Surviving Sawfest

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Lionsgate films claim they make SAW movies for the fans, and while it's easy to be cynical about that claim, Sawfest was definitely a fan-friendly move – all four SAW movies on the big screen for the price of one ticket. Now, could it have been even better? Sure. Had I been in charge of marketing, I might have suggested maybe adding a higher-priced ticket that would include an “I survived Sawfest” t-shirt, or maybe a reduced admission for anyone coming in costume as Jigsaw, Amanda, or Billy the puppet. Make it a real EVENT, rather than just a quadruple-feature. Might have cost them a bit more money than they wanted to spend, though.

As it was, no-one showed up in any kind of costume at the Block AMC 30 last night. Only one person even had a SAW T-shirt. (I don't own a SAW shirt, but wore an ECW barbed wire shirt that vaguely resembles the Twisted Pictures logo). The theater wasn't even crowded. Horror fans might be able to kick the assses of Harry Potter fans one on one, but if it ever came down to a gang rumble we'd be hopelessly outnumbered and humiliated.

One family brought their two small children, who, to their credit, were very well behaved, but come on – who lets their kids watch all four of these in a row? The brain surgery scene in part 3 made even a hardcore gorehound like me slightly shaky; I can't imagine what a child thinks.

As much as I love these movies, I wasn't sure I could sit through four of them easily; four is about my capacity at film festivals. But it's different with movies you know and love and don't have to scrutinize for a later review; every time I'd ever seen them in a theater before, it was with press people or on opening day, and it's a whole new deal to have fans who cheer at the right parts and applaud, say, Leigh Whanell's ridiculous convulsions when he tries to fake his death in part one.

Observations about the movies in general:

-Though I noticed new things in each film, which is a testament to the writing and production design of these things, it was surprising to notice that part one holds up better and better, while part two now feels like the weakest of the first trilogy. This is in large part because part one was designed for actual scares, and still has some real shocks in it – the scene with LOST's Michael Emerson hiding in the little girl's closet is still freaky as hell, even if you know what's coming. Parts two and three depend more on gore and psychologically harrowing trials than actual scares, and part two's problem is that the victims in the main trap aren't especially interesting actors. Say what you will about Whannell and Cary Elwes' thespian skills in the first one, but they were fun to watch, and Angus Macfadyen in part three is wonderful. But that kid from Jericho in part two, alongside a stereotypical muscly Latino gangbanger? Not as compelling.

-the strength of these movies is in the dynamic between Jigsaw and Amanda, and watching it develop over the course of three films in a row merely reinforces what skilled actors Shawnee Smith and Tobin Bell are. It also reinforces the fact that the movies are going straight downhill now that their characters have been killed off. There are only so many flashback possibilities, unless you can somehow get J.J. Abrams on board.

-part one deserves a lot of credit for underplaying the foreshadowing. Even when you know the details to look for, it's impressive how much they still feel like throwaways and never nudge you. That said, watching three in a row prepares you maybe too much for part four – if you've been conditioned over six hours to know how these movies work, there's a clue very early on that gives the game away.

-the crowd cheered loudly at the end of each of the first three. The reaction at the end of part 4 was extremely mixed, with a few boos.

-the free refill policy on large drinks was made for marathons like this.

For more on what I thought of part 4, there's a review at my other blog.


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