On the 29th of October, 2004, a years-long Halloween tradition began. James Wan’s notorious horror hit Saw was released in theaters on that day, and it caused a stir in pop culture, eliciting gleeful titters from gorehounds, as well as concerned finger-wagging from parents and critics. “Torture porn” was the buzzword of the day, and Saw was the vanguard of the movement.
The film was about a kidnapper, nicknamed “Jigsaw,” who would lock his victims into elaborate mechanical death machines, providing them with the means to escape, provided they do something horrible to their own bodies – or to someone else’s – in the process. The function of the death machines was to force the victims to appreciate life all the more once they escaped.
This simple premise spun off into a series of seven films (which were impossible to follow), and featured, in toto, 52 elaborate death scenarios. As a continuation of the Halloween tradition, and to celebrate the film’s 10th anniversary (coinciding with a special theatrical re-release) we here at CraveOnline have elected to rank each of the death machines in the entire Saw franchise. Oh yes. There will be blood. And spoliers. Lots of spoliers.
Spoiler Alert: All the ‘Saw’ Movies Are About the Get Ruined!
52. Tied to a Chair with a Shotgun (Saw V)
Jigsaw ties Costas Mandylor to a chair, ties a shotgun to his chest, and runs a string through the trigger. This is not creative or interesting, and involves no complex machinery. Yawn.
51. Electrified Staircase (Saw II)
Some cops try to infiltrate Jigsaw’s lair, and they are locked into a stairwell. The stairs electrify. No one is badly hurt. It’s a bad boobytrap.
50. Four-Shotgun Tripwire (Saw)
Although this one is lethal, it’s just a tripwire attached to four shotguns. Effective, but not creative.
49. Escape the Arm ripper by Holding Your Breath Longer Than the Other Guy (Saw VI)
Seriously? Just a hold-your-breath contest? Getting your arms ripped off is terrible and all, but forcing someone to hold their breath seems juvenile to me. What’s next? A staring contest?
48. Just Yank Out Your Own Teeth. They Gots a Code On ‘Em. (Saw 3-D)
The main character of Saw 3-D has to pull out his own teeth because they have a combination lock code printed on them. No tools. No tricks. Just yank ’em out. Given what the series has done, that’s a bit boring.
47. Traverse a Broken Floor to Save a Masked Panicky Guy from an Automated Hanging (Saw 3-D)
I like the automatic hanging machine: When the timer goes off, the rope around your neck is tightened via an automated pulley. But the trap is odd: can you instruct a blindfolded man across an indoor chasm? I think I missed the irony here.
46. Hanging Above Lawnmowers, Somehow (Saw 3-D)
I like the idea of being fed into a sea up upturned lawnmowers, but how exactly do you kidnap someone and get them into this position? This trap is only on screen for a few seconds in Saw 3-D, so we never learn the circumstances surrounding it.
45. Swing Out of the Cage Dangling Above Spikes (Saw 3-D)
This one is more like a video game challenge than a death trap. Pull the pulley and fall out of the bottom of a cage. But there are spikes on the floor! So swing the cage. This is a death trap I think we could all escape.
44. Razor Box Trap (Saw II)
You are dying of nerve gas poisoning, but there is a syringe of antidote in a box above your head. The hand holes are lined with knives. This one gets a low ranking because I’m not sure how this is supposed to work. Are you supposed to lose your hands? Is there a way to get the syringe out at all, or is it just there to tease you?
43. Saw Through Your Foot to Escape (Saw III)
Donnie Wahlberg is entreated to repeat the challenge from the first Saw movie: Will you saw off your own foot to escape? The first time around, this was a wicked and fun question. The second time around, it’s less interesting.
42. Gun at the Peephole Fires When You Use the Key (Saw II)
The mechanism is so simple, we all ran out and built one of these. Right? We all built one, right? Although this seems like it would only be lethal if one were to unlock the door while they were looking through the door’s peephole.
