Was the theme song for this series not the absolute best? Is that statement a little too bold, or is it justified? I know it’s not one of the original iconic sounds (think Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, or Friday the 13th), but when you hear “Hello Zepp” come on, you automatically know what film franchise it belongs to. The Saw movies were some of the most inventive I can ever remember seeing. With most iconic horror franchises, each subsequent film bordered on…ridiculous? Am I right? Don’t get me wrong, most of them are fun to watch, but it seems like the more sequels that are made, the more they seem to move further and further away from the original work. I understand wanting to try something “fresh”, but sometimes, just leave well enough alone.
I will openly admit that I have not seen all of the Saw movies, and by that I mean I have seen all but Saw 3D (2010; with plans to watch it after this article is completed). They were all gripping in a sense to me (sadistic and twisted as well). But, be forewarned, I am fresh off taking a film history class, so any films moving forward that are fresh in my mind will be analyzed on a much different scale. That is, if you are into that sort of thing.
Right, so in one of my previous behind the scenes articles, I mentioned a new Halloween installment coming to a theatre near you in June of 2017. Well, we are supposedly getting another Saw installment as well in October of 2017. Are you ready for more of Jigsaw’s legacy? In the interim, sit back, gear up for the Halloween holiday, and read on to see if you knew about any of the things that went on behind the scenes of the Saw franchise.
16 Saw (2004) – The Scare Scenes Are Derived From Real Life
James Wan (director and writer; also known for the Insidious and The Conjuring series) and Leigh Whannell (writer; also played the character Adam in this installment) stated in the DVD commentary that several of the scare scenes in this particular film were derived from nightmares they both had as children. Now, my question is, what were they watching as children for this kind of thing to manifest itself in the form of a nightmare?
Maybe nightmare fuel is what drives them since they both have made quite an impressive career from the horror genre?
Some other little tidbits about the original Saw include: filmed in 18 days; the sequel Saw II (2005) was approved for production the weekend this installment opened; the actors had no rehearsals, as in, the rehearsal takes were actual footage for the film.
Let’s pause and elaborate on that. No rehearsals? Could you imagine getting a role for a film and getting thrown into shooting with no rehearsals? Way to go James Wan, that tactic made the suspense of the entire film feel that much more real.
15 The Screenplay Was Written Years Before
After the completion of film school, James Wan (director and writer) and Leigh Whannell (writer) wanted to make a movie but could only afford one room. Like any good creative would, they challenged themselves to create a film that took place in only one room. Saw was the product of this, and is considered to be one of the most profitable and successful horror films of all time.
All of this genius started back in 2001 (three years before the film’s release), when Wan and Whannell wrote the screenplay to try and break onto the Hollywood scene. They shot a low budget short film based around a scene in the film. It worked. The short attracted the attention of Evolution Entertainment, who promptly formed a horror genre arm called “Twisted Pictures”, giving Wan and Whannell a small budget to make the film with.
14 The Original Actors Were Not Available For Reshoots
After an 18 day filming schedule, Wan and Whannell returned to do several re-shoots. However, the original actors were unavailable by that time. Whannell, having played the character Adam, did the parts himself, and, Wan used close-up shots of the characters’ bodies, to avoid showing their faces.
Whannell played these parts for the reshoots: Detective Sing (character played by Ken Leung) entering the building with a shotgun and the body of Sing falling down after being shot; the close-up shots of Amanda’s (character played by Shawnee Smith) hands in her torture/murder scene; and, he wore a wig to make his shadow on the wall appear more like Smith’s.
As if that weren’t enough, during post-production Wan discovered that he didn’t have enough shots or takes to fill out a good portion of the scenes. As such, he and Kevin Greutert (editor) created their own filler shots achieving this by doctoring some shots to make them look as if they were filmed through a surveillance camera. Pretty cool going behind the scenes, huh?
13 Saw II (2005) – The Last Pages Of The Script Were Concealed
The majority of the actors were not given the last 25 pages of the script. This was to conceal the ending and keep it under wraps. Principal actors that were involved in the sequence were the only ones who knew. With social media these days, it’s easy to understand why one would want to keep it under wraps. Great endings have been ruined because of leaked information.
With that said, let’s run down a few more tidbits for this installment. Five, count them five, alternate endings were shot; this sequel film was all shot in one building; it took four days for four people to replace all of the needle tips with fiber tips for the needle pit scene. There were around 120,000 syringes to complete this sequence. Also, gelatin and a little water were added to the needle pit to give the syringes more mobility and to make them slippery (this particular scene still makes me cringe when I watch it, too). The shooting schedule was almost as short as the original—25 days. Lastly, the hall Detective Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) walks down when he goes to pick up his son at the police office? Turns out it was actually a dressing room for the crew.
12 A Lot of Back-Story Was Cut for Pacing Reasons
To keep the film’s pacing running smoothly, a good portion of back-story about the contestants of the game was deleted.
The implication for Addison (Emmanuelle Vaugier) was that she was a prostitute in the completed film—this was indeed true (there is a flashback in Saw IV (2007) where she tries to seduce a potential customer which is where this can also be seen). Addison and Detective Matthews had had sex in the back seat of a police car, but were discovered. This is the scandal which led to Matthews’ demotion. However, Matthews made sure that Addison would be incarcerated.
