Review: ‘Saw X,’ starring Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Synnøve Macody Lund, Steven Brand, Renata Vaca and Michael Beach

September 28, 2023

by Carla Hay

Tobin Bell in “Saw X” (Phtoto courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Saw X”

Directed by Kevin Greutert

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2005, partially in New Jersey and mostly in Mexico, the horror film “Saw X” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latinos and a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, vigilante serial killer John Kramer (also known as Jigsaw) goes to Mexico, to undergo radical medical treatment, which he finds out is a scam, and he gets revenge on the scammers. 

Culture Audience: “Saw X” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the very gory and violent “Saw” franchise, but “Saw X” has a better screenplay than the average “Saw” movie.

Paulette Hernandez in “Saw X” (Photo by Alexandro Bolaños Escamilla/Lionsgate)

“Saw X,” the 10th movie in the “Saw” horror film series, is the first movie in the series to be centered on the personal life of the mysterious and elusive vigilante serial killer with the nickname Jigsaw. It’s a little slow-moving in some areas, but this deep dive into John Kramer/Jigsaw’s cancer journey makes it one of the better entries in the “Saw” franchise. As is the case with every “Saw” movie, some of the bloody torture scenes can be unrealistic.

Directed by Kevin Greutert, “Saw X” (written by Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg) has events that take place in between 2004’s “Saw” and 2005’s “Saw II.” The first “Saw” movie took place in New Jersey, where many subsequent “Saw” films also took place. “Saw” (still the best movie in the series) laid the groundwork of the horror concept of all the “Saw” movies: People who commit very immoral acts or serious crimes are held captive by Jigsaw in some kind of torture room. Each captured person is forced to complete a physical challenge in which the captured person has to cause severe self-injuries (such as dismemberment) in order to complete the challenge during a limited period of time—usually under 15 minutes.

Jigsaw leaves instructions on what to do on cassette tapes that are operated by remote control in the room or played by someone in the room. Those who survive are set free but must live with their physical injuries for the rest of their lives, as a reminder of their sins. Most of the captive people die by murder when their time runs out. A creepy, remote-controlled bike-riding doll named Billy, with an unsettling laugh, is part of the torture, like an evil court jester.

“Saw” revealed that Jigsaw was the mastermind behind these kidnappings, tortures and murders. In “Saw II,” it was revealed that Jigsaw/John Kramer has brain cancer, and his warped challenges were intended to make his victims have a newfound appreciation of life, if they survived. “Saw II” also revealed (mild spoiler alert) that one of Jigsaw’s former torture victims named Amanda Young (played by Shawnee Smith), who escaped from being killed in “Saw,” is now Jigsaw’s willing accomplice.

“Saw X” begins with John waking up in a medical chamber and then attending a support group with other cancer patients. During a visit to his doctor (played by David Alfano), John is told that he only has months to live. The doctor advises John to accept the diagnosis. John replies bitterly, “So, your advice to me is to die easy.”

As Jigsaw, John is still on a killing spree. He has captured and tortured a hospital custodian (played by Isan Beomhyun Lee), who has been stealing from patients. For his crimes, this thief has been strapped to a chair and is forced to wear goggles with long suction tubes attached to his eyes. You can imagine what happens next.

One of the people in John’s cancer support group is named Henry Kessler (played by Michael Beach), who tells John about how Henry had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which is now in remission, thanks to radical cancer treatment that has not been approved by the U.S. government. Henry explains that the treatment, invented by the now-deceased Dr. Finn Pederson (Donagh Gordon, seen in flashbacks or news footage), is a groundbreaking drug cocktail combined with surgery that “tells the cancer cells to switch off.”

Because Finn’s clinical trials were shut down by the U.S. government, he took his medical operations to a remote facility (which used to be a chemical factory) near Mexico City, Mexico. (“Saw X” was filmed on location in Mexico City.) Finn’s daughter Dr. Cecilia Pederson (played by Synnøve Macody Lund) is carrying on his legacy.

With nothing left to lose, John decides to go to Mexico City to undergo this high-priced medical treatment. Unfortunately, the trailer for “Saw” already reveals something that isn’t shown until about halfway through the movie: The entire treatment is a scam, so John and his accomplice Amanda capture and torture the scammers.

