Yek Keak
by Yek Keak

“I want to play a game.” With this declaration, both Jigsaw the twisted moralist and the Saw franchise of torture-porn horror movies were born. Played by the soft-spoken, persuasive and singularly unhurried Tobin Bell in all seven Saw films and the new Jigsaw flick, Jigsaw is a killer like no other. Before you head to the cinemas to catch the latest Saw instalment, here’s a recap of all the Saw movies. 

Saw (2004)

Main players: Dr Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell), detective David Tapp (Danny Glover), John Kramer aka Jigsaw (Tobin Bell)

Oncologist doctor Gordon and photographer Stanheight are chained up by their ankles in a large rundown bathroom with a dead body on the floor between them. A cassette recorder gives them instructions to a deadly game of survival. Stanheight is urged to escape or be killed by Gordon before a stipulated time in order to save Gordon's wife and daughter held captive elsewhere. Both men are given the option of freedom – they must saw off their chained ankles with hacksaws. Elsewhere, Detective Tapp chases the elusive Jigsaw killer. This first Saw chiller pivots on a dubiously moral angle before the franchise became noted for its ultra-sadistic torture-porn death traps. The twisted cancer-stricken moralist Kramer/Jigsaw punishes Gordon for cheating on his wife. This was horror-master director James Wan's debut feature film. He and Whannell pitched Saw to an American indie film company, Evolution Entertainment, by showing them a short film based on this movie's jaw-ripping hallmark device – a diabolical metallic contraption locked around a victim's head known as the “Reverse Bear Trap”. The pair was given US$1.2 million to make the movie. Saw went on to gross US$103.9 million worldwide.

Saw II (2005)

Main players: Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg), Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith), John Kramer/Jigsaw

Detective Matthews catches the terminally ill Jigsaw in a factory. Instead of arresting him, Matthews is forced to watch TV monitors showing eight people trapped in a house filled with macabre traps. One of the victims is the cop's son. A deadly gas is pumped into the house and the victims must find the antidotes hidden in the house. They panic and kill each other to escape. Jigsaw explains his perverse motivation for concocting such horrible death games that will become the trademark draw of the series. As he is dying himself, he gives his victims the chance to repent for their sins by granting them a costly and very painful choice of life or death. In the first instance of the Saw penchant to trick the audience with twisty multiple timelines, the scenes of desperation Matthews is watching are revealed to have actually taken place before he caught Jigsaw. As he rushes into the house to save his son, Matthews becomes trapped as a victim himself. Young, initially seen as one of the eight victims, turns out to be Jigsaw's secret accomplice.

Saw III (2006)

Main players: Husband-and-wife victims Jeff Denlon (Angus Macfadyen) and Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh), Amanda Young, John Kramer/Jigsaw

The Saw franchise turns emotional here as the plot zooms in on Jigsaw's own quest for survival with yet another sickening game of moral dilemma. Jigsaw is dying from cancer with time running out. Young, his disciple, kidnaps Dr. Lynn Denlon to keep Jigsaw alive while her husband, Jeff, is imprisoned in an abandoned meat-packing plant. Dr. Denlon has an explosive collar locked around her neck to make her obey orders. Meanwhile, her husband is forced to undergo gruesome challenges with the people – witness, judge, drunk driver – connected with the drunk-driving death of their son. These tests involve Jeff tearing off a chunk of his face which has been stuck to a frozen pole. This Saw flick sees the deaths of both Jigsaw and Young, terminated for breaking her boss's rules. Unlike Jigsaw, she designs traps for pleasure killing, in unpardonable conflict with her guru's less vile vision of moralistic life-or-death choices. A new cop, Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), is introduced. In Saw IV, he is subsequently revealed to be yet another Jigsaw accomplice. Saw III is the highest grossing movie of the franchise, earning US$164.8 million globally.

Saw IV ( 2007)

Main players: Lieutenant Daniel Rigg (Lyriq Bent), FBI agent Peter Strahm (Scott Patterson), Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor), John Kramer/Jigsaw

Saw's trademark plot trick of multiple timelines, flashbacks and events jumping back and forth next to each other to mislead viewers into thinking they are watching scenes in sequence comes into confusing play big-time here. This time, the primary sufferers are law enforcers. Including Detective Matthews seen in Saw II being trapped while trying to save his son. Both he and Hoffman balance precariously on each end of a large death-trap seesaw. Meanwhile, Swat Lieutenant Rigg, obsessed with saving people from Jigsaw, is put through a series of grisly trials. While FBI agent Strahm, believing Rigg to be Jigsaw's accomplice, veers off into his own off-tangent investigation, until everything comes full circle involving everybody. Ingeniously, Jigsaw, having died in Saw III, pops up as a dead body here. As his corpse is being cut open in an autopsy, a cassette tape is found in his stomach which sets the sick chain of games in motion.