41. Find the Key in the Pit of Syringes (Saw II)
Push an ex-junkie into a pit of heroin needles to find a key. That’s just mean. I wonder: if Jigsaw had enough money to afford all that heroin, why didn’t he use it to hire better doctors to cure his cancer? That’s a major plot point in Saw VI.
40. Guide Debbie Through the Steam Maze Before the Bomb on Her Blows Up, Then Dig the Key Out of Your Own Abdomen (Saw VI)
An insurance sleaze has to guide a woman he knows through a heated maze before the bomb strapped to her blows up. Fair enough, I suppose, although that’s less like a Saw movie and more like Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. But then he also has to dig a key out of himself. That’s a little too much trap for me.
39. Shotgun Shell Collar (Saw III)
Not really a death trap so much as hostage leverage, this collar was strapped to a doctor, and would fire shotgun blasts into her head if Jigsaw’s pulse flatlined. It’s neat, but I prefer the bigger, clunkier machines.
38. Nerve Gas House Trap (Saw II)
The house is filling with nerve gas, and there’s a safe that contains the antidote. Where is the combination? If the characters had figured that out earlier, they might all be alive… Bwa ha haaaa…
37. Automatic Scalping Machine (Saw IV)
Being scalped must suck. A woman’s hair is wound up in an automated hair-pulling machine, and a cop must cut her free before she is scalped entirely. But without scissors, how do you free her? The result is, well, kinda icky. Let’s just say he was almost successful.
36. Donnie Wahlberg on the Melting Ice Cube (Saw IV)
This trap was essentially a giant balance that involved a hangman’s noose, a melting ice cube, and a pair of swinging ice blocks designed to crush a man’s head. This is a pretty badass and entirely too complicated death trap that stood at the center of Saw IV.
35. Will Mom and Son Melt the Insurance Agent with Acid? Yes. (Saw VI)
Chekhov’s acid. You don’t introduce a giant vat of acid in Act I unless someone’s going to be melted by it in Act III.
34. Drill Chair with Multiple Keys (Saw)
We don’t learn a lot about the poor dope strapped into this chair. Only that drill will penetrate his neck unless the chair is unlocked in time. And, oops, the chair has dozens of fake keys next to it. Better hurry, there.
33. The Key in your Eye Socket Frees You from the Venus Flytrap (Saw II)
Quintessentially Saw, this trap was an inversion of the iconic “reverse bear trap” from the first film. If you can dig the key out of your own eye socket in time, you’ll be able to unlock the bear trap attacked to your face. Luckily, tools are provided.
32. Choose Who Gets Hung by Barbed Wire (Saw VI)
A capable young man, or your older secretary? Whom to choose? The traps in Saw VI all seem a bit unfair, as most of them were designed to have at least one actual victim. But then, these ones may not have been designed by Jigsaw, but one of his acolytes… you know what? I’ve seen this whole series, beginning to end, TWICE, and I’m still a little lost in the plotting.
31. Shotgun Roulette (Saw VI)
This one, too, was meant to save only four out of six people, tops. Six people are tied to an automated carousel, and will indeed get shot unless the protagonist stabs his hand to save them.
30. Lift a Heavy Stabby Weight to Stop a Rotating Machine from Piercing a Lady’s Eyes and Mouth (Saw 3-D)
I think we can all get behind this one, because it taps into our innate fear of working out on Nautilus machines.
29. Hoist Yourself By Your own Chest Meat (Saw 3-D)
Do it fast, or your wife will get broiled alive in a big oven thingy. I don’t know why the man didn’t just pull himself up a chain, or hook the chains under his arms, but whatever. Chest meat it is.
28. Pull the Spikes Out of Your Mutually Skewered Bodies (Saw IV)
The Saw movies have always been interested in anatomical detail, but this is the first trap that deals directly with arterial placement. Yank certain skewers out of yourself, and ensure that the evil man behind you bleeds to death. Super icky.
27. Grab a Key Out of a Jar of Acid, or Get the RIB SPREADER (Saw III)
The Saw movies aren’t afraid to kill anyone off, including its main villain (who dies at the end of Saw III). As such, anyone can come to a horrible end in one of Jigsaw’s death machines. The satisfying part of the rib-ripper is that, well, we get to see the thing in bloody action.