Besides corrupt doctor Cecilia, the other people who are in on the scam are Diego (played by Joshua Okamoto), who drives John to the facility; anesthesiologist Mateo (played by Octavio Hinojosa), who is posing as a medical doctor with the name Dr. Ramon Cortez; a nurse named Valentina (played by Paulette Hernández); hacienda hostess Gabriela (played by Renata Vaca); and Parker Sears (played by Steven Brand), another patient undergoing treatment. Gabriela is a pill-popping drug addict, while Valentina as a secret life as a sex worker.

In the lead-up to the biggest torture scenes, viewers will see a side of John/Jigsaw that has never really been shown before: completely vulnerable and desperately hoping that this cancer treatment will work. The slow-moving parts of “Saw X” will make some viewers wonder when more action will take place. However, these are mostly mediative-type scenes that show John contemplating his future, thereby giving viewers a window into his complicated soul.

While undergoing the treatment that he thinks will work, John meets and becomes acquainted with a 9-year-old boy named Carlos (played by Jorge Briseño), who plays a significant role in the latter half of “Saw X.” As the central character in “Saw,” Bell gives a solid performance that shows more depth than the peripheral but still menacing role that Jigsaw has in almost all the other “Saw” movies, where Jigsaw’s screen time is limited.

There are touches of wry comedy, such as a scene where John is drawing some torture methods on a sketch pad, as if he’s doing some harmless doodling. And in another scene, when Cecilia asks John what he does for a living, he says that helps people “making positive changes in their lives.” Christine says, “Like a life coach.” He replies, “Something like that.”

Some of the torture scenes are absolutely the bloodiest and most sickening ever seen in a “Saw” movie. One scene involves someone literally doing self-brain surgery, which is the most unrealistic scene in the film, since anyone who inflicts this type of self-torture would probably be rendered unconscious. Some of the dismemberment scenes also defy reality, since people in real life would go into medical shock and pass out long before what’s shown in the movie.

However, “Saw” movies are not meant to be completely realistic. An end-credits scene shows the return of a character who first made an appearance in 2006’s “Saw III,” while another character first seen in “Saw X” is revealed to have been part of the medical scam. The quality of “Saw” movies will vary, but people keep coming back for more of these “Saw” movies to see who will be tortured next and why and how. It’s not exactly a film franchise that preaches morality, but there’s a sense that a warped type of justice is being served for very morally dubious reasons.

Lionsgate will release “Saw X” in U.S. cinemas on September 29, 2023.

Review: ‘Spiral’ (2021), starring Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson

May 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Chris Rock and Max Minghella in “Spiral” (Photo by Brooke Palmer/Lionsgate)

“Spiral” (2021) 

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “Spiral” features a racially diverse cast (African American, white and Latino) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A police detective tries to find out who’s behind the serial killings of cops in his police department, as he reluctantly trains a rookie cop.

Culture Audience: “Spiral” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Saw” franchise and anyone who doesn’t mind watching gruesome horror flicks with flimsy plots.

Samuel L. Jackson in “Spiral” (Photo by Brooke Palmer/Lionsgate)

In this dreadful continuation of the “Saw” horror franchise, “Spiral” has a misguided mashup of Chris Rock doing stale stand-up comedy lines in a “torture porn” story that rips off elements of “Training Day” and “Shaft.” The results are messier than the movie’s bloody corpses. “Spiral” was directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, who directed 2005’s “Saw II,” 2006’s “Saw III” and 2007’s “Saw IV,” with each sequel panned as worse than its predecessor. Therefore, it’s mind-boggling that people thought it would be a good idea to hand over the revival of the “Saw” franchise to a director who has been largely blamed for ruining the franchise the first time around.

The first “Saw” movie—released in 2004, directed by James Wan, and written by Leigh Whannell—is still considered the best in the series. Wan and Whannell are two horror movie masters who have proved their talent with several other critically acclaimed horror flicks, such as the first “Insidious” and “The Conjuring” movies. Wan and Whannell are credited with being executive producers of “Spiral,” but “executive producer” is a movie title that can bestowed on anyone who might have had a consulting role on the film but wasn’t involved in the day-to-day production decisions for the movie.

