of their feature debut Undead, a sci-fi, action, comedy, horror flick with Australian zombies and a lead actor named Mungo. Fucking Mungo. How could 17-year old me possibly be blamed?
Since Undead, the Spierigs have released two very cool, sleek, stylish low-budget science fiction films, both starring Ethan Hawke. Daybreakers (2009) featured a world in which vampires are the predominant species and Predestination (2014) a mindfucky time travel movie both caught my attention upon their individual releases, partly because of my fondness for the work of these talented directors. Their track record gives me hope. The original Saw had a message. Sort of. “Cherish your life.” It may have been delivered by a dark and twisted messenger, but it gave the film purpose. I often walk out at the end of a movie, good or bad, thinking, “well, that was fine, but what the hell was the point?” Saw had a point. Daybreakers and Predestination each had a point. I’m hopeful that the Spierigs plan to bring their style and their substance to the party and that they’re not just looking to cash in as guns for hire on an established mainstream brand name like Saw.
There is a world of possibility with Saw Legacy, continuing a franchise that went from great, to okay, to “they’re still making these?” With promising directors and a writing team that proved competent enough for Piranha 3D to not completely suck, I’ll reserve my judgment until the film’s 2017 Halloween weekend release. What feels instinctually like just another hollow cash grab may, in fact, turn out to be exactly what we need to revitalize a once great franchise. I, for one, will be there opening weekend, ready to cover myself in peanut butter and have a 15 hooker gang bang.