Saw II Started Its Life As A Movie Separate From The Franchise

There are several films in Hollywood's history that started their lives as original concepts, but were later incorporated into extant franchises. Briefly, some of the more famous examples include John McTiernan's "Die Hard With a Vengeance," which started as a thriller sans John McClane called "Simon Says." That film was meant to star Brandon Lee but was reworked after his death. Additionally, "Ocean's Twelve" was once meant to be a John Woo film about only two — and not twelve — rival thieves, but was repopulated to serve as a sequel to Steven Soderbergh's hit heist movie. And there is, of course, Russell Mulcahy's baffling sequel "Highlander 2: The Quickening," which, thanks to a quick repurposing of an original script, transformed a tale of magical immortals into a bizarre dystopian sci-fi film set in the future. 

The same is true of Darren Lynn Bousman's 2005 sequel "Saw II," the even-more-gruesome follow-up to the already-gruesome self-mutilating horror movie. The "Saw" films were, for seven straight years, a Halloween institution, with a new entry arriving every October like clockwork. The sequel was put into production as soon as the first "Saw" was becoming a hit in 2004, and the filmmakers had to scramble to get something on the docket as quickly as possible. Strike while Jigsaw's branding iron is hot, as it were. 

Bousman had some trouble selling his latest script — a very "Saw"-like movie, it happens — and was abroad in Europe working on a very, very low-budget version of it when a call came from an American producer with the good news. The struggles Bousman had with his new movie were handily and quickly parlayed. 

The Desperate

In a 2005 interview with Movieweb, Bousman and "Saw" screenwriter Leigh Whannell talked about how "Saw II" came to be, and how the film was based on a wave of desperation. Fittingly, the original project that "Saw II" was derived from was called "The Desperate." Many changes were made in the adaptation, but one script was indeed replaced with another. As Bousman tells it: 

"I had written a script called 'The Desperate,' it was very similar toned and themed to 'Saw.' It was kind of scary because everyone who was reading it was turning it down because 'it was too close to a movie called 'Saw' at Sundance; not interested.' Everyone was saying that except for this one company, this German company and they were going to make it in Germany for $1 million. They were going to make this American movie with me and an American D.P. and American actors."

When Bousman was talking to potential cinematographers for "The Desperate," David A. Armstrong walked into the room. Armstrong has already filmed the first "Saw," and would go on to film all of the series through "Saw VI." The photographer was a little baffled as to why Bousman was working on a low-budget project in Germany after having man a Danny Glover film for a studio like Lionsgate. Bousman explained sheepishly that it was all he could get right now. It was Armstrong who took the script to "The Desperate" and brought it back to "Saw" producer Greg Hoffman. It seems that Bousman was so disheartened by the rejection of "The Desperate" that he didn't even think to consider asking the original "Saw" bigwigs. 

Of course, when "Saw" proved to be a hit, the tune changed. Bousman got a call. 

'You're not doing this in Germany.'

As Bousman tells it:

"The next day, Greg Hoffman called me ... and was like 'You're not doing this in Germany; you're going to come to my office tomorrow.' And originally, it was going to be its own movie, for the first three or four months I was dealing with it, it was going to be its own movie. And then 'Saw' came out and did the numbers that it did and it was so similar, theme-wise, to it the natural progression of it. It's funny, cause you can read the script without drawing comparisons."

Comparisons or not, the script was immediately overhauled. Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) was added, as was a clever chronological twist. According to Whannell, the co-screenwriter and eventual director of "Insidious: Chapter 3" and "The Invisible Man," very little of the original script was even retained. Essentially, the characters from "The Desperate" were kept intact, but were all relocated into a Jigsaw death house to live out a completely different story. He said: 

"The character names are the same, but everything inside the house, the Jigsaw story stuff; we worked really hard and it's unrecognizable to Darren's original script now."

If the differences were that dramatic, one might wonder why they bothered with a different script at all. It seems "The Desperate" was merely used as a wedge to get "Saw II" back in through the door. Something worked correctly in the process, as "Saw II," made for a mere $4 million, earned $147 million worldwide. It also led to seven additional sequels (and still counting) and a film series that came to define the genre for a decade. 

It seems like they weren't Desperate for long.