As a self-professed former scaredy-cat, I was a bit of a latecomer into the realm of horror — but many years of nightmares and a cautious introduction via '90s slasher flicks later, I've developed an appreciation for a genre that I was originally too terrified to even consider watching. Among those was the Saw franchise, which definitely didn't do much to endear itself to me early on, and from what I remember of the first film's marketing, EVERYONE wanted to make sure you knew about the scene where a dude saws his foot off.
But upon first viewing (and every subsequent viewing since), I came to realize that a) not only is Saw not as stomach-turning as I thought it would be, but b) it is, in fact, all too worthy of being labeled a Not Guilty pleasure. And that doesn't just apply to the first installment, either; every subsequent Saw movie might vary in terms of overall quality, but after undertaking a recent marathoning of the entire franchise, I'm here to defend all the reasons that I unironically love these films.
As a horror movie killer, Jigsaw is extra AF.
Move over, Jason. Freddy who? Ghostface wishes they could be this methodical, this calculated, this prepared.
If the Saw franchise teaches us anything, it's that John Kramer (also known as the "Jigsaw killer") is a fan of the long game, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the intricate, often hella complicated traps he sets for his victims. Not only do the movies make a point to show us exactly how the sausage gets made (i.e. how Jigsaw actually stages and sets up the scene for the moment when his unfortunate captives finally wake from their drugged slumber), but there's just so much detail he manages to work into a single trap that you have to wonder how he even has time to troubleshoot this stuff. How does he know, for absolute certain, that someone will reach for a tape player to listen to a previously recorded message at just the right time? And don't even get me started on the puppet (who is not named Jigsaw, by the way, so let's make that clear up front) that rides its tiny bike into the room like a little terrifying harbinger of death.
Somehow, Jigsaw has the ability to pull off some of the most complex and brutal devices of torture in an impossible amount of time, but we don't question it. We never question it, because questioning it leads to plot-hole-related headaches, and who has time for that? Which leads me to my next point ...
The continuity of this franchise flies in the face of all time and logic.
Trying to understand the timeline of the Saw movies is an exercise in pure futility. Even if you watch every single movie almost back to back (as I did, and wholeheartedly recommend), the number of times the franchise attempts to successfully retcon previous installments can be described as sloppy at best and downright inexplicable at worst.
That said, the Saw movies should absolutely be praised for doing the Westworld secret time jump before Westworld even made the Man in Black a thing — and if you're trying to stay spoiler — free I won't mention which films do this specifically, but every time the storyline was revealed to actually be two different storylines occurring simultaneously I couldn't stop myself from seal-clapping with excitement. Who could forget the major twist that happens at the end of Saw IV that directly ties back into Saw III, or the letter one character receives in Saw V that is finally, finally followed up on in Saw 3D: The Final Chapter? There's no way that any of these loose ends are being plotted so far in advance, but the payoff is such that it almost makes you want to believe that someone's known where this franchise is going all along.
Wigs so bad they're good.
With retconning and constant flashbacks comes the arrival of the Bad Wig, and while there are many scary franchises that have suffered greatly from this mistake, the Saw movies are definitely the source of some particularly egregious head horrors. Jigsaw's initial victim and eventual protege Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) is perhaps the character who gets dealt the worst hand in this area, and while her expertly straightened locks in Saw III are forever worthy of praise, they're frequently overshadowed by all the flashback wigs she has to don to remind the audience that we are watching past events.
Maybe the budget for gory special effects was so extreme that something had to get hacked off (ha) to compensate? Either way, the bad wigs are just one more thing to unabashedly love about this franchise.
Half of the time spent watching each trap scene is about gauging your own survivability odds.
We've all done it, and you're lying if you say you haven't (OK, if your reason is that you haven't watched these movies, then you're excused, but the rest of you are definitely not exempt). In each film, several times in fact, the moment happens: Each of Jigsaw's victims — and, by extension, the audience — is clued into the rules of the gauntlet they need to run through in order to ensure their own survival. We're definitely on pins and needles waiting to see if they make it, but we're also trying to answer the eternal question that pops up when watching any one of the Saw films: Could I survive that? Could I chop off my own arm, or dig through someone's internal organs to find a key that would free my head from a reverse bear trap rigged to go off, or pull out my own molars on which the combination for a door has somehow been written?
Realistically, the chances of any one of us ending up in a Jigsaw trap are slim to none, but removed from the odds of that fate while comfortably watching these movies at home lulls us into a false sense of confidence while watching characters putting themselves through excruciating pain, eventually leading us to conclude without hesitation, "Oh, yeah. I could definitely survive that."
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.