26. Poison Antidote Inside the Furnace (Saw II)
Climb into the mysterious furnace-looking contraption to find the antidote to your nerve gas poisoning. Could this furnace-like contraption be, perhaps, a furnace? Oh wait. It’s a furnace. And one that’ll cook a guy real good.
25. Razor Wire Room (Saw)
This one seems a little unfair. You can leave, but only if you can burrow your way through a room of razor wire. I suppose if you’re careful enough you could… no wait. You probably couldn’t. I would wait until the cops arrived. Or move very, very, VERY slowly.
24. The Flammable Jelly (Saw)
A little complex: There is a safe in the middle of the room. The combination is hundreds of numbers long. You can only see the numbers by holding a candle up to them in a darkened room. Also, you’re naked. Also, there is broken glass all over the floor. Also, you’re coated in flammable jelly, so be careful with the candle. I can smell the roasting ribs already.
23. Lower Jaw Rip (Saw III)
A bomb is about to go off, but you’re chained down, the rings puncturing your skin and, ulp, lower jaw. I don’t care how determined you are to escape, I don’t think humans have the physical strength to yank off their own lower jaw. The poor sap in Saw III sure didn’t.
22. Eyeball Stabbing/Limb-Ripping Machine for Pedophiles (Saw IV)
A creepy pedophile voyeur, in a fit of poetry, is given a quick choice. Lose both his eyes by his own hand (he activated the blinding machine) or lose all his limbs via limb-ripping-off machine. He gets one eyeball in before… eep.
21. Group Head-Slicing (Saw V)
Although Jigsaw doesn’t give them this hint, the five strangers attached to the head-slicing pulleys can escape if they work together. But in the Saw movies, we see people being petty and desperate pretty much 100% of the time. So, yeah, someone loses a head.
20. Wall Holes, Ceiling Jars (Saw V)
If death weren’t involved, this one actually seems pretty fun. Smash the jars above your head to find keys into wall capsules. The capsules will protect you from a bomb. The smashing and finding keys almost seems like a game from “Double Dare.”
19. Water-Filled Head-Drowning Box (Saw V)
With all the tearing and stabbing and rending, it’s nice to see a death trap that involves mere drowning. And not by total submersion, but by head-mounted tank. Although there is some stabbing involved: The hero escapes by stabbing a pen into his throat and breathing through the neck hole.
18. Head-Turned-Backwards Machine (Saw III)
This one is wicked painful just because of how long it takes. A vengeful man can elect to free the victim from it, or watch him die. The machine rotates each arm 360 degrees. Then each leg. Then his head. And it’s in a crucifix position. something tells me they used stuff like this during The Spanish Inquisition.
17. Mausoleum Trap with the Blind Man and the Mute Man (Saw IV)
One man has his eyes sewn shut. The other his lips. They are both chained to a pulley of some sort that will… I dunno, kill them somehow. It’s never made clear. The function or purpose of the trap is never explained, but we do get to feel the frustration and panic of the two poor souls locked into it.
16. Save the Naked Freezing Lawyer (Saw III)
The makers of the Saw movies are endlessly creative in how to kill someone. And while crushing and stabbing and ripping seem to be their favorite modes of death, I appreciate when they stray to something more banal. Like freezing to death. Angus MacFadyen has to save a naked lawyer from freezing to death as she is sprayed with freezing water in a freezer.
15. Put a Pound of Flesh in the Scale Before Automated Drills Drill Your Head (Saw VI)
A pound of flesh. Shakespeare fans can really appreciate this one. Although I don’t think there were any automated head-drilling machines in “The Merchant of Venice.”
14. Facial Bear Trap, Mark I (Saw VI)
The most iconic, and one of the most fun, death traps in the Saw series first made an appearance in the first film, and was reused two other times. Indeed, the second appearance of the machine was set up as an early model of the thing. How does it work? Well, keep reading…
13. Face Trap from the First Movie Again (Saw 3-D)
Just don’t look at that picture. It’s gross.