The unimaginative and lazy screenplay for “Spiral” was written by Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger, a duo with a history of writing cheesy horror flicks, including 2017’s “Jigsaw” (another “Saw” movie) and 2010’s “Piranha 3D.” And even though “Spiral” can boast the star power of Rock and Samuel L. Jackson in its cast (they are the most famous actors so far to star in a “Saw” franchise movie), that doesn’t mean the quality of “Spiral” is better than most of the bottom-of-the-barrel “Saw” flicks. And besides, Rock and Jackson have been in plenty of other horrible movies, so their names alone don’t guarantee that a movie is going to be any good.

In “Spiral,” there’s a new serial killer on the loose. And this murderer has been targeting cops in a police department that employs detective Ezekiel “Zeke” Banks, played by Rock. The movie takes place in an unnamed big city in the United States. Jackson portrays Zeke’s father Marcus Banks, who’s the department’s retired police chief and who is considered to be a respected hero by the people who still work there. The same can’t be said of Zeke, who is treated like a traitor by his peers.

That’s because 12 years ago, as shown in flashbacks, Zeke turned in his cop partner Pete Dunleavy (played by Patrick McManus) for shooting and killing a murder witness in cold blood. Therefore, Zeke has been labeled a snitch, and he’s not very well-liked by most of the other cops on the staff. (In one of the movie’s early scenes, Zeke finds a dead rat in a mousetrap placed on his desk.) Not long after his testimony sent a fellow cop to prison 12 years ago, Deke was shot (maybe not accidentally) by an older detective colleague named O’Brien (played by Thomas Mitchell), and there’s still a lot of bad blood between Zeke and O’Brien.

“Spiral” shows from the opening scene that the killer is targeting cops. During a Fourth of July parade at night, a police detective named Marvin “Boz” Bozwick, who’s off-duty, spots a thief steal a woman’s purse, and he gives chase to the crook. The purse snatcher is dressed like Uncle Sam on stilts, which is a ridiculous way to be dressed if you’re a thief who wants to get away on foot and blend into a crowd. It’s an example of how moronic this story is.

The thief disappears into a manhole. And the next thing you know, someone wearing a pig’s mask ambushes Boz and captures him. Boz is next seen hanging from a torture device on some subway train tracks. And you know what that means: A train will be coming any minute. The torture device has Boz’s tongue locked up. The only way that he can possibly escape is if he tears himself away from the torture device, but that would mean his tongue would be ripped out in the process.

Every “Saw” movie has the murderer kidnapping people, setting up elaborate tortures for the kidnapping victims, and then sending a video or audio message to the captured person. The message explains how the captured person has a chance to escape and live, but only if some part of their body is dismembered. And there’s a time limit on how long the person has to escape before the torture mechanism will kill the victim. Usually, the person who’s been kidnapped has done something horrible and the kidnapping/torture is revenge for it.

Boz and his tongue have been targeted because he has a history of lying in court testimony, and his lies have sent innocent people to prison. A video monitor on the train tracks shows a message from the killer to Boz, to make sure that Boz knows the reason why he’s been chosen for this torture trap. “Spiral” shows which decision Boz makes in his life-or-death dilemma, but it’s not enough to save him, because he’s the movie’s first murder victim by the mystery serial killer.

In the “Saw” movies, the serial killer Jigsaw and his followers made video messages featuring a creepy male clownish puppet doll with red spirals on its cheeks. The doll would sometimes appear on a miniature tricycle and speak in a deep distorted voice that was genuinely unsettling. This doll became the “face” of the “Saw” franchise—more than mastermind serial killer Jigsaw (played by Tobin Bell)—and the red spiral became the killer’s signature. “Spiral” was originally titled “Spiral: From the Book of Saw.”

