I remember walking through Leicester Square in London last Halloween and began wondering why Rob Zombie’s remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween wasn’t being released then.
It had opened on September 28th, a full month beforehand, and in the US had opened even earlier on the Labor Day weekend.
Given the obvious marketing benefits, why had the distributors not gone for the obvious October 31st release date?
The answer is simple: The Saw franchise owns Halloween.
As the tag line for the Saw IV poster cockily put it:
If it’s Halloween, it must be Saw.
Although I’m still looking for them to use an actual image of a see-saw with the tag line:
But anyway, how did this extraordinary success come to pass?
In 2004, Lionsgate Films released a low-budget horror film from the unknown writer/director team of James Wan and Leigh Whannell.
Although it had some known actors in it such as Cary Elwes and Danny Glover, it was it’s clever mixture of extreme gore and unpredictable twists that powered it to a gross of over $100 million worldwide.
Given that it was made for just $1.2 million dollars, you can see why Lionsgate keep churning these out every year.
In fact, the last two Saw films alone were made for just $10 million each and both made box office revenues of well over $100 million, showing just how popular and enduring the franchise has become.
Despite the financial success, there has been an inevitable decline in the quality of the films; Saw II was entertaining, but III and IV were tired riffs on the original premise to the point that I just didn’t really care about who was doing what.
But the success with mainstream audiences does intrigue me. Do people get a kick out of the sadistic torture sequences? Or is it the intricate and puzzling aspect of the killings that fascinate audiences? (Remember, the villain is called Jigsaw).
Perhaps in an era where the current US president has essentially legalised torture they represent a bizarre fantasy for the viewer – after all, there is often a twisted morality to the people Jigsaw tortures.
But a more practical answer might be that these films are just brilliantly marketed – not only do they offer a younger audience effective scares, but they have an appealing sense of mystery in each one.
Most horrors involve monsters or a lone boogeyman stalking unsuspecting victims, but the Saw films have an added dimension in that each death is nearly always some kind of diabolical puzzle.
Added to that there is always an element of choice the victim has – even if it means gouging out their own eye, they can still save themselves – which is a neat twist on the helplessness of most horror movie victims.
On top of that, the inherent theatricality of these sequences mean they stick in the mind more than some bimbo getting stabbed with a knife or a creature gobbling someone up.
The latest film sees Forensic Hoffmann (Costas Mandylor) take over Jigsaw’s reign and here is taste of the from the trailer:
The big question for me is where does this all end? The tagline for the poster above states:
In the end all the pieces will fit together.
But I’m already hearing there will be Saw VI next year along with a computer game(!).
It seems we haven’t seen the last of Saw.
Saw V is released in the UK on October 24th
> Official site for Saw V
> Find out more about the Saw franchise at Wikipedia
> Listen to our interview with Tobin Bell (who plays Jigsaw) from Saw III