When Saw premiered in 2004, the low-budget independent horror film made back its budget eighteen times just in its first weekend and went on to gross over one hundred million dollars over its nine weeks in the domestic box office as strong word of mouth and a horror fanbase oversaturated with J-horror remakes came out in force. When Saw II premiered a year later, the film eclipsed its predecessor’s opening weekend numbers, cementing both the staying power of the moralizing, trap-making serial killer Jigsaw and the film franchise’s week-before-Halloween slot in theaters. “If it’s Halloween,” the tagline goes, “it must be Saw.” Fear of competing with the juggernaut has contributed to a slew of recent horror contenders finding their releases shuffled or shelved.
On October 29, 2010, Jigsaw’s last trap is sprung as Saw 3D, the final chapter in the intricate crime thriller saga, appears in theaters and according to the film’s director, “the idea is to go out with a bang.”
Filmed on location in Toronto, the last installment in the series was filmed in 3D, with a budget nearly 17 times that of the original film. From the outside, it might seem like Saw has outgrown its independent origins, but even as director Kevin Greutert embraces the latest in Hollywood technology he, along with his cast members Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell and Cary Elwes – who has been conspicuously absent from the weaving, branching storyline of Saw since the first film – consider the legacy of the horror saga and their responsibility to long-time fans to make the movie right.
Mandylor, who plays the murderous Detective Hoffman, and Russell, who plays Jill Tuck, the estranged wife of the Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell), have been the actors with the most longevity in the series, each appearing in every film since Saw III. But director Greutert, along with Bell, shares the distinction of participating in every feature-length Saw film, beginning as an editor on the first installment and graduating to director with the sixth film. Greutert’s predecessor, Saw V director David Hackl similarly graduated to director from a vital crew role (production designer) in earlier installments.
His editing experience has proven to be a boon. “[Saw creator] James (Wan) had a very graphic design sense of cutting the film,” referring to the franchise’s trademark of dynamic handheld shooting. Greutert’s eye for detail was also taxed by the strict continuity of a series of overlapping and interlocking, flashback-laden films. “Nothing gets past the fans….It helped a lot, having cut the films.”
Saw’s fanbase is important to the cast and crew. “People want to put the clues together and they really pay attention,” said Mandylor. While many series with a die-hard fan cachet claim to avoid the throngs of online communities that arise around them, Saw takes a different approach. According to Greutert: “Fans have a lot of impact on the series, whether they know it or not. We like to get a good sense of what’s working and what’s not working.” Evidence of the fans’ influence over the direction of the franchise is the return of fan-favorite actor Cary Elwes. Previously, Saw II director and co-writer Darren Lynn Bousman had indicated that the fate of Elwes’s character had been intentionally left vague, allowing fans to make up their own minds. However, Elwes said, “the fans campaigned heavily to bring Dr. Gordon back.”
“I thought he was dead,” Elwes said of his character, Dr. Lawrence Gordon. “I thought anyone who sawed his leg off with a rusty hacksaw was not going to get very far.” The actor remains mum on the significance of his role in the film, though. Greutert is similarly elusive. Bringing Elwes back, he says, “was something that we wanted to do and needed to do for a very long time.” He begins to say something, and stops himself. “Everything I want to tell you is laden with spoilers.”
Cast and director alike had plenty to say about the decision to release the film in 3D. In the midst of a backlash spurred by exorbitant ticket prices and a slew of shoddy post-production conversions to 3D, Greutert and his stars never question the decision to go three-dimensional. In fact, the filmmaker says that he lobbied to shoot Saw VI in 3D, but that the infrastructure required to do so wasn’t in place. The jump to 3D was the first decision made in Saw 3D, even before the script was underway. The result is a film that was conceived for 3D and filmed in 3D. The story of the film, which involves Jigsaw’s fatal traps being displayed publicly, plays into the immersive aspect of 3D filmmaking. Greutert explains, “There’s an implicit message about horror audiences and watching voyeuristically. 3D takes that to another level.”
Using the newest innovations meant more takes and adjustments to the signature Saw aesthetic of tight, close-up shots. During filming, Mandylor called the process “tedious,” though he now recants that comment. “the ones who suffered more than anybody were Kevin and the camera guy.”
Elwes said he enjoyed filming in 3D and didn’t find it much different than working on a traditional film. “Kevin gave us some notes here and there, slight variations on movement. We were very subtle about the 3d. We cut the yo-yo scene,” he says with a laugh, joking about exploitative shots from the 3D movies of the 1950s. Russell confessed that shooting was slower than normal, but admitted that she was impressed by the 3D footage that she’s seen.
Elwes, who has seen the final cut of the film, calls Saw 3D “the most graphically violent movie I’ve ever seen. It’s relentless. Unbelievable.” Despite the film’s violence, Greutert is hesitant to label Saw 3D ‘torture porn’. It sort of cheapens what it is – which is a psychological thriller. The only people who ever call it that have never seen a Saw film.” Greutert is proud that the series wears its social consciousness on its sleeve, though he admits “We may have overdone it a bit with the health insurance angle in VI.” Elwes seems to agree with his director, stating “I’m proud of the fact that the films are all morality tales, not just violent films for violence’s sake. I wouldn’t want to be part of that.”