“Do you want to play a game?” With that seemingly innocuous proposition, “Saw” started a phenomenon, with many a body part severed, several gallons of blood spilled, and more than $950 million grossed worldwide. Jigsaw, the diabolical villain who subjects his victims to torturous moral “tests” and games, returns Oct. 27 for his self-titled film, following a seven-year hiatus from the screen. After a reverse bear trap, a Venus flytrap, a weird see-saw and other contraptions, we’re excited to see what else the minds behind “Jigsaw” have up their sleeves. In the mean time, we’ve ranked the films that started the torture-porn craze.
8. “Saw IV” (2007): The first of the “Saw” films that thought it would be a good idea to have multiple timelines. The results were about as clean and polished an execution as any of the rotting corpses in Jigsaw’s lair. What is even going on here anymore?
7. “Jigsaw” (2017): That a seven-year wait for Jigsaw’s return had so little payoff is why the most recent film in the franchise is this far down on the list. With mediocre traps, boring characters, and a plot twist that is less ludicrous and more unsurprising than is par for the course for the series, “Jigsaw”’s biggest issue is that it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. It’s listless.
6. “Saw V” (2008): As the series strayed away from the immediacy of Jigsaw’s moral ethos on victims and re-framed him as a kind of cult-like savior, the films began to run out of steam. Its twists and turns begin to feel contrived and, worse, dull.
5. “Saw VI” (2009): One of franchise’s ongoing preoccupations is with the unfairness of the pharmaceutical-medical-industrial complex. And while that’s an interesting challenge for a horror film, there isn’t enough depth here for us to really care.
4. “Saw: The Final Chapter” (2010): It’s a “finale,” so all things are ramped up to 11. This deep into the franchise, the bombast or weird contrived plot reversals had become far less enjoyable, but the final “Saw” (until 2017) goes all in.
3.”Saw II” (2005): The first sequel to “Saw” sticks its victims in a deadly funhouse, in a rewrite of Darren Lynn Bousman’s unsold script “The Desperate.” As the eight victims — including “Saw” alumna Amanda (Shawnee Smith) — inhale a deadly gas in search of an antidote, they must confront the worst of their fears and the best of Jigsaw’s traps, including a Chinese fingertrap made out of razor-blades.
2. “Saw III” (2006): It’s perhaps the only film of the franchise to have a realistic emotional center, with Tobin Bell’s John Kramer/Jigsaw bedridden from cancer, employing a bereaved doctor to perform surgery on him. Shockingly, “Saw III” becomes a potent examination of grief and forgiveness in a way that the series hasn’t bested since.
1. “Saw” (2004): The original is, of course, the best, with its simple, insular world, its impressive performance from Cary Elwes, and its delightfully sadistic premise. “Saw” is beautifully contained, but its (admittedly fascistic) sense of morality casts a long shadow over the franchise.