The 11 Most Terrifying Traps In The Saw Franchise, Ranked

You can't keep a good Jigsaw Killer down. Even though the artist formerly known as John Kramer (Tobin Bell) first showed up onscreen as a man with terminal cancer, and subsequently died in "Saw III," we're now nine sequels deep, and only one of them ("Spiral: From the Book of Saw") didn't include him in the cast somehow. Mostly this boils down to an ever-more-elaborate series of flashbacks, accomplices, copycats, and detailed instructions and recordings made for future deathtraps.

All of Jigsaw's traps are the last place you'd want to be, but they vary a lot in difficulty level. Some simply require following his instructions exactly while others involve either forgiving or murdering someone else. Still more depend on cooperation, and most of them deliver a twisted form of therapy, with the patient urged to get over their baggage in the next 30 seconds or so if they want to live. Many are deceptive in their effects, with a seemingly basic set-up designed to inflict maximum trauma. Others can theoretically be survived with no pain whatsoever, but only if the victim can figure that out in time, and they never do.

The following traps give us the most nightmares.

11. The first reverse bear trap (Saw)

It isn't the device that makes this one particularly terrifying, although having one's head violently snapped in half is no fun. The very simple escape method? Get the key and unlock it. It's the location of the key that proves problematic because it resides inside the stomach of an unconscious man who must be killed and gutted if the trapped victim is to live.

One of the initial hooks for the first "Saw" movie was that the villain was a prolific serial killer who never actually killed anybody. There's a lot of massaging of the truth in that statement, but it's technically true in that virtually every victim can live if they make a painful choice. A couple of the traps, though, mandate at least one death, and this ranks as one of them. Rather than mutilating your body to escape, you must mutilate your soul by becoming a murderer. Either that or voluntarily take the head-snap yourself, with no guarantee whatsoever that Jigsaw will let the other guy live afterward.

Knowing what we've subsequently learned about Jigsaw, he would probably have given the other guy another chance in that situation. Knowing what we now know about Amanda (Shawnee Smith), the survivor of this trap, she seems destined to be a killer — more of one than even Jigsaw would like.

10. Storefront love triangle (The Final Chapter)

Anyone who's ever been online knows that casual misogyny can be terrifying, and this three-way trap — another of the rare ones requiring a murder — puts that into full effect. A woman (Anne Greene) has been secretly seeing two different men (Sebastian Pigott and Jon Cor), and forcing both to commit crimes for her. Now, attached to a saw-blade contraption in the main window of a home improvement store, both men must fight to slice up the other in order to spare their lady love. Surprising nobody, both dudes choose to let her die instead.

What's particularly terrifying here is that Jigsaw comes off both petty and woman-hating, rather than his usual misguided-Messiah self. The guys have learned nothing from the experience at the end, having taken the bros-before-hoes premise to a whole next level. And their victim's sin? Asking them to steal things? Sure, they're weak-willed to not say no to her, but making them murder her isn't morally better, even from the perspective of self-mutilation as salvation. At least by having the trap take place in public, the men are exposed as awful, and will probably never get a date from anyone in that town again.

9. The pig-pulper (Saw III)

Drowning is terrifying enough. Drowning in liquefied, rancid pig carcass really takes things up a notch. Even if you make it out, you'll quite possibly die painfully from trichinosis or botulism later.

Escaping, however, requires powers of extreme persuasion under pressure, because there is no way for the man in the vat to stop the trap under his own strength. Instead, he must induce someone else to deactivate the machine. Now, when that person is Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) and the potential victim is the judge who gave his son's killer a light sentence, that poor arbiter will need to make the case of his life to the man he wronged. Making it even harder, Jeff must incinerate his son's possessions to attain the key to the machine.

This features almost everything a "Saw" trap should: extreme gross-out factor, moral dilemmas, and Jigsaw's therapy-under-duress to perversely try to get Jeff over his grief. No self-mutilation proves necessary, though, which makes it somewhat less freaky than some others on this list.

8. Iron maiden head (Saw II)

This one resembles a reverse-reverse bear trap, but not exactly a straight-up bear trap. Like the full-body medieval torture device that gave Bruce Dickinson's heavy metal band its name, it's a chamber with spikes pointing inward that will impale its victim when closed. Jigsaw's version, however, is just head-sized and made with nails. That's more than sufficient to kill when it closes, but again, a key easily opens the device. The problem is the key's location, and in the case of Michael Marks (Noam Jenkins), it has been surgically implanted behind his eye. To save himself, he must cut his eye out, which Jigsaw deems an appropriate punishment for a lifetime of being an informant. It makes twisted sense: more immediately painful than Amanda's hidden key, but nobody else suffers for his sins.