Then there was the first victim named Gus (Tony Nappo) who was an embezzler of money. The needle in the Glass Box trap was intended for him with the symbolic reference of the proverb “caught with your hand in the cookie jar”.
Laura (Beverley Mitchell) was imprisoned because of her shoplifting habits.
Lastly, Obi (Timothy Burd) was meant to reach a second portal at the back of the furnace. In the process of crawling through the flames, he would be badly burned, accounting for the tape which stated he would have to confront the devil. Did that add some clarity to their scenes for you?
11 Saw III (2006) – Whannell and Bousman Initially Turned Down Working On The Film
Leigh Whannell (writer) and Darren Lynn Bousman (director) initially turned down the opportunity to work on Saw III. Following the sudden death of producer Gregg Hoffman, Whannell and Bousman went to lunch with original Saw (2004) director James Wan, and decided they should make the film as a dedication to Hoffman. I searched online and found that it stated natural causes for Hoffman’s death. He was only 42 years old. RIP.
Now, for a couple of not so sad tidbits. Another extension for the amount of shooting days! A whopping 32 days. Also, I read this happens a lot during filming (maybe only horror?): the script was constantly being added to during production. Whannell remained on set throughout filming so he could continue working on it. In fact, one climactic scene between Amanda (Shawnee Smith) and Lynn (Bahar Soomekh) was scribbled down on napkins only five minutes before it was shot. That’s talent, you guys.
And, whenever I hear of scribbling down a story on napkins, I immediately think of J.K. Rowling. Who’s with me??
10 The Classroom Trap Went Through A Couple Of Variations
Remember Troy (J. LaRose) and the Classroom Trap (also a little cringe worthy)? Well, before settling on the final version we see in the completed film, the creators and writers of Saw III went through a couple of different variations of the “game.”
One version had Troy suspended above the floor of the classroom by large meat hooks (I actually remember seeing a Criss Angel Mindfreak episode a long time ago where he did this). They ultimately decided against the meat hook thing, as they figured it would essentially be impossible to escape. That and it would also be more thrilling if he was standing and able to rip out the chains.
The second version had the hooks going through his eyelids, his fingernails, and his teeth (umm...what?) This version accounts for two of the promotional posters for the film you may have seen once upon a time. One showed a mouth missing numerous teeth, and the other, showed three teeth dangling from wires. Yeah, I’m glad they went with what they did.
9 Saw IV (2007) – No Digital Effects Were Used For Transitions
Now that I come to think about it, the transitions between separate scenes did come off as seamless (good editing job, guys). In this digitally controlled world, one would have thought digital visual effects played a part in this process, however, it did not. These scenes were done practically. The sets had been built in such a way that two different scenes could be filmed in one continuous shot without interruption for the viewing audience.
Also, It doesn’t specify if Darren Lynn Bousman (director) signed on before or after he found out how the film would be shot, but, he originally was not interested in directing this fourth installment of the Saw series. The producers got in the mix and persuaded him to read the script anyway. Bousman decided to take on the directional duties when he read a plot twist in the script that took him completely by surprise. Having been involved with the Saw series for three years, he thought it impossible to do so.
8 Gags Were A Running Thing In The Series
It can’t all be serious gore and murder and “game” playing, can it? As part of a running gag in this franchise, the filming crew would always hide what they called a “fart machine” in one of the sets, and make it go off during a particular serious scene to see how long the actor(s) could hold a straight face. This time, Lt. Daniel Rigg (Lyriq Bent) was the victim. To his credit, he managed to remain in a character for a couple of seconds before bursting into laughter.
Other tidbits of the fourth installment include the following: It's the only Saw film in which Adam (Leigh Whannell) is not seen or referenced in any way. The knives used in the trap that Jigsaw forces on the drug addict (who was to blame for the death of his unborn baby), are actually made of wood. The little girl that Rigg (Bent) talks to, during the child abuse scene at the school, is Alison Luther. She the niece of Darren Lynn Bousman (director). The autopsy scene was deliberately gruesome to distance itself from similar scenes that take place on television every week (e.g. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation ).
7 Saw V (2008) – Scott Patterson Had Second Thoughts About His Game
Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) was understandably a little uneasy about sticking his head in a sealed box that would fill with water. Beforehand, the trap was tested but didn’t go well, which clearly only added to his concern. Ultimately, Patterson stepped up and did the scene resorting to a stuntman.
The trick to this stunt was that the walls of the box were slid open by stagehands, which would drain the trap as soon as Patterson signaled with his hands. However, several takes were required to capture the scene as Patterson found himself less than comfortable at various points whilst shooting the scene. Makes perfect sense to me. Accidents happen, guys. How much would it suck to drown via a water filled box sealed on your head?
