Jigsaw vs Homicide and Serious Crime Command

Saw: torture porn or true to life? We took one of Metropolitan Police's finest murder detectives with us to the Imax for a horror marathon to find out...
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When Hunter S Thompson set out on the gonzo mission that became 'Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas', he reported that the trunk of his car looked like "a mobile police narcotics lab", and boastingly listed all its contents. By contrast, the bag I'm taking along for this gonzo exercise resembles the inside of a high school cafeteria: seven kinds of sandwiches, two flavours of chewing gum, a bottle of lemonade, a big bottle of water, a bottle of chocolate milk, a carton of fruit juice, a tub of mini chocs, a tube of crisps, a can of lager, two plastic cups and a bottle of tonic. The tonic is for the bottle of decanted gin. But not for the bottle of decanted peach schnapps. That's what the lemonade's for.

The thinking behind this Andes plane crash survivors' kit is very simple; we need to stay awake. Sugar is the key. According to IMAX Visitor Services Assistant Emma Walter, who has looked after other all-nighters such as 'The Bourne Trilogy', I certainly won't be the only one struggling to stay awake or feeling a mite frazzled come the dawn.

"People turn up with their sleeping bags and pyjamas," Emma tells me. "Sometimes we get duvets, but we don't let them in because the seats can't accommodate them". As for the aftermath, "In the morning, people are just like zombies," she laughs. "The sunlight affects them somehow." As for an all-night Saw-fest, "after three or four films", Emma predicts, "people are going to be on edge and shaking. I can well imagine someone walking out and sticking a spoon in their eye." Will Emma be staying for the duration? "I'm not good with horror films" she admits. "I'm too...'gullible', I think, is probably the right word. I believe anything, and that's why they scare me, so I've asked not to work tonight."

In the foyer, vodka-carrying ticket holders Ted and Camilla have mixed feelings about the night's gorefest, which is completely sold out except for one seat. "We wanted to watch a horror movie on Halloween and we assumed it was just Saw V," explains Ted. "We've now had to rejig our shifts at work, as we realized we're actually going to be staying here all night if we want to see the fifth film. We'll probably battle it out and see what happens. I'll definitely be asleep by the second."

As for horror movies in general, Ted likes "really, really poor attempts at zombie films - I really like my bad, slow-moving zombies." While Camilla likes her films "the gorier the better. I really liked the first Saw, which I thought was quite original but the rest of them have just got worse and worse."

"People are going to be on edge and shaking. I can well imagine someone walking out and sticking a spoon in their eye."

Luckily, I've brought someone along to help keep me awake. Karen loves films, including horror films, and has already seen the first two Saw movies. She was free all evening and, what's more, until a few months ago, had been a detective constable with the Metropolitan police's murder squad (or, to use its actual title, 'The Homicide And Serious Crime Command') for five years. In the event, DC Karen turns out to be an absolute star, a really lovely lady, and totally gets into the spirit of the exercise. Armed with notepads, we'll both take down the films' particulars. After each one she'll not only give a film buff's opinion on the movie, but a professional verdict on how authentically or otherwise it portrayed real-life killers and the day-to-day reality of working in Homicide.

What follows has been pooled from tape recordings and notebook pages dabbed with chocolate fingerprints. Incidentally, Karen's favourite film is 1938's Angels with Dirty Faces with Jimmy Cagney, and her favourite horror film is The Ring. "And also the old TV horror 'Salem's Lot' with David Soul."


Saw begins at 11:45pm. There's a man lying in the middle of the world's worst bathroom with the back of his head blown out from a self-inflicted gunshot. Around midnight, I write in my notebook: "This is funny, well written stuff - a universe (or three sequels away) from what it's now become." At 12:05am, the first appearance of Billy, Jigsaw's clown mascot, draws laughter and cheers from the audience.

12:35am: Danny Glover has his throat slashed. I think about having a ham and mustard sandwich. "Game over," someone behind me murmurs as Glover's partner is slaughtered. At 12:55am Detective Constable Karen notes in her pad, "How imaginative is Jigsaw? I've never come across a murderer as sophisticated, cunning or intelligent." At 1:05am, Jigsaw's prisoner Dr Lawrence Gordon screams out: "Ali! Ali!" This would have been quite useful a few hours later, when I was falling asleep.

