Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bookmonkey Saw: Day 30 - The End


So here we are at the end of my month dedicated to an examination of the Saw franchise and what have I learned?

First of all, the 2004 film Saw is an effective, low-budget thriller that impressed me with concept, acting and a few intriguing plot twists.  I think I'll add my copy of the film to my horror DVD collection, and although I have zero interest in seeing the many films inspired by the franchise, I can honestly say the film is worth the watch for thriller fans.

Next, the comic book is a great example of how not to expand a text into another medium and both the Reality TV series and the video game are excellent examples of how to explore the phase space of an original text.  The comic added nothing to the original story and gave no lead-in to the sequel, in addition it could have created the beginning of an entire comic book series (for those of you unaware, horror and comics have a long and involved history together - check out The Horror The Horror: Comic Books the Government didn't want you to read by Jim Trombetta), while the reality TV series and Video game both spawned sequels and introduced new audiences to the horror genre and the original film franchise.

Finally, as a series, the franchise quickly looses steam and soon exhausts it's original concept - by the end of the third film I had seen the basic plot of the remaining four films.  As a long time fan of the horror genre, I can honestly say that unlike fantasy, horror works best in short form.  What horror also does is pack kids in theatres, and like the Friday the 13th's and Nightmare on Elm Street's of the 1980s, the Hammer Horror Films of the 1960s and the Universal Monster Movies of the 1930s and 40's, it ensures a new generation of teens grow up with a series they can call their own, as evidenced by the massive amount of fan fiction and websites devoted to any and all horror series.

In horror films, the two biggest sub-genres are slasher movies (wherein a killer chases teens around until one of the teen girls starts doing the chasing) and ghost movies (wherein a ghostly phenomenon terrifies a family until the Dad embraces the spiritual).  In 2004 Saw found another way (no teen characters and a "Slasher" who wants his victims to live, and to be better people for it) and creators Leigh Whannell and James Wan followed it up in 2010 with Insidious, one of the most effective ghost films I've ever seen, which also turned the tried-and-true formula on it's ear (It's not the house that's haunted).

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bookmonkey Saw: Day 27

Saw 3D, aka Saw VII, aka Saw: The Final Chapter

After one month, one comic, eight movies, two seasons of reality television and a video game (no luck on getting a copy of the second game to play within the time limit), I finally saw the conclusion of the Saw franchise this morning.

Saw 3D.

By the way, worst title ever - seriously, if you are going to name your films Saw, Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, Saw V, and Saw VI, the final film should clearly be called Saw VII - if you want to cash in on the current 3D craze, you call your third film "Saw IIID" - it worked for the Friday the 13th franchise back in 1982.

Thankfully the DVD is called Saw: the Final Chapter (which still isn't as simple as "Saw VII" but, it'll have to do).

The film follows up where Saw VI left off - the new Jigsaw killer creates a new game and kills a record breaking of over 20 deaths in the film.  In the end, the story follows virtually the same plot used since the second film, doesn't really show anything new and left me disappointed overall.

I did feel pretty bad for the winner of season 2 of Scream Queens, as her scene was incredibly short and gave her virtually no chance to act at all.

I kind of feel like I just ran a marathon - a disgusting, bloody marathon.

Next up, conclusion and final thoughts.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bookmonkey Saw: Day 25

Before we get to the final Saw film (and a minor rant I'll have about how to number sequels in a franchise - you have been warned), I wanted to spend a little time explaining why I decided to choose the Saw franchise as my focus for the last month.

1) I am a fan of the horror genre - since I was a child I've always loved scary things - it may come from being the only boy growing up in a houseful of women, or maybe because there was always something forbidden about the idea of seeing scary films and books (Stephen King novels were kept behind the librarian's desk in my school library growing up), and therefore when a new series or must-see title comes out, I'm asked by friends for my opinion. As the Saw franchise dominated theatres for seven straight years, I felt that I should take some time to check these films out.

2) I kept coming across references to the franchise throughout my regular non-horror reading and viewing habits.  Three quick examples - a) A character from one of my favourite sitcoms dressed up as the Jigsaw Killers doll (pictured right), b) I came across a reference in a book I was reading about healthy living:

"At the start of my project, I considered a triathlon but dismissed it.  I'd even watched a few YouTube videos on triathlons, including one that purported to be a motivational video.  It featured stumbling runners collapsing on the road and convulsing.  There was a woman on a stretcher.  With an IV in her arm.  That kind of motivation does not work on me.  When I watch Saw III, I don't say to myself, "Hey, I really want to be chained up in a sociopath's basement."  Same idea. (p.250)

3) The fact that the franchise stretches across Television, Comics, Movies and Video games really interested me, and unlike a series like saw Resident Evil, which has six games, almost a dozen novels, a couple animated films, and comic books as well, it seemed possible to explore the franchise in a month.

