15 Spooky Secrets About the Saw Franchise

Before Chris Rock faces down Jigsaw in the long-awaited Spiral, take a look at the most surprising secrets to come out of the Saw franchise.

By Billy Nilles May 14, 2021 10:00 AMTags
Saw 3, Saw IIIMoviestore Collection/Shutterstock

"I want to play a game."

It's been more than 15 years since two men woke up in an old bathroom and a diabolical plan set forth by an iconic serial killer known as Jigsaw got underway.

On October 29, 2004, Saw, from the minds of director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Wannell, came out of nowhere to scare the bejeezus out of audiences to the tune of $103.9 million worldwide on a shoestring budget of around $1 million. Inspired by The Blair Witch Project, Wan and Wannell's creation would be the genesis of a horror film franchise that not only surpassd its inspiration, but just about every other franchise out there. With six consecutive sequels released every October until Saw 3D in 2010, the franchise pulled off something no other, horror or otherwise, had ever done, surpassing Police Academy's six consecutive total films from 1984-89.

And it didn't stop there. The games began again with the release of 2017's Jigsaw, bringing the franchise's global box office receipts to a staggering $976 million. And that tally will only grow when Spiral: From the Book of Saw, a ninth installment starring and based on a story idea from comedian Chris Rock, finally arrives in theaters on May 14.

Horror Movie Stars: Then and Now

In honor of Spiral's long-awaited arrival, let's take a look at the 15 most spooky and surprising secrets to come out of the Saw franchise.

1. While the first film took place in a rundown industrial bathroom, an initial idea from co-creators James Wan and Leigh Wannell was to have the entire film feature two actors stuck in an elevator, shot from the point of view of security cameras, in the hopes of keeping it contained and relatively cheap.

2. After James pitched Leigh on what would become the first film's plot, he was struck with inspiration for the untitled project: "I'll never forget that day. I remember hanging up the phone and started just going over it in my head, and without any sort of long period of pondering, I opened my diary that I had at the time and wrote the word SAW," Leigh told Bloody-Disgusting.com in 2010. "It was one of those moments that made me aware that some things just really are meant to be. Some things are just waiting there to be discovered."

3. The impetus for the franchise's iconic villain Jigsaw came about when persistent migraines sent Leigh, convinced he had a brain tumor, to a neurologist for an MRI. "I started to think, 'What if you were given the news that you had a tumor and you were going to die soon? How would you react to that?' So I started to imagine this character who had been given a time limit, who'd been told that he had a year, two years to live, really, and that his condition would slowly kill him," he told The A.V. Club in 2010. "Then I sort of attached that to the idea of somebody who put people in a literal version of that."

4. Despite her character Amanda Young becoming a central figure in the Saw franchise mythology, actress Shawnee Smith, not a horror fan, initially turned down the role, describing the script as "horrific." It was only after she watched the original short film, which featured what would become Amanda's story in Saw, that she accepted.

5. The first film was shot over the span of 18 days with a production budget of just under $1 million. Money was so tight that very few takes were permitted for each scene and, in post-production, James found he didn't have enough shots to work, forcing him and editor Kevin Greutert to get creative. "We would cobble shots together...that we would make up, and basically we would grunge the shot up to make it look like surveillance cameras. And then we would, like, use stills that the still photographer had shot to basically fill in gaps," he told The A.V. Club. "We did a lot of things to fill in gaps throughout the film. Whatever we cut to newspaper clippings and stuff like that, or we cut to surveillance cameras, or we cut to still photography within the film, which now people say, 'Wow, that's such a cool experimental style of filmmaking' we really did that out of necessity to fill in gaps we did not get during the filming."

6. Billy, the puppet that became the mascot for the series, was originally created by James on the cheap with a face made of clay, papier-mâché and black ping-pong balls with irises painted on for the eyes. By the time Saw II was being made, he'd gotten upgrade with a set of remote-controlled animatronics and waterjet-cut foam for the body.

7. After Saw proved to be a massive success, making $103 million worldwide, Saw II was immediately given the greenlight, but neither Leigh or James were available to work on it. So producers optioned a script called The Desperate by Darren Lynn Bousman to be crafted into the Saw II script. Darren went on to direct, while Leigh found time to provide rewrites on the script. 

8. For Saw II's iconic Needle Room trap, in which Shawnee's character is thrown into a pit of hypodermic needles to find a key, four people, over four days, had to remove the needle tips from 120,000 syringes and replace them with fiber optic tips. The needles that appeared to be stuck to her were blunted syringes struck into padding under her clothing with a fake arm used in certain shots.

9. Initially, neither James, Leigh or Darren accepted the offer to make a third film for the franchise. But when producer Gregg Hoffman, who had been instrumental in bringing James and Leigh's vision to life, passed away suddenly at 42 just weeks after Saw II's release, the trio agreed to return in his honor. "Leigh, James Wan and I all got together and had lunch the day we heard," Darren told ComingSoon.net in 2006. "We were sitting there and we were like, 'You know what? They're going to do Saw III with or without us, so let's do it for Greg.' It was always his intention to have three films, and so we all got together on that day and started talking about it for the next two weeks."

10. Saw III's bathroom set had to be borrowed and redressed from the production of Scary Movie 4, which had created the set and modeled it after the bathroom in the first Saw movie in order to specifically spoof the franchise.

11. While several of the franchise installments were threatened with an NC-17 rating by the MPAA until cuts were made to achieve a more marketable R, Saw VI was deemed so violent in Spain that it became the first film the country every issued a Pelicula X rating for violence. (The rating is usually reserved for pornography.) Restricted to just eight select theaters in the country, the movie was released almost a year later with an 18 rating after producers cut several of the film's move violent scenes.

12. While a seventh and eighth installment had been planned, the poor box office performance of Saw VI, which became the franchise's lowest grossing film, forced producers to scrap Saw VIII and condense story elements from it into the seventh film, which would be come to be titled Saw 3D. Ironically, that film had a worldwide gross double that of its predecessor.

13. Saw 3D featured late Linkin Park lead vocalist Chester Bennington in the role of Evan, a white power skinhead, who needed the help of an acting coach to understand the character. "It was actually a little more difficult than I expected because it took a lot for me to figure out how to portray this guy and what exactly his motives were going to be throughout," he told ArtistDirect.com in 2010. "I thought maybe I was overthinking it, and I met with this really great acting coach who helped me walk through and make sense of the motivation."

14. While the franchise would come back to life with 2017's Jigsaw, producers of Saw 3D wanted to go out with a splat and used over 25 gallons of fake blood in the making of the film. That's two and a half time more than was was used in Saw II.

15. Beginning in 2004 with the release of the first film through the release of 2009's Saw VI, an annual "Give Til It Hurts" blood drive was held each October to benefit the Red Cross. Fans who donated would receive a free ticket to see that year's respective film. Over 120,000 pints had been donated, resultin in over 360,000 lived being saved. The drive was revived for the release of Jigsaw in 2017.

Spiral: From the Book of Saw is in theater now.

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