Karen's post-film verdict:
"Fantastic. A really clever psychological drama with one of most devastating and clever endings I've seen in a film. From my point of view, the portrayal of the two homicide cops was actually quite authentic, much more so than in British dramas which are very stilted and don't have the spark between them that cops generally do. Danny Glover is very convincing as a world-weary and jaundiced but dedicated detective. I knew lots of cops on Homicide just like that - you see a lot of them doggedly following a case and wanting to see it through to the end. The portrayal of the two hostages, Dr Gordon's wife and daughter, was also horribly convincing and spot on.

"Forensically, however, it's all dramatic licence. The scene where they discover the guy in the barbed wire - you'd be suited and booted, in a white suit, wearing gloves with a mask over your face. Also, there's no way in a million years you'd get two cops going on their own into a booby-trapped house. You'd have such a massive unit going in. I've also never come across a murderer with one tenth the intelligence of Jigsaw. Those kinds of serial killers only exist in Hollywood. Where the hell does he get his money from?"


Saw II begins at 1:50am: Jigsaw's latest test subject Michael is in the Venus fly trap death mask. The key to the mask has been sewn behind his right eye. To get the key, he'll have to dig his own eye out. "Very funny" notes DC Karen. At 1:55am Marky Mark's brother shambles up. He's a bum cop with an itinerant son. At 2am a whole SWAT team arrives to investigate Jigsaw's lair. That's more like it! Karen's still not impressed, though. "Only in the movies would cops trample all over a crime scene. Wearing a pair of gloves is enough?!"

At 2:15am Jigsaw is apprehended. He looks like Brian Sewell and Christopher Walken's lovechild. Time for a gin and tonic. At 2:30am Jigsaw says, "We have a human race that doesn't have the itch or the will to survive." Looking around, a few audience members are already sporting tell-tale lopsided heads. 2:40am: The needle pit. Everyone winces. This is one of the most effective of all the Saw traps.

I've also never come across a murderer with one tenth the intelligence of Jigsaw. Those kinds of serial killers only exist in Hollywood. Where the hell does he get his money from?"

I write in my pad, "If they wanted to find Jigsaw, they should have targeted B&Q and watched for the guy buying up hundreds of pounds worth of nails every day." At 3am a woman slices up her wrists in the hand trap. Have that ham and mustard sandwich. At 3:05am write in notebook: "Just noticed the urinals in Jigsaw's bathroom contain those blue webbed things for extra sanitation. Why?" In her notebook DC Karen writes in capital letters, "JIGSAW IS SUCH A REPULSIVE ROACH!" At 3:10am I briefly close my eyes for the first time this evening. My legs are starting to ache a bit too.

Karen's verdict:
"Another cracking film. A terrific thriller/horror movie. The needle pit scene really sticks in your mind, and the characters are quite realistic; the guys playing the ex-jailbirds do look like they've been to prison. The bit at the murder scene when Donnie Wahlberg spots Jigsaw's message to him ("Look closer Detective Matthews"), was genuinely creepy. As a cop, if you were taunted in that way, by someone who knew your name, it would scare the crap out of you. I know cases where this has happened on a much smaller level, on a street level, and that's scary enough.

"But, and this sounds terribly anoraky, if you had this serious crime scene you'd have hundreds of cops there in 20 minutes amassing loads of intelligence and have all the suspects in-house. You've also got the typically cliched female cop who knows everything. In reality, there would be hundreds of cops working on it, not just one bird on her own.

"It's so rubbish, the idea of this single psychologist or maverick cop who knows everything, that it's their own personal vigil and everyone else are complete numpties - it drives me nuts. It's rarely depicted as a collaborative effort, which 'The Wire' does get right. Also, when Wahlberg has the opportunity to speak to Jigsaw, he's clearly too emotional involved to talk to him. You're thinking, 'Jesus, go and sit over there, mate, I'll talk to him' and you'd sit there and chew the fat with the bloke for ages to try and get a result."