12. Reverse Bear Trap (Saw)
In what is essentially the central trap of the Saw franchise, the reverse bear trap is wired into your jaw and is spring-loaded to pop open without a key, effectively ripping the top of your head off at the jawline. In the first Saw, this trap is escaped, but only after Shawnee Smith digs the key out of a living man’s guts.
11. Glued into a Car, Forced to Rip Off Your Own Skin or a Car Will Kill Your Friends (Saw 3-D)
Easily the goriest trap in the franchise, this one involved a group of skinheads and a car. One is glued to the driver’s seat and has to tear his back skin off to stop the wheels of the suspended car. His girlfriend is tied down under the wheels. His buddy is chained to the back and would be pulled to pieces if the car were to move forward. Also, another friend is tied to the wall in front of the car. Things don’t go well for these folks.
10. The Pit and the Pendulum (Saw V)
Here’s a trap for anyone who is a fan of Edgar Allen Poe. A man is tied down beneath a swinging bladed pendulum that is slowly lowering its way to his abdomen. He can escape if he drills his hands, but I think he’d rather not.
9. Drowning in Pig Entrails (Saw III)
This is perhaps one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen in a movie. A man is tied to the bottom of a tank while fetid pig carcasses are blended and poured over him. I have never seen anything like that in a movie before. And I hope never to again. Ugh.
8. Slice Your Face (Saw IV)
This was, according to Saw lore, Jigsaw’s very first death trap, and it’s chilling in its simplicity. You can escape captivity if you push your own face through eight spring-loaded knives.
7. Cut Through Your Feet (Saw)
Sometimes simple is more effective. Cut off your foot with a saw, or your family might die. No machines. No automated timers. Just you, a chain, and a hacksaw. Would you? WOULD YOU?
6. Glass Box as Fake-Out (Saw V)
This one ranks high because it’s a clever inversion of the Saw myth. Costas Mandylor is pushed into a glass box full of broken shards. We think that he’ll have to do something horrible in that box of broken glass, but he won’t. It turns out he designed that glass box as a viewing area. The man who put him in the box was actually in the trap all along, and he is crushed slowly between two closing walls, while the glass case remains safe. Ha ha.
5. Use a Fishhook to Take a Key Out of a Woman’s Stomach. If She Screams, Spikes Penetrate Her Neck (Saw 3-D)
There are microphones in the room, and if they pick up any sound, metal spikes with advance slowly toward the victim’s neck. She can be freed from the machine, but the key is in her stomach, tied to a string that leads out of her mouth. Also, there’s a fishhook in her stomach. This one invites the viewer to picture a fishhook ripping up a woman’s esophagus. Thanks, Saw.
4. Dirty Bathwater (Saw V)
A human body is a fun way to conduct electricity, and this trap from Saw V demonstrates that you can complete a current using nothing more than dirty bathwater and flesh. In order to unlock a door, the circuit must be completed. Will the people stand together and take a fraction of the pain or will they… ? Oh. Sorry about that, lady.
3. Public Boyfriend Slicer (Saw 3-D)
This trap is essentially a tug-o-war between two men, both the boyfriends of a cheating girlfriend, tied to the ceiling. Will the men try to kill each other, or the woman? This is a fun and poetic soap opera, of course, but the trap is made all the more awesome by the fact that it’s taking place in public, in a box, in front of hundreds of people.
2. Beakers of Blood (Saw V)
The human body only needs so much blood to survive, and Jigsaw knows that. So he concocted this gross little number, wherein the victim must saw their arm – LENGTHWISE – until enough blood has been spilled into a beaker. The shot of the length-split arm is something that will haunt my dreams for years.
1. Train Death (Saw 3-D)
Technically, this wasn’t a death trap but a dream sequence. A woman is set up in between a pair of train tracks, and a train – consisting of nothing but a giant sword-like device – barrels at her. No torture. No hope of escape. This was the Saw series giving us a plainly gratuitous death scene, and one of the most spectacular deaths in the whole series. Seriously. That woman just flies apart.