In “Spiral,” the figure who appears in the serial killer’s deadly video messages is a person wearing a black hood and a pig’s mask, with a higher-pitched, less menacing voice than Jigsaw. And frankly, this “Spiral” serial killer in the video messages looks like a reject villain from a “Star Wars” movie, as if a pipsqueak relative of Emperor Palpatine decided to put on a pig’s mask. There aren’t as many killings in “Spiral” as in other “Saw” movies because so much of “Spiral” is about Zeke running around doing a wiseass cop procedural.

Zeke is first seen by viewers of “Spiral” in a scene where he’s leading a group of three other undercover cops in a robbery of drug dealers. Zeke and his corrupt crew don’t get far because they’re busted by a team of other cops during the getaway. But even though Zeke’s supervisor Capt. Angie Garza (played by Marisol Nichols) yells at him for stealing money from drug dealers, nothing really happens to Zeke. It’s the first clue that Capt. Garza is corrupt. And you know what that means.

Unfortunately, too much of “Spiral” is about office politics in this police department, Zeke’s ego, and all of his whining when he’s ordered to do things that he doesn’t want to do. Because of Zeke’s pariah status in the department, he’s been working alone for quite some time. But Capt. Garza tells him after the robbery bust that Zeke has now been assigned to train a rookie partner.

Zeke reacts with this outburst: “Do I look like a fucking Jamaican nanny? Do I smell like jerk sauce and baby wipes? No!” And then he says in a terrible attempt at a Jamaican patois accent: “Me no want no partner!” But Zeke has no choice but to work with this 24-year-old rookie. His name is William Schenk (played by Max Minghella), an “eager beaver” type who says that Zeke’s cop work inspired William to join this particular police department.

Zeke is immediately rude and dismissive to William, who takes Zeke’s negative attitude in stride. In their first day working together, William talks about being a husband and father. He shows Zeke a photo of his wife Emma and their baby son Charlie. Zeke, who is in the process of getting divorced, is deeply cynical about cop marriages because he thinks most cops will end up having failed marriages.

Zeke tells William: “Nothing happier than a wife of a new detective. Nothing angrier than that same bitch 10 years later.” William replies, “Maybe it’s because you call them bitches.” Zeke snaps back, “I don’t say it to their face. It’s not like I’m Too Short.” When was this very outdated joke written? 1999? Because that’s around the last time rapper Too Short was relevant.

The predictable dynamic between Zeke and William is that of a bitter and corrupt older cop paired with an idealistic and “by the book” younger cop. It’s all very “Training Day,” the 2001 movie starring Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke with this exact same dynamic. “Training Day” was an Oscar-winning film. “Spiral” isn’t even memorably bad enough to be nominated for a Razzie Award.

Somehow, everyone in this police department is too dumb to notice that Boz hasn’t shown up for work. They only find out that Boz is dead when Zeke, William and two other police detectives named Fitch (played by Richard Zeppieri) and Kraus (played by Edie Inksetter) are called to a murder scene, and they find Boz’s mangled and bloody body on the train tracks. William looks like he’s about to vomit from the gory sight. Zeke quips, “If you’re going to throw up, don’t do it on the evidence.”

The serial killer in “Spiral” delivers clues in small, string-tied boxes that are sent by courier to the police department. The first delivery is a flash drive with a video of the killer (wearing the pig mask, of course) announcing that the next murder victims will be other cops in the police department, as revenge for their “sins.” The killer won’t name who’s on the hit list, so the entire department is on edge. Because red spirals were found at Boz’s murder scene and the killer seems to be following Jigsaw’s modus operandi, the cops think that this murderer is a Jigsaw copycat killer.

Zeke is enraged by Boz’s death because Boz was Zeke’s closest friend on the job. Zeke gets even angrier when Capt. Garza assigns Zeke’s nemesis O’Brien to be the lead detective on the case. Zeke takes Capt. Garza aside in a private meeting and begs her to change her mind because Zeke thinks he’s the best person to avenge Boz’s death by finding Boz’s murderer. Capt. Garza immediately agrees and makes Zeke the lead detective.

Zeke gets very territorial over wanting to be the one who finds the most evidence that will solve the case. And so, there’s more drama with Zeke trying to outdo Fitch, Kraus and O’Brien, by not sharing information with them. Zeke doesn’t think William is smart enough to get in his way, so he treats William like a tag-along flunky. These are examples of how the movie wastes time with the department’s office politics. This is supposed to be a horror movie, not a cop TV series.

