With “Spiral: From the Book of Saw” available to home theaters, now is a great time to take a look back at the first film of the horror franchise with its recent release on the ultra-high definition format.
Specifically, Saw: Unrated (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, not rated, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, 161 minutes, $30.99) offers director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell’s grotesque mystery thriller from 2004 to remind fans of the creative origins of a pair of splatter-horror maestros.
The story explores a mysterious killer nicknamed Jigsaw, fascinated with testing humans’ appreciation of life and survival instincts by using tortuous puzzle traps and delivering a twisted brand of moral justice in the finest traditions of Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price’s iconic revenge killer).
That translates into a pair of potential victims — oncologist Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and photographer Adam Stanheight (Mr. Whannell) — chained to pipes and trapped in a dilapidated warehouse bathroom with a dead body bleeding out between them and each asked to find clues to kill the other as they play a deadly game.
As the pair are stuck in an unwinnable predicament, viewers tumble through flashbacks to reveal the backstory tied to former Detective David Tapp’s (Danny Glover) obsession with finding the killer after his partner is brutally murdered.
Pop connoisseurs should pay attention to the appearance by Tobin Bell (instrumental to the success of the “Saw” series), Dina Meyer (“Starship Troopers”) as Detective Allison Kerry, Ken Leung (“Lost) and Michael Emerson (“Evil”) as hospital orderly Zep Hindle.
Even though “Saw” helped define a new genre of sadistic horror in films, eventually labeled torture-porn, its true nature was more of a nail-biting crime drama than gratuitous gore fest that does not disappoint almost two decades later.
The ultra-high definition transfer of the screen-filling presentation gives the film’s visual starkness a new life revealed in the eerie bluish fluorescent lighting of a warehouse bathroom contrasted with a sickly green/yellow cast seeping over the struggling humans and dead bodies caught in various traps.
Also, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack offers the perfect way to appreciate the nuanced aural creepiness of “Saw.”
Best extras: The 4K comes packed with a pair of previously released commentary tracks from 2005 — one with a thoroughly amusing Mr. Wan, Mr. Whannell, and Mr. Elwes, and one with producers Mark Burg, Gregg Hoffman and Oren Koules — as well as a retrospective released in 2015 about the “Saw” phenomenon.
Of course, first rewatch the movie with the director’s track and then dive into the hourlong “Game Changer: The Legacy of Saw” to get a nearly perfect overview of the film and its impact on horror culture.
It’s packed with memories from Mr. Wan, Mr. Whannell, Mr. Elwes, Mr. Tobin, Mr. Burg, Mr. Koules, composer Charlie Clouser, Amanda Young (survivor Shawnee Smith) and “Hostel” director Eli Roth as well as plenty of behind-the-scenes images and footage.
Pop in the Blu-ray disc for the same extras and a look at the original nine-minute movie that sold the studios on the premise.
By far, this 4K package not only offers the best-looking way to appreciate the film but equally learn of its origin directly from the filmmakers who built the macabre magic.