6 The Opening Pendulum Trap Was A Real Working Model
Let’s start this behind the scene tidbit with Jigsaw’s recording:
“Hello, Seth. I want to play a game. Right now, you are feeling helpless. This is the same helplessness you bestowed upon others. But now, it’s unto you. Some would call it karma. I call it justice. Now, you served five years of what should have been a life sentence for murder. A technicality gave you freedom, but it inhibited you from understanding the impact of taking a life. Today, I offer you true freedom. In thirty seconds, the pendulum will drop far enough to touch your body. Within sixty seconds, it will cut you in half. To avoid the pendulum, all you have to do is destroy the things that have killed: your hands. You must insert your hands and push the buttons to start the devices before you. Your bones will be crushed to dust. Will you destroy the things that have taken life in order to save one, Seth? Make your choice.”
So, the opening pendulum trap. That was a legit working model. However, for the times when Seth (Joris Jarsky) was underneath it, the metal blade was replaced with a foam one (because not even a stuntman needs a paycheck bad enough to lie under a real swinging pendulum). Likewise, the devices that were to crush Seth’s hands were also foam—except for the close-up shots because it looked too fake. To get around this, real heavy duty material was used with a prosthetic hand inserted.
5 Saw VI (2009) – Costas Mandylor Didn’t Know His Fate
Prior to the film’s release, Costas Mandylor (Detective Hoffman) didn’t know if his character would live or die because multiple endings had been shot. In one of those alternative endings, there was a revenge trap set up by Special Agent Strahm (Scott Patterson) for Hoffman (Mandylor) to die in.
What could be another contributing factor to Mandylor not knowing his character’s fate is that the sequence of the final scene with Detective Hoffman also varies by version. In the director’s cut the Reverse Bear Trap 2.0 timer gives a time limit of 60 seconds and is begun once Brent (Devon Bostick) pulls the “Live or Die” switch down. However, in the theatrical version the trap is set at 45 seconds—a shorter time limit—and does not begin on Brent’s (Bostick) cue. In this version, the timer is started after Brent pulls the “Live or Die” switch and Jill (Betsy Russell) sets off the trigger by closing the door.
4 The Film Was Rated “X” In Spain
In the sixth installment of this franchise, Spain gave it the rating of “X” a week before its premiere. Spain rated it this because of its “glorification of violence”, therefore, it couldn't be shown in mainstream theaters, only in approved X-rated cinemas.
Disney/Buena Vista (yeah, Disney you read that correctly) then pulled the film from distribution, even though they already put forth a strong marketing campaign and had sent over 300 copies of the ready film to be sent to theaters. Buena Vista did their best to try and appeal the rating, but was unsuccessful (it took almost a year). In the end, they released the film in a cut version.
3 Saw 3D: The Final Chapter (2010) – Producers Kept Approaching Cary Elwes
Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) from the original Saw had producers frequently approaching him about reprising his role. Elwes always insisted that he would only return for the final entry in the series.
Originally, the writers of this installment had the intention of it being two movies: Saw: The Final Chapter: Parts 1 & 2 with Cary Elwes’ return being the big surprise finale of Part 1, and Chapter 2 tying up any loose ends. However, after Saw VI (2009) didn’t perform well at the box office, Lionsgate came to the conclusion that two parts of the ending needed to become one single film. It has also been hinted at by the producers and writers that lost elements from the original two-part script will be used in future sequels or prequels whenever Lionsgate decides to revive the franchise.
Imagine Cary Elwes’ disappoint, huh? It makes sense for him to reprise his role as a grand send off, and them bam! just kidding, we are making more (as mentioned earlier, next installment to be released in 2017).
2 It's The Only Installment To Include An Outside Trap
In the seventh film of this series, it is the only one in which a trap occurs outside, in broad daylight. As I am going to watch this film once this article is completed, I am a little giddy to see this happen.
Other tidbits for film seven: It had to be submitted six times to obtain an “R” rating from the Major Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), to avoid an NC-17 rating (more gore and guts and violence, I presume?). All of the trap scenes were shot last. The garage trap was written for an earlier film in the series, but the producers felt it was “too disturbing” to show in a film (that is until you are seven movies down the line, apparently). The film initially was banned in Germany but the ban was reversed in January 2013 (what am I getting myself into, guys?). Due to the slow 3D filming process, this installment was completed in nine weeks. Chester Bennington (lead singer of Linkin Park? Now I am back on board!) consulted with an acting coach for his role in the film (good job, Chester).
Lastly (braces yourselves), in a Massachusetts branch of Showcase Cinemas, the film was accidentally screened instead of the 3D cartoon Megamind (2010), traumatizing its young audience. Let that sink in. How long did the movie play before the audience realized it definitely wasn’t Megamind????
1 The Saw Franchise Holds A Record
If you are still here with me, bravo for making it through until the end. High five for no quitters. As we have reached the seventh and last (for now) installment of the series, there is a record to be talked about.
Saw is the only film series in history to have its first seven films released in consecutive years ranging from 2004 to 2010. This record was originally held by the Police Academy series, whose first six films were released consecutively from 1984 to 1989. One movie longer than the comedy series.
Even with the increasingly gruesome installments, there is much to be sad about continuing on making films of this caliber and still having an audience come back for more, and manage to throw in some pretty memorable plot twists. Bravo, Saw franchise, bravo.