Through surveillance footage, the purse snatcher whom Boz was seen chasing before Boz died is quickly identified as a meth addict named Benny Rice (played by Chad Camilleri), who becomes a prime suspect in Boz’s murder. Benny is already known to the local cops because of his drug activities. But, of course, this obvious suspect means that Benny isn’t the real killer, because even a predictable movie like this wouldn’t make it that easy for the cops to solve this case so early on in the film.

As for Zeke’s revered father Marcus, he isn’t in “Spiral” as much as some people might think he is, considering that Jackson shares top billing with Rock for this movie. Jackson starred in two “Shaft” movies—one in 2000 and one in 2019—and he’s just playing a version of his Shaft character in “Spiral.” In other words, there’s nothing new to see here with Jackson’s performance.

And you’d think that cops who know they’re being targeted by a serial killer would know how to increase their own security and self-protection. But no, that doesn’t happen in an insipid movie like “Spiral.” Pity the citizens of this city who rely on these cops for protection, because these bungling cops can’t even protect themselves.

In “Spiral,” Rock dials up his foul-mouthed, misogynistic persona several notches for his Zeke character in “Spiral,” to the point where this cop is much more irritating than the serial killer. “Spiral” is so smug in thinking that it’s better than it really is, that it even includes Zeke giving a self-serving shout-out to one of Rock’s early movies: the 1991 crime drama “New Jack City.” And there are parts of “Spiral” where Zeke’s shrieking and hollering look more like he’s doing a buffoon-ish parody akin to 1993’s “CB4,” another Rock movie from the early 1990s.

The horror in “Spiral” isn’t as creative as in previous “Saw” movies. And there’s no real intrigue in trying to solve the mystery of who the serial killer is, because the movie is so sloppily handled. It’s pretty easy to figure out who the killer is if you look at the killer’s motives and who would know when and where to attack the next victim. And a lot of viewers are going to really hate the abrupt ending of “Spiral.” It’s made very clear at the movie’s disappointing conclusion that, just like a has-been zombie that keeps rising from the dead, the “Saw” franchise isn’t going away anytime soon.

Lionsgate released “Spiral” in U.S. cinemas on May 14, 2021.

2017 Halloween Horror Nights: Eli Roth directs his first commercial for Halloween Horror Nights

August 24, 2017

Eli Roth
Eli Roth (Photo by Eli Reed/Universal Orlando)

The following is a press release from Universal Studios:

This year, filmmaker Eli Roth – acclaimed director of blockbuster horror films such as Hostel and Cabin Fever – makes his commercial directorial debut with Universal Studios’ new “Halloween Horror Nights” television spot, entitled “The Mourning After.”

“Halloween Horror Nights” kicks off at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando Resort on Friday, September 15.  The commercial begins airing after the Labor Day weekend and can be seen here.  A behind-the-scenes making of and extended Director’s Cut version can be viewed here.

With Roth’s creative direction and filmmaking expertise, the compelling 30-second commercial becomes one of the most cinematic, horror-film-inspired, “Halloween Horror Nights” commercials ever created.  “The Mourning After” spot follows a group of friends as they attend an unusual Halloween costume party and unfolds with a series of suspenseful twists and turns that begs for more.

Viewers will see an array of hidden references woven throughout the spot that pay tribute to the horror films and television-themed mazes guests will encounter at this year’s “Halloween Horror Nights” events.  These include FX’s critically-acclaimed, Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning television series, “American Horror Story,” Stanley Kubrick’s psychological horror film, The Shining and the upcoming SAW: The Games of Jigsaw movie.

Roth is a long-time fan of “Halloween Horror Nights” and has previously served as a creative consultant for the event, including a Hostel-inspired maze.  He said the commercial gave him the opportunity to combine a love of horror films with how those films are brought to life within “Halloween Horror Nights.”

“I first got involved with ‘Halloween Horror Nights’ as a fan – I felt that I was in a horror movie and I didn’t want it to end,” said Roth. “For this spot, I wanted to pay homage to these brilliant and scary films, and yet put my own spin on it.”

