A Cut Above the Rest

Ready for some severed eyeballs in your lap?

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Saw 3-D, the seventh movie in the series about a serial killer with the most gruesomely awesome torture machines you've ever seen, comes out on Friday. Before you head to the theater for the franchise's first 3-D outing (we can't wait for a limb or two to leap off the screen and into our lap), here's a little primer on the king of torture-porn movies.

The Background

In a grim everyhell city, architect-engineer John Kramer — after some hard knocks took his unborn child, marriage, and health — becomes Jigsaw, a philosophical serial killer who claims to hold life in the highest regard. He only victimizes people who prey on others or take their good fortune for granted. Jigsaw's MO is to strap abductees into torture-death devices with an escape route — but they have to lose a limb or something in the process (it's sort of a moral lesson). Cancer-stricken Jigsaw actually died a few movies ago, but he's had allies, copycats, and protégés over the years, so there's no chance of the series drying out anytime soon. The movies typically follow a bunch of doomed folks running through a gore-soaked mechanized torture-murder maze, along with some sort of deceptive subplot. In last year's outing — Saw VI, for those of you keeping score — it turns out that Jigsaw's do-gooder ex-wife is now getting in on the torture-porn game.

The Legacy

Hostel is the Citizen Kane of torture-porn flicks, but it didn't survive its sequel. The Saw franchise, on the other hand, has spit out a new movie every Halloween weekend since the first one premiered in 2004. The series hasn't descended into parody yet, but Friday's opening of Saw 3-D doesn't bode well for a graceful end to the movies, whenever that day comes. But their legacy is sealed. The Sixth Sense made horror films safe for your mom. After the success of that 1999 film, big movie studios started cranking out "scary" PG-13 films starring grown-up kids who made their bones in something like Scooby-Doo. Hardcore shock fans weren't happy. They wanted their blood and guts served up straight, sharp, and nasty — not toned down for Drew Barrymore's audience. Saw never holds back on the rough stuff.

The Franchise

Tobin Bell, who plays Jigsaw, was a veteran character actor who had small roles in Seinfeld, Nash Bridges, and Walker, Texas Ranger (plus assorted movies) before his big break. He's so committed to the part, he once contributed vials of his own blood to ink souvenir Saw posters. Now that's scary.

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