Saw V (2008)

Main players: Detective Mark Hoffman, FBI agent Peter Strahm, John Kramer/Jigsaw

This sequel is a making-of story. Not of Jigsaw, but of the new Jigsaw apprentice, Detective Hoffman. The cop has major revenge beef with some guy whom he cuts in half using a giant blade swinging like a pendulum. That sliced-up dude murdered Hoffman's sister and Hoffman stages the vengeance killing to frame Jigsaw by making it look as though the dark deed was committed by the real deal himself. Jigsaw, however, captures Hoffman, recognising the detective's similar fetish for the gruesome. In flashbacks, he blackmails Hoffman into becoming his new accomplice by giving the cop a chance to join his cult to continue his sinister double life and redeem himself as a moral avenger. The sicko combo here traps five guilty people connected to a fatal building fire previously. With collars of sharp blades locked around their necks, the captives fight against time and each other to flee. One inspired but insane way out requires them to saw their arms to gush out the pints of blood needed to trigger the escape door. Elsewhere, nosy FBI agent Strahm, himself a survivor of a heinous trap, pieces the clues and body parts together and realises what is actually going on. He pursues Hoffman, ignores the warning on the cassette tape he encounters and rushes to a crushing demise.

Saw VI (2009)

Main players: Detective Mark Hoffman, Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell), John Kramer/Jigsaw

The plot now shifts to Jigsaw's wife, Jill Tuck, who receives a box and videotape with instructions from her dead hubby in flashbacks. Meanwhile, the walls close in on Jigsaw apprentice Hoffman following the death of FBI agent Strahm. He gets heat from suspicious cops as he takes over the running of the games as the new psycho saviour. This time, the game centres around a callous health insurance guy locked up in an abandoned zoo and given one hour to complete four terrifying tests to save his life. This fella is actually the unfeeling insurance exec who rejected Jigsaw's request for cancer treatment coverage. In classic Saw perversion, the dude's trials are witnessed by another family he has stiffed with harsh consequences involving a bed of needles to be paid eventually. Maybe it is due to the Jigsaw mantle being passed from the composed Tobin Bell to the charmless Costas Mandylor. The latter clearly does not have the calm, dulcet voice of Bell as he directs people to the cutting edge of killer saws. The franchise plummets to its lowest gross of just US$68.2 million with this sequel.

Saw VII, aka Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (2010)

Main players: Detective Mark Hoffman, Jill Tuck, John Kramer/Jigsaw

Somebody said that this would be the final Saw movie. Which is probably why the box office takings shot back up to a massive US$136.1 million. As if previous Saws were not morbid enough, this one ups the ante with blood-red vivid 3D. It is AVW – Accomplice Vs Wife – as Hoffman goes after Tuck in revenge after Jigsaw's missus tried to terminate the rogue cop previously in Saw VI. Along the way, another twisted game of death is contrived for a deserving self-help guru who falsely bragged that he was a survivor of a Jigsaw trap. Among the tests he must endure are hooks driven into his body to hoist him up to the ceiling and a horrific medieval device where someone is burnt alive while stuck in a structure resembling a bull. At which point, the point of the original Saw has become essentially pointless here with the label “torture porn” and gratuitous violence becoming synonymous with the series. In a final twist, the first victim from that original Saw flick in 2004, Dr. Lawrence Gordon, returns as, guess what, one more secret accomplice of Jigsaw.

Jigsaw (2017)

Main players: Logan Nelson (Matt Passmore), Detective Halloran (Callum Keith Rennie), John Kramer/Jigsaw

Seven years after the last Saw film, it is a whole new ball, sorry, body-parts, game as only Jigsaw from the various casts of the old movies return for this revival flick. As per Saw tradition, despite this story being set 10 years after his demise, Jigsaw comes back to life in yet more flashbacks imparting sagacious wisdom about stark, inescapable choices of life and. “If you admit to the reason you deserve to die, you can escape death,” he waxes cryptically, baffling the poor souls trembling at his mercy. This time, five strangers are chained up in an abandoned farmhouse. They are each guilty of causing the deaths of others in a somewhat nebulous way and are encouraged to confess to their wrongdoings or die in the most horrible manner. Such horrible manners see the victims being dragged by their chains to a deadly wall of circular saws and a big mechanical slicer rigged to a motorcycle engine. Detective Halloran works with forensic pathologist Nelson to track down the new unknown Jigsaw accomplice. One new feature – this time, the killer stuffs little thumb drives into dead bodies as clues. Hey, even recycled old sickos need updating, right?