Saw III begins at 3:50am. The SWAT team is more dolled up than ever now, resembling Darth Vader's storm troopers. It's 4:20am. Starting to yawn quite heavily now. Eyes leaking at the sides. "Have to pull it back" I write in my pad. "Feelings of numbness. Tiredness. Saw III is mean-spirited." 4:25am: Jigsaw is fitting on his bed. He has an inoperable frontal lobe tumor, after all. "Must have sugar" I scrawl, underlining it twice.

At 4:30am a naked woman is discovered hanging by her wrists in a freezer. It's the first real instance of so-called 'torture porn' in the series. At 4:35am the cap falls off our gin and tonic bottle and rolls down the stairs. No choice but to drink it all now, and quickly. At 4:50am the hostaged doctor informs Jigsaw, "You're going to feel some slight discomfort." Live brain surgery follows. The audience is quietly transfixed. The only people who appear to be groaning out loud are Karen and I. What's wrong with everyone? At 5:05am a hit-and-run driver has his limbs rotated 360 degrees on the rack - Jigsaw's favourite creation. Someone, somewhere, is quietly chuckling. It's 5:25am. Legs really aching now. From the stalls come mutterings of "Anyone got a blanket?" and "I can't feel my face."

"If they wanted to find Jigsaw, they should have targeted B&Q and watched for the guy buying up hundreds of pounds worth of nails every day."

Karen's verdict:
"In its own grim way, rollicking entertainment. It reminded me of the camp, Adam West-era 'Batman' with its incredibly elaborate killing machines. It seemed like quite an arduous route to redemption, though - I think the filmmakers were trying to hammer this idea of forgiveness home with a sledgehammer, which was just absolute pants. I love the way the kidnapped doctor still looks glamorous and composed with her make-up still intact. Plus, nobody's even noticed she's gone missing. You can start to see the slow degeneration in Saw films from this point on."


It's six in the morning, time for  Saw IV. Jigsaw is laid out on an autopsy table. We can see his testicles! Lots of giggling. As he's dissected, someone behind us asks their mate, "Fancy a McDonald's breakfast?" 6:10am: The SWAT team now resemble Star Wars's rebel alliance troops. I write, "Watching all the films in one go like this, it has become tediously obvious how plot elements have been lazily recycled throughout the series, especially 'couples with problems'. While the films are also becoming darker and darker in terms of lighting. By comparison, the original looks like it was shot in broad daylight." Twenty minutes are wiped off the map as I doze off. When I wake up, my legs are in acute pain. During the credits I tramp up and down the stairs in an attempt to get the blood circulating again.

Karen's verdict:
"What was the worst thing about this one? I don't know where to begin. It just stunk of desperation. I think the worst bit was right at the beginning, after Officer Rigg wakes up in the morning and there's this bird in a contraption in his front room. I mean, you can't get a sofa delivered for months and yet, overnight, there's a torture chamber in his front room."

Saw V starts at 7:45am. I catch the first 10 minutes then lapse quickly into unconsciousness, only to be jolted awake at 9am by the sounds of prolonged, hoarse screaming, ripping flesh and keening buzzsaws. This is the prevalent noise of the franchise. "Every cop cliche under the sun" reads Karen's final notebook entry. I'm embarrassed to ask for her final verdict. Which is: "Utterly dreary. So predictable. God almighty, how did [that character] fall for that? I'm annoyed with myself for even bothering to entertain the idea. I don't think they can rescue this series now, do you?"


It feels like we've been here forever. At 9:30am Detective Constable Karen and I stagger out of the IMAX into shocking daylight, take the wrong exit to Waterloo Station, walk back on ourselves and eventually up a seemingly endless tunnel onto street level. A lone figure, trudging gingerly about 20 feet ahead of us, looks just like Jigsaw from behind. Perhaps that was who the one remaining cinema seat was for. I pray he doesn't turn around and slowly beckon with a crooked, eldritch finger. Oh God, anything but that. I realise I'm hallucinating.

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