In the end, Saw has become a short-hand for popular culture to refer to extreme violence in horror films as well as the genres tendency to spawn multiple sequels - like Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Friday the 13th, etc., and I believe that any text which gets that degree of reference throughout popular culture deserves a critical view.

Works Cited

Jacobs, A.J. (2012) Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bookmonkey Saw: Day 23

Saw VI

All right, Saw VI, first thing first – the winner of the first season of Scream Queens appears in her breakthrough role in the first scene!  Her character and a co-worker are trapped in joined cages and can only save themselves by feeding bits of their bodies to a machine and do it faster than the other.


It is a big scene, and although she doesn’t get to use her skills she learned on Scream Queens to be seductive, angry or the girl who defeats the villain, she does get to look terrified and then crazy as she works to out-do her coworker.

Also, the two of them are locked up because they are bankers, and bankers are bad.  I guess because the sometimes make unfair mortgages with customers.

Actually, that might be the biggest beef I have with the sixth film, the victims are (the two previously mentioned) bankers and a whole lot of health insurance company workers.  Because those people are bad, and take advantage of the poor and sick.

Seriously, the writing at this point in the series is pretty awful and entirely inconsistent with the original concept.  Originally, the Jigsaw Killer kidnaps random people and claims they don’t appreciate their lives enough, and then he gives them a horrible decision to make and (I honestly believe) hopes that they will succeed at their challenge.

By this point in the series, only bad people are caught, people who need to be taught a lesson.  In fact, this movie actually uses retroactively continuity to show us that the Jigsaw Killer planned this all along, making the whole series about a vendetta killer, effectively removing one of my favourite aspects of the first film, the killers motive.

The "evil" health insurance company in the film is called Umbrella Health (in Saw’s equally prolific contemporary horror franchise Resident Evil, The Umbrella Corporation is behind the zombie plague which is the focus of each film), and unlike the previous films conceit of using flashbacks to describe how the victims were kidnapped, this film shows everything in chronological order.

Also this is by far the most disgusting of the films in terms of on-screen violence – I thought Saw V was bad, but this film really takes the cake (the gore-cake, if you will, which I hope isn’t an actual thing in the final Saw film).

The only positive thing I can say about the DVD is that in addition to the all the special features focusing on the horrible traps of the film (and actually, they are pretty poorly conceived in the film, most of them being shotgun traps with few of the mechanized grinding parts that seemed to appeal to fans of the previous films), was one focusing on how actor Tobin Bell worked to make his performance of the Jigsaw Killer more believable, and I found that eight minute segment to be pretty interesting.

(Quick side-note - this review of Saw VI actually marks my 500th post to this blog since I started in August of 2009 – Pretty Cool!  Sorry it was about Saw VI, but hey – at least you didn’t have to watch it.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bookmonkey Saw: Day 21

Scream Queens

Part of the Saw franchise I've been most looking forward to all month is the VH1 Reality Television series Scream Queens.

The premise is pretty simple - ten young actresses compete in horror movie-themed competitions to win a role in Saw VI.

Having just watched Saw VI (more on this in my next post), I'm not sure how much of a reward that was - but what the heck, exposure is exposure and all three of the top contestants ended up getting roles in film and TV based partly on their exposure on Scream Queens.

The show has the ten contestants living in a house in California and working with judges Shawnee Smith (actress in Saw I, II, and III), writer/director James Gunn (Dawn of the Dead, Slither, Super), and acting coach John Homa.  Over the course of eight episodes they did everything from scream to fight and act scared, terrified, seductive and angry.  Honestly, an acting-themed Reality TV series felt like a lot of fun, and if I were a fan of the Saw franchise, I'd have to admit that being able to watch Reality TV and video games related to the upcoming sequel in the series would be a great way to build excitement.

Honestly, the work behind these last two posts has been some of the most fun I've had all month (since the first film, that is).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bookmonkey Saw: Day 18

Taking a step away from the films for a few days, lets look at some the other Saw-related media out there.

But first a little background.

1) In 1999 Konami released a survival-horror video game called Silent Hill (which in itself became the beginning of a series of games, comic books, movies, and novels), in which an "everyman" type character explored the frightening town of Silent Hill and sometimes slipped into a darker and more violent place.  Unlike it's most popular competitor in survival horror, the Resident Evil series of video games, Silent Hill focused on moody atmosphere and could best be described as psychological horror rather than the zombie-filled action horror of the Resident Evil series.

