Saw is an interesting bunch of films. Currently, it stands as one of the top grossing horror franchises of all time. Yet critically, the movies are not even close to being loved. In fact, most of the franchise’s installments are sitting at rotten scores on Rotten Tomatoes.
There are those like myself however that love the franchise. It’s fun, over-the-top, convoluted mythology, mixed with it’s mind-bending twists, and the insanely creative death traps make for some really fun—yet dark—times.
Even if the films can fall into campy (or simply bad) territory, those that enjoy the films will surely point to the creative death traps as being one of their main draws. Over the course of seven, soon to be eight, films, there are dozens of intricate killing scenarios.
But what makes a Jigsaw trap good? Is it the amount of gore the scene provides? The way in which the subject is viciously killed? Or is it the emotional weight behind the spinning gears? Those are all good questions, and I’ll gladly give you my take on what the best five traps that the series has had to offer us.
Two notes before we start:
- Nothing from this year’s film Jigsaw is included/considered for this list.
- For the sake of comparison, bigger film encompassing traps were not considered (such as the infamous bathroom, or the house from Saw II)
Now, do you want to play a game?
V. The Glass Coffin – Saw V
It’s hard for me to put anything from Saw V on this list. It’s one of the worst installments, second only to Saw VII.
That being said, there is something so terribly angering about this trap and it’s deceptive simplicity. Peter Straham is presented with a choice: get in the box, or don’t—and face his doom. Like anyone else would, he chooses not to. This leads him into a struggle with Hoffman that ultimately accidentally saves Hoffman’s life, while crushing Straham into dust. I remember watching this play out when the movie was first released, and being outwardly angry at it’s result. If Straham had just done what he was told, and got into the scary glass-filled box, everything would have been fine!
This trap, with its twist, stayed with me for years—even still to this day. That says something about the scene and set piece. Add on the chilling scenario where you’re stuck in a room with the walls closing in and nowhere to go, and you have yourself a winner. In the end, I was engrossed and engaged as the trap played out, more so than many before it, even if it did cap off an extremely lackluster film.
IV.) The Gallows – Saw VI
I think Saw VI is easily one of the strongest, if not the strongest, film of the franchise. It’s traps are great, they hold some emotional weight to them, and are all very connected to the main storyline of William and his health insurance staff.
The Gallows is a simple, yet extremely effective trap. William Easton was forced to choose between saving his secretary Addy (an older woman), or his file clerk Allen (a younger man). He literally held their lives in his hands. He had to make an impossible choice. He got to choose who lived and who died, much like William’s health insurance company—Jigsaw’s target.
Not only does it play around with the themes and ideas of the movie, but it also flirts with the age old question of which life is more valuable: an older one, or a younger one. In the end, William chose to save Addy, dooming Allen to the Gallows. The look of disappointment, shock, and anger expressed in a total of three seconds by Allen as he realizes what’s about to happen is bone chilling. The morality and ethics of the trap set it apart from the rest.
III.) The Reverse Bear Trap – Saw I
This is the trap everyone knows. If you love or hate the films, or even if you’ve never seen an entire Saw film, you’ve seen this trap. This is their poster child. One of the very first grisly devices introduced to the audience. The Reverse Bear Trap, placed on the one and only Amanda Young (before she’s turned into an evil apprentice of Jigsaw, that is).
There is certainly a sense of nostalgia and classic iconography that elevates this trap. The inventiveness of a bear trap being engineered to rip your face open is a hard one to forget. The fear you felt imagining being in Amanda’s position. The onset of claustrophobia, and the heavy weight of being trapped in that metal mask. Throw in the reveal that she has to cut open a living person in order to get free, and that makes this trap all the more upsetting and unforgettable. I think it’s safe to say, everyone let out a huge sigh of relieve the moment the Bear Trap went off only seconds after being taken off.
It’s a good thing that they finally let us see the Reverse Bear Trap complete it’s timer, even if it was one of the few decent things about Saw VII.
II.) The Rack – Saw III
Saw is well known for it’s gore. It’s a staple of the films, and something they try to top and innovate further with every new trap. However, I don’t think they ever topped The Rack. Poor DUI Timothy faced one of the most grisly and iconic Jigsaw traps to date. Can you still hear his bones cracking? Because I can. Can you keep your eyes glued to the screen the whole time? Because I can’t.
As with the best Jigsaw traps, the imagery here was fantastic. Jeff is being asked to forgive Timothy for his crimes, and here he is strapped to a cross-like object. The man who recklessly killed his son. This trap plays with the interesting and emotional mindset of vengeance. Does Timothy deserve it? Is what he is about to endure his penance for killing a child? That’s something not only Jeff deals with when experiencing this room, but also the audience. That’s the emotional link established with the audience—one that is tugged on consistently as Timothy’s shackles turn. One that strengthens an already brutally intense scene.
I.) The Carousel – Saw VI
The spinning russian roulette carousel tops the chart, making it the number one trap in all of the Saw Franchise.
The key reason for this trap’s place at the top of the list, is the emotional weight it brings. Put simply, next to The Rack, this the one Jigsaw trap that truly hit me the hardest. After watching it for the first time I was shaken to my core. Even to this day, that scene just gets to me. After all is said and done, you feel the same emptiness and loss that the William feels. Similarly to The Gallows, The Carousel does a fantastic job at playing around with morality and ethics, which strengthens the scene.
A good amount of times, the acting within the Saw franchise can become serviceable at best. Here though, not only did the Peter Outerbridge (William) do a fantastic job, but all six victims on the carousel nailed it. The way they begged, lied, and turned on their co-workers was extremely well handled, and incredibly harrowing. I’ll never get the image of the wheel rotating after a victim was shot out of my head.
The Carousel trap has fun playing with the work place environment, and how would your co-workers react being placed in a nightmare scenario. Do you know who they really are? Or who is a better person than another? That nightmare scenario fuels most of Saw VI, but it really excels in this particular instance. You almost can’t stop yourself from thinking about how your own co-workers might fare in such a situation. On top of that, the trap plays extremely well into the themes and story of it’s respective movie. The idea that health insurance executives are essentially playing god, and leaving some choices up to random chance and formulas, is visually translated perfectly.
Well there you have it. What are your thoughts on my rankings? Did I completely ignore one of you favorites? Be sure to let me know in the comments below! Also, be sure to check out Jigsaw, the first new Saw movie in a decade, which will be released on October 27th. You can check out our review of the film here.