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Top 10 Saw Traps

Saw is one of my favourite films (and indeed franchises); I can hardly believe it’s been almost ten years since it first hit UK screens. The box office success of Saw set it firmly on course for a string of sequels, and the arrival of ‘SAW - The Ride’ at Thorpe Park shifted the franchise into a perfect Venn diagram of my own passions and obsessions. The first Saw film holds up as an intelligent thriller, delivering acute tension, violence, and an exciting twist-laden story. The concept was fresh and suitably distressing, and it got people talking, like a ghastly game of ‘would you rather.’

However, as the sequels rolled in, there was a definite shift. As much as I continue to revel in the relentless viscera, the traps were gradually evolving into disjointed setpieces while narrative coherence and character development deteriorated. The franchise, rightly or wrongly, was firmly planted in the torture porn timeline of the mid-to-late aughts. This pejorative definition was essentially a broad implication of a lack of nuance and metaphor in the films branded as such, and while I’d hesitate to apply this term to the Saw franchise (especially given the term’s connotations with out-of-touch critics and mainstream media hand-wringing), I will admit that the franchise’s thrills are largely superficial.

Despite all this, Saw will always hold a special place in my heart; from the whiskey-fuelled allnighters to the hilariously hokey final ‘reveal’ edits, there is much fun to be had. Ultimately, the traps are what define Saw; their promise of new ways to torture and kill via their grotesque mechanical cruelty is what kept me going back for more with every passing sequel. And so, with this in mind, I present to you the countdown of my top 10 Saw traps. Needless to say, there are a few spoilers in here!

10 - The Freezer Room

Saw 3

In this basic trap, the victim is chained up naked inside a walk-in freezer, and her body is intermittently sprayed with ice cold water as she slowly freezes to death.

Why it's awesome:

This trap is simple but pretty intense. The victim is weak and sobbing, and the drama is ramped up with each spray of freezing ice water and every desperate scream. It’s chilling to watch (sorry). Incidentally, this trap is actually someone else’s test. Despite her apparent wrongdoing, there is nothing for the victim to subject herself to in order to free herself; the test is for the lead character, Jeff. His challenge is whether he can bring himself to save her and hurt his face a little bit, despite the fact that she witnessed the car accident which killed his son and refused to testify in court.

9 - The Carousel

Saw 6

In this trap, six victims are tied down to rotating roundabout inside a large cage. The roundabout turns slowly but stops repeatedly so that each victim has to face a static shotgun. The idea here is that they are shot one by one, as the shotgun is wired to go off automatically, unless their boss chooses to save them by pressing a button (which simultaneously drives a metal spike through his hand). He only has the option to save 2 of the 6.

Why it's awesome:

This one makes me laugh out loud, hence being in my top ten. The victims (again, who are not actually being tested) immediately turn on each other and begin lying in order to save themselves, and that’s kind of funny to watch. The best part is the way the final victim screams his parting lines: “You motherfucker! You spineless, pussywhipped motherfucker!”. I also really like the morbid fairground music which plays as the carousel slowly turns.

8 - The Bedroom Trap

Saw 4

The victim is strapped to the bed, his limbs secured in restraints. He has sixty seconds to make his choice: either press two buttons which will drive two sharp blades into each of his eyeballs, or do nothing and have his limbs ripped away from his torso via a machine with some impressive looking cogs.

Why it's awesome:

This one is seven shades of grim. Ivan is guilty of murdering, raping, and abusing several women, and the scene offers up a grisly sense of satisfaction in seeing him suffer. It really gathers pace with Ivan’s gradual realisation of his fate, culminating in his failure to press the second button. This trap also succeeds in testing Rigg and Ivan simultaneously- Rigg has the choice of whether or not to force Ivan into the trap, and Ivan can choose to live or die.

7 - Eyes Sewn Shut

Saw 4

By the time Saw 4 was released, Saw fans had grown accustomed to the tradition of each Saw film opening with a shocking and nasty trap to get the ball rolling. Saw 4 is no exception; in fact, I think this is the strongest opening trap of the entire franchise. Two victims are chained to a rotating drum, one with his eyes sewn shut, the other with his mouth sewn shut. The chain begins to pull the victims closer to the machine but they are unable to communicate in order to solve the puzzle (the solution being a key attached to the back of one of their collars).

Why it's awesome:

The sight of the two men with stiches in their faces is pretty grotesque and their panic is harrowing to watch. As lips-sewn-shut guy attempts to retrieve the key, eyes-sewn-shut guy misinterprets this as an attack, and a brutal fight ensues with the weapons which are placed in the room (a great addition of extra gore detail to this scene). It’s really tense and not too elaborate, and has a great climax as lips-sewn-shut guys rips apart his stitches to scream.