2) One year earlier, in 1998 the television series Felicity began airing which focused on the character of Felicity Porter (played by Keri Russell) as she attends college at the fictional University of New York, and throughout the series balances school with a love triangle involving two boys named Ben Convington and Noel Crane.  The first season ended on a cliffhanger, wherein Felicity had to choose between taking a road trip to California with Ben, or a trip to Europe with Noel.  Season two began with the knowledge that Felicity chose (mild, 13-year-old spoiler) the road trip with Ben.

Now, before you get upset and and start wondering why I'm filling my Saw blog with Silent Hill and Felicity, bear with me, It will all make sense I promise.

1a) Before season two of Felicity began, fans could buy a novel called Felicity: Summer which focused on her European trip with NOEL!?!  Which, of course, didn't happen (although the series does get involved in time travel later - seriously - so who knows, maybe it did?).

2a) Already considered one of the leaders of horror games in the video game industry, Konami began to look for a new concept which would further cement their hold on this sub-genre of video games.

Now, let's talk about Saw, for Playstation 3.  Like Felicity: Summer, Saw the game plays around with the franchise, taking place between Saw and Saw II, and featuring the character of Detective Tapp, who DIED in the first film, as the main character.  At the time of the games release, Saw VI was due out in about a month, so a game wherein the main character, who is clearly referred to as dead in the second film, somehow survives and gets to go through another bout with the Jigsaw killer may seem strange, but that is what players were met with.

The game looks an awful lot like Silent Hill, taking place in a largely-abandoned location, and with a very similar atmosphere, it is easy to make comparisons.  Also, having played through the first half of the game myself, it is probably the most fun I've had with a Saw-themed text since the first film.  The game is filled with timed mini-puzzles, and although it has a pretty high violence factor, the fact that you control the character makes it a heck of a lot more enjoyable than watching another half-dozen random characters get fed through death-manchines (sorry, Saw III - V).

So there you have it, even a passing familiarity with the series of films is all you need to enjoy the game, and as long as you are not put off by the onscreen violence, it was actually a lot more fun than I expected.

Also I got to put Saw and Felicity together for the first time on the web!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bookmonkey Saw: Day 16

On to the fifth Saw film now, and it begins exactly where the fourth left off – many people have died horrible deaths (again) and a plot twist has left the audience wondering exactly who is doing the killing now and why(again).

Directed by David Hackl (who was the production designer for Saw II – IV) Saw V strives to answer exactly that question, using flashbacks to the first Saw film (again) and for the first time in the series, the second film as well.  In this film the victim running through the gauntlet is once again a group (5 this time), and the story flashes between them and the parallel story of an FBI agent who found an unexpected way out of a trap and is right on the trail of the new Jigsaw Killer.

By this time in the series, much of the focus has shifted from story to the horrible death traps used by the killer, but as my interests don’t run that way, neither will my blog posts.

An interesting note my wife pointed out to me was that the heavy use of dioramas in the series (first in the original film, but most strongly in the fifth), looks an awful lot like those used by “The Miniature Killer” in the seventh season of the CBS television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation which lasted for the majority of the season and began airing about a month before the release of Saw V. 

For the next two posts I’ll be looking beyond the films, following the logic that “…if the film and television industries invest so heavily in previews, bonus materials, merchandise, and their ilk, so should we as analysts..” (Gray, 2010, p. 8). So get ready to learn about the first Saw videogame and the VH1 Reality TV series Scream Queens.

Gray, Johnathan (2010) Show Sold Separately: promos, spoilers, and other media paratexts. New York , NY : New York University Press.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bookmonkey Saw: Day 14

Saw IV

Okay, I'm trying to stay away from spoilers, but honestly I can't really talk about this film without giving away a big one.


In Saw III, the Jigsaw Killer is killed - he is very, very dead, and as these films involve human killers rather than monsters, he is not coming back.

But he did have a plan for just that occurrence.

In fact, the overall story of Saw IV really focuses on just how clever the Jigsaw killer was to put together a very complex plan that would be carried out after his death.

Interestingly, later that year (2007) a romance film called P.S. I Love You uses a very similar plot, in which a recently widowed woman finds that her loving husband left behind a complicated set of events aimed to help her in the bereavement process and get her life back on track.

So the fourth film in the series focuses, once again on a victim chosen to be tested by the killer and to either witness, help or prevent the deaths of a bunch of other people.  Taking a quick look at the special features on the DVD, almost all of them revolve around descriptions of how the fatal traps these victims find themselves in would work.