Universal Studios’ “Halloween Horror Nights” is the ultimate Halloween event. For more than 20 years, guests from around the world have visited Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood and Orlando to become victims inside their own horror film. The streets of each coast’s event are transformed into highly-themed scare zones where menacing “scare-actors” lunge from every darkened corner. Multiple movie-quality haunted houses are erected throughout the event, based on everything from iconic slasher films to hit horror television series to haunting original stories.

For more information and to purchase tickets to “Halloween Horror Nights” at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando Resort, visit

2017 Halloween Horror Nights: new ‘Saw’ maze debuts at Universal Studios Hollywood and Orlando

August 14, 2017

(Photo courtesy of Universal Studios Hollywood)

The following is a press release from Universal Studios:

The “Saw” series – one of the highest grossing horror film franchises of all time – makes its return to “Halloween Horror Nights,” bringing the blockbuster’s most terrifying traps to life in an all-new original maze opening at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando Resort, beginning September 15, 2017.

Based on the Lionsgate and Twisted Pictures hit horror film franchise, “SAW: The Games of Jigsaw” will bring to life the scariest game yet. In this all-new maze guests will come face-to-face with the work of master craftsman “Jigsaw” and a collection of his most infamous traps from the ‘Saw’ film series and upcoming eighth installment ‘Jigsaw.’

“We’re thrilled to be partnering again with Universal Studios on an immersive experience that celebrates everything that our ‘Saw’ fans love,” said Lionsgate Senior Vice President of Global Live and Location Based Entertainment Jenefer Brown. “The maze features the most terrifying traps that made the ‘Saw’ franchise such a Halloween tradition, including some of the best from our upcoming film ‘Jigsaw.’ What better way to complement the film’s release this Halloween than taking audiences into the over-the-top action at Halloween Horror Nights.”

SAW is one of the top grossing horror film franchises, and we’re thrilled that the fan-favorite is making its return to ‘Halloween Horror Nights,’” said John Murdy, Creative Director at Universal Studios Hollywood and Executive Producer of “Halloween Horror Nights.” “‘Saw: The Games of Jigsaw’ will encompass the greatest collection of traps featured in all eight ‘Saw’ movies to bring to life the most twisted ‘Saw’ maze ever produced, and we can’t wait for our fans to relive moments from the films.”

“We’re excited to bring ‘Saw’ back to Halloween Horror Nights and to take fans even deeper into the mind of ‘Jigsaw,’” said Charles Gray, Show Director for Creative Development, “Halloween Horror Nights” at Universal Orlando Resort. “Filled with unimaginable horrors from the hit saga and the upcoming film ‘Jigsaw,’ this maze is truly a trap in itself.”

Created by James Wan and Leigh Whannell, the SAW film series has ratcheted up tension and invention with each successive film, while rattling millions of nerves worldwide. The eighth film of the powerhouse franchise is scheduled to hit theatres on October 27, 2017 – in its traditional opening weekend slot leading into Halloween. JIGSAW is written by Josh Stolberg & Peter Goldfinger and directed by The Spierig Brothers

Universal Studios’ “Halloween Horror Nights” is the ultimate Halloween event. For more than 20 years, guests from around the world have visited Halloween Horror Nights in Hollywood and Orlando to become victims inside their own horror film. The streets of each coast’s event are transformed into highly-themed scare zones where menacing “scare-actors” lunge from every darkened corner. Multiple movie-quality haunted houses are erected throughout the event, based on everything from iconic slasher films to hit horror television series to haunting original stories.

Additional details about Universal Studios’ “Halloween Horror Nights” will be revealed soon. For more information about Halloween Horror Nights at either Universal Studios Hollywood or Universal Orlando Resort, visit

Updates on “Halloween Horror Nights” at Universal Studios Hollywood are available online at and on Facebook at: “Halloween Horror Nights – Hollywood,” Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter at @HorrorNights as Creative Director John Murdy reveals a running chronicle of exclusive information. Watch videos on Halloween Horror Nights YouTube and join the conversation using #UniversalHHN.

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