6 - The Blood Sacrifice

Saw 5

The last two victims of ‘The Fatal Five’ find themselves in a room which contains a large tank, with holes down one side and circular saws within. There are channels running into a beaker in the middle of the tank, which must be filled with 10 pints of blood in order to activate the mechanism which opens the door (and saves them from a bunch of nail bombs). They must place their arms inside and allow the blades to rip into them, spilling enough blood to free them.

Why it's awesome:

This is another trap which delivers a clever twist: the last 2 victims realise that they were supposed to work together as a group from the beginning, hence why there are 5 holes in the tank. We’re teased with a couple of false starts before the victims finally go all the way and slide their hands into contact with the spinning blade, which slices neatly between their interdigital folds. They succeed and the door opens, and there’s a truly horrific shot of a deformed, dripping arm split lengthways.

5 - The Needle Pit

Saw 2

The trap consists of a pit filled with syringes, with a key attached to a glow stick hidden amongst them. The key is required to unlock the door and ensure the group’s survival, and there’s a sixty second time limit for retrieval.

Why it's awesome:

What makes this worse to watch is the fact that this trap was never intended for Amanda. It was meant for Xavier, who pushes Amanda in at the last minute, forcing her to take his place. Just the thought of several needles puncturing you at once is horrendous, and as Amanda crawls through the sea of spikes we can see the needles protruding from her bleeding flesh. As the timer counts down, she really starts to go for it; frantically digging through the needles and screaming hysterically. To add insult to injury, the key is retrieved in time but is dropped as the timer runs out, and they fail the task.

4 - The Coffin Trap

Saw 5

Strahm finds himself locked in a room and is informed via audio tape that he has a chance of survival if he enters an ominous glass coffin before him. Believing this to be a trap set by Hoffman, he chooses not to enter, and instead he waits for Hoffman to enter the room then wrestles him into the coffin. Hoffman plays along and feigns distress, but Strahm quickly realises that he has sealed his own fate; the coffin descends to safety and Strahm is caught between two walls sliding together, crushing him to death.

Why it's awesome:

This is a trap with a twist; Strahm’s realisation and panic plays out in real time with the revelation to the audience, signalled by the customary Saw theme music. Strahm is confronted by the consequences of his misplaced confidence when he plays the rest of the tape and discovers the truth: he is about to die an excruciatingly painful death. The gore detail on Strahm’s disappearing body is really well done; his bones snap and his blood spills onto the surface of the glass coffin below, where a smug Hoffman can observe and savour his victory. We also get a good shot of his mangled corpse at the end.

3 - The Pig Vat

Saw 3

This trap involves several festering pig corpses being blended up to mulch, one by one, and poured into a giant container with a man strapped to the bottom, the idea being that he will eventually drown in the putrid, grey, liquidised dead pig juice.

Why it's awesome:

This trap is outrageously disgusting in the best possible way. The utter degradation of this trap is one thing, but this is compounded by the fact that we see pig juice going INTO HIS MOUTH. It’s unapologetically sickening and vulgar, and super fun to watch. Plus it’s a nice little nod back to the pig masks. This is another test for Jeff; in order to free the victim (the judge who sentenced his son’s killer) he must burn all of his son’s toys in an incinerator, leaving only the key that was hidden amongst them.

2 - The Rack

Saw 3

No mercy here; this trap is completely and utterly brutal. The victim’s limbs are secured with spikes, and each section of the rack begins to rotate until his bones fracture and burst through his skin. This is followed by the head twisting until the neck snaps.

Why it's awesome:

I love the growing intensity of this scene; it steadily gets worse as the limbs are twisted one at a time and there’s close-up detail of the protruding bones. The grinding sound of the huge machine is drowned out by the victim’s screams of pain and occasional cracking/snapping. Unfortunately there is nothing the victim can actually do; this is yet another test is for Jeff, the challenge this time being whether he can bring himself to save the Timothy (the victim) despite the fact that he accidentally killed Jeff’s son in a car accident.

1 - The Bathroom Trap


This is the big one; the trap around which an entire story develops. Saw off your own foot and crawl to freedom, or be imprisoned forever in darkness. Uncomplicated and unforgiving in its methods, this trap is the one we all remember and love.

Why it's awesome:

This is where the franchise began; the Saw centrepiece. I love the additional challenge put in place by Jigsaw: Lawrence has to kill Adam before 6am, otherwise his family will be killed, and Adam must escape before 6am. Each character risks being locked inside the bathroom forever if they fail the task, and has their own struggle and motive in a race against time for survival. The film reaches a gruesome, thrilling crescendo with Lawrence sawing through his own flesh and bone to escape. Beneath the layers of backstory which surround this trap is a huge twist, and despite so many repeat viewings, I still love to watch this unfold at the end.


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