A quick side note on Saw fanfiction - there is a lot (check here).  Considering how lacking the films are in story, most of the fanfiction I looked over is either simple descriptions of torture, or ways in which the narrator are offered the chance to work with the Jigsaw killer as an apprentice (to be fair, the killer is the only fully developed character in the series up to the fourth film), with many adult-themed stories peppered through as well.

In the end, Saw IV (still being filmed in Canada, by the way), is pretty identical to the previous film - there is some play involving flashbacks, but in the end, I can't say whether it is better or worse than Saw II or Saw III.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bookmonkey Saw: Day 11


All right, the third film in the Saw franchise (and second to be directed by Darren Lynn Bousman), ups the ante from the previous film by having not one, but two extremely violent killings in the first twenty minutes.

A quick side note:  In previous posts I've mentioned that I enjoyed the first film and actually appreciated it's lack of onscreen violence and was therefore confused as to why the violence level increased so sharply in the subsequent films.  The answer?  The filmmakers read responses of fans in the horror magazine Fangoria that the first film would have been better if there had been more explicit, onscreen violence, and therefore changed the following films to reflect the tastes of the fans.

The problem with this is that Fangoria is a magazine which has heavy focus on makeup and special effects in horror films, so obviously it's readers would prefer more onscreen opportunities for special effects and makeup.  

The third Saw film basically sets the template for the rest of the series, a victim wakes up in a strange place and witnesses the torture or impending murders of a number of people - sometimes they help, sometimes they just watch, either way the film ends with the protagonist failing at their test and the Jigsaw Killer makes some announcement which (supported by heavy flashbacks) means that the test wasn't exactly what was expected.

The third film has people dying in various horrible ways, and includes a significant flashback to the first Saw film (other than a few cameos from Saw II the second film is barely mentioned) and actually concludes the series in a relatively satisfying way.

The problem being that after the dramatic success of Saw II at the box office(approximate $87 million, with a production cost of $4 million), both Saw III and Saw IV were immediately green lit for production.

Honestly, this month is beginning to feel like a marathon to me.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Bookmonkey Saw: Day 9

Let's take a moment to examine some of the effects the Saw franchise was having on popular culture in 2006 during the wait for Saw III.  

In April, Scary Movie 4 was released, including it's own version of the infamous banned poster for Saw II (pictured left), as well as featuring a scene where basketball star Shaquille O"Neal and daytime television star Dr. Phil McGraw awaken in a bathroom chained to the pipes.  Interesting side note - the comedic sequence in Scary Movie 4 is actually a little more graphic than the same sequence in Saw and the set used for the sequence was so close to the original used in Saw (2004), that the makers of Saw III actually asked the filmmakers if they could use the set for the next Saw film to be used in a flashback sequence.

In October, Spike TV created a new awards show, The Scream Awards, which focused on Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy texts, and featured awards such as Best Sequel (Saw II was nominated), Most Vile Villain (Tobin Bell was nominated as Jigsaw for Saw II), and Most Memorable Mutilation (Saw II was nominated, but as I'm trying to make this blog family friendly, you'll have to follow the link to see which scene was nominated).

Also - and honestly in one of the ways that I have to say the Saw franchise really impressed me at the time, Lionsgate films had it's third annual Give till It Hurts, blood drives, which included a partnership with the American Red Cross and worked to raise both blood and financial donations from fans.  For every release in the series a new promotional poster (The poster for the Saw III blood drive appears to the right) was sold, with all proceeds going to the Red Cross.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Bookmonkey Saw: Day 7

Saw II in a nutshell - everything I really liked about the first film seemed absent from the sequel.

Saw II in a slightly longer synopsis - a year after the events of Saw, eight people are trapped in a house and must make horrifying live-or-die-style choices to escape, while a police officer (and the father of one of the eight) captures and questions the jigsaw killer.  Although the film was not well received by critics, it did quite well and therefore another sequel was quickly ordered.

The original movie poster actually drew a bunch of media interest as it was banned by the MPAA - in the original picture (not shown right), it was apparent that the two fingers are severed.  The approved poster (as seen to the right), is therefore quite acceptable to put in the same theatres where kids were going to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire around the same time. (Quick side note, my oldest daughter is equally upset by both the banned and approved posters, entirely due to the ragged fingernails - apparently manicures are not that expensive and even severed fingers deserve a little extra care).

The story was originally written as The Desperate, by Darren Lynn Bousman (who would go on to direct Saw III and IV), but due to it’s inability to get green lit on its own, due to it's violent nature and being considered "...too saw-ish" (1) it was passed over until the sequel to Saw was green-lit and it was found that The Desperate could be adapted into a workable script.

Also I feel it is important to note that Saw II was a Canadian-American Horror film (as were the rest in the series, with Lions Gates Films partnering with the Ontario Production Services Tax Credit) so on behalf of my nation, sorry.

