It’s Halloween again, and that can only mean that a new “Saw” chapter has come crawling off the assembly line. With budgets of only a few million apiece, the “Saw” films have grossed obscene amounts of money and will keep being churned out as long as they do so. But what first started as a chilling, mildly innovative new take on the slasher film has slowly dissolved into a grisly mess.

Mike Hulsebus
This Halloween, guys are getting slutty, too (Courtesy of Lions Gate).

The Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, “Saw”) is not quite dead yet. With the help of new apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith “The Island”), the terminally ill puzzle master is still playing his twisted games. In order to keep the old bastard breathing, Amanda has kidnapped a doctor named Lynn (Bahar Soomekh, “M:I III”) to try and prolong his death until one last game can be played.

The latest lab rat is Jeff (Angus Macfadyen, “Equilibrium”), set loose in a warehouse maze infested with a variety of traps more obscene than the last two movies combined. Of course, there are surprises along the way – chiefly, he finds out he’s not the only one being tested. While Jeff steadily works his way through the deadly puzzles, Dr. Lynn and Amanda clash about the dying old man’s treatment, and everything culminates in the must-have ingredient for any “Saw” film: a “shocking” twist ending.

With a cast clearly scooped out from the bargain bin of a Hollywood dollar store, the acting for the most part is worse than b-film bad. Every line Shawnee Smith screams out as the psychotic Amanda is more likely to make the audience laugh than recoil, and poor Angus Macfadyen has certainly fallen a long way since playing Robert the Bruce in “Braveheart.” The veteran actor of the bunch (having appeared in TV shows from “24” to “Walker, Texas Ranger” to “Seinfeld”), Bell spends most of his time spitting up blood on his deathbed and croaking out prophetic one-liners.

The problem with the “Saw” franchise and its copycats is that they have taken the horror genre and twisted it into something almost unrecognizable. Classic horror films of decades past like “Psycho,” “The Exorcist” and “Halloween” are higher works of horror, with components like convincing acting, cinematography and suspense. Horror master John Carpenter said it best when discussing filming the extremely frightening (but not grotesquely violent “Halloween”): “The true terror lies in the wait, not the kill.”

“Saw III” is only about the kill. Unlike the first somewhat intelligent “Saw,” where suspense and plot played a fairly prominent role, now there is barely time to breathe as the audience is bombarded with room after room of victims being burned, frozen, dismembered or blown up. There is a difference between a film being genuinely frightening rather than just purely disturbing. “Saw III” easily succeeds as the latter, using several hundred gallons of fake blood and a few tons of rusty metal. But to be a truly scary film requires much more thought and effort than this annual phenomenon exerts.

1 star out of 5

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