Eight months after the film was released, star Tobin Bell was nominated for an MTV Best Villain award (along with Voldemort from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, The Scarecrow from Batman Begins, The White Witch from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe) but lost out to Hayden Christensen in Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith for best on-screen villain.

The only thing I really liked about the sequel?  Just as Saw had a bizarre reference to Alice in Wonderland, Saw II does the same with The Wizard of Oz (the 1939 MGM film, not the original novel) when the Jigsaw killer informs his eight victims that “ The Clue to their [escape] can be found Over the Rainbow 

Internet Movie DataBase. "Trivia" in Saw II.  Retrieved October 7 from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0432348/trivia

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bookmonkey Saw: Day 4

After Saw was released in 2004 to great commercial success, a sequel was quickly green lit and the release date of October 28, 2005 was announced.  

Fans of the series didn’t have to wait the entire year however, as Lionsgate films had a website The House of Jigsaw available for fans to chat and discuss both the original film and places the sequel might go.

Saw’s writer Leigh Whannel stated about the website that “...one of the best things for James (Wan) and I is watching people take ownership of the film and arguing about it, you're thinking oh my god, they’re discussing heatedly something [James and I] thought up.”(1)  Early posts in the forum range from spotting technical errors and conjecture about the motives of the killer, to ideas about what the second film might be about.

In October of 2005, a comic book, Saw: Rebirth was released as well as the uncut edition of Saw, which included two commentary tracks, a behind the scenes documentary called "Hacking Away at Saw" and a feature called "Full Disclosure Report: Piecing Together Jigsaw", which in the guise of a nightly news report,  was effectively a recap of the first film, and, for the dedicated fans watching all the special features, the first appearance of Detective Eric Matthews (played by Donnie Wahlberg) is actually in this short film, introducing him before his lead role in Saw II.

The Comic Book, Saw Rebirth, written by Renato Guedes, R. Eric Lieb, and Chris Oprisko, this single-issue comic is a prequel to the original film, attempts to explain the creation of the Jigsaw Killer from a civil servant to the mastermind he appears to be in the first film.  The comic didn't continue as a series, which isn't surprising, as it made no reference to Saw II, and really feels like conjecture on what must have occurred before the events of the first film rather than an attempt to tell as story in it's own right.

Works Cited:
Lions Gate Film, "Hacking Away at Saw" on Saw: Uncut Edition. 2005

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Bookmonkey Saw: Day 2

Okay, so today let’s look at the first film of the series, Saw (2004).  Created by Australian filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannel, the story is actually quite simple.  Two men wake up in an abandoned bathroom, chained by their ankles to pipes on either end of the room.  In the centre of the room is the body of a man who appears to have shot himself in the head.  In its hands are a tape records and a gun.  The two men manage to acquire the tape player and finding cassettes in their pockets which say “Play Me” (Obvious shades of Alice in Wonderland here), are informed that they have approximately 8 hours in which to escape, which will only occur for the one left alive at the end.

There is also a sub-plot focusing on two police officers who are hunting down a serial killer called “The Jigsaw Killer” who places his victims in horrible hurt-yourself-and-escape-or-do-nothing-and-die traps (such as they one our two leads are in).

As with many horror/thriller films, there will be plot-twists and discoveries, but I’m attempting to write without spoilers so I’ll go light on those.

In terms of the Horror genre in 2003/2004 when the film was released at the Sundance Film Festival and later released throughout North America , here is what was going on.

2003 Was filled with a lot of sequels and remakes, Dawn of the Dead (Remake), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Remake), and Freddy vs. Jason (considered parts 8 and 11 of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th franchises respectively), as well as Van Helsing an homage to the classic Universal Monster movies of the 1930s.  Keep in mind that the Horror genre is one made of sequels and remakes; usually the producers and directors are working on their first or second film and horror films have always packed kids into theatres.

Saw worked in a very different way than the other options horror fans had at the time.  To begin, the killer is off screen for almost the entire film, second there is no female lead (one of the two men in the bathroom has a wife, but she is on screen for less than 10% of the film, mostly in flashbacks), and finally, although the story clearly owes concepts to both Mad Max (1979) and Se7en (1995 – which also focuses on cops trying to find an incredibly clever killer) Saw wasn’t an obvious remake or sequel.

Watching it myself I have to admit that the first film is kind of clever.  The on-screen violence is fairly minimal (you don’t see any severed body parts for example), and the story seemed innovative and quite smart for an incredibly low-budget film.  In the end, the movie did so well at the box-office a sequel was ordered with a release date set for the Friday before Halloween in 2005.