Marks was evidently not a religious person, or he might have remembered the Scripture about how if thine eye offends thee, pluck it out. Unable to take the pain of said plucking, he lost his head instead, as this was one trap that clearly... nailed it.

7. Glass-blaster (Spiral)

Recycling glass is good for the planet. Recycling it into shrapnel fired repeatedly into someone's back is bad for the body. It's also the copycat Jigsaw's idea of irony, to punish a corrupt cop who accused his more honest partner of stabbing him in said back.

As with most "Saw" traps that involve one helpless victim and one potential savior, the goal here is forgiveness. Can Ezekiel Banks (Chris Rock) overcome his mistrust of ex-compadre Dunleavy (Patrick McManus) and save his life? A reasonably decent cop, Banks decides to make the save, but not being a particularly smart cop, he neglects a thuddingly obvious clue ("throw away the key") and tries to pick the lock on Dunleavy's chains. Only when that doesn't work does he realize what audience members already have, but it's too late, and he can't get ahead of the glass, as Dunleavy literally suffers death by a thousand cuts. Approximately.

6. See no evil, speak no evil (Saw IV)

Jigsaw and his accomplices can be softies at heart, sometimes. Why, they just want people to get along and cooperate! It's not their fault the terrible, horrible, no-good losers being tested always resort to violence first! We never learn what Trevor (Kevin Rushton) did to deserve this particular torment, but his fellow victim, Art Blank (Justin Louis) was a former friend of John Kramer's and a lawyer who defended several unrepentant criminals. What we do know is that if they'd only communicated properly, they could have helped each other escape from the choke chains slowly pulling them toward strangulation. That's just a little hard to do with Trevor's eyes sewn shut, and Art's mouth likewise.

Hearing unintelligible sounds, the blinded Trevor panicked and started throwing weapons, prompting Art to beat him to death with a hammer. All the while, the key to the trap was on the back of Trevor's shackles. Had he not lashed out, Art could have removed it and freed them both.

Still, Art didn't enjoy his victory for long, as he was soon coerced by Jigsaw into setting up even more traps, and eventually shot in the head by the overly impulsive Officer Rigg (Lyriq Bent).

5. Bed of nails acid injection (Saw VI)

Being smashed up against a fence by a bed of nails has got to hurt. If every "nail" then injects you with acid, melting the body from inside, and spilling intestines all over the floor, that's a really special kind of pain. As horror movie victims go, William Easton (Peter Outerbridge) deserves it: he's a health insurance executive who routinely denies claims. Whether or not accepting John Kramer's claim would actually have been life-saving remains debatable, as cancer's a beast and unpredictable. Still, in his Jigsaw Killer mode, Kramer gave Easton one chance at life. Could he earn the forgiveness of a widow whose husband died as a direct result of insurance denying coverage?

He couldn't, but she couldn't bring herself to pull the lever to kill him, either. Too bad for Easton that her teenage son harbored no such compunctions. In a victory for HMO haters everywhere, the insurance executive was denied mercy. This is why "Saw VI" rates as one of the franchise's most popular entries.

4. Spiral sawblade blender (Jigsaw)

Like the children's game Operation, this trap requires a steady hand and an absolute mandate not to touch the sides, a process that grows more difficult the closer one comes to freedom. A giant spiraling sawblade forms a cone-shaped passage into which the victim gets lowered. If he can keep his arm steady enough, he might be able to pull the brake at the bottom before the sides of the sharpened spiral slice him to pieces.

Mitch (Mandela Van Peebles) finds himself in this predicament due to having sold Jigsaw's nephew a defective motorcycle, causing his death. That very bike motor powers the trap. Jigsaw's traps, however, don't break, and momentarily thinking this one has been effectively sabotaged causes Mitch to take his eye off the ball, or rather, the brake. He lets down his guard, believing that the game's over because the blade stopped...and then it starts again, making a Mitch smoothie.

The terror here isn't just one of pain, but the fact that it feels like a rigged carnival game. Sure, your skill and steadiness might save you, but can you be sure that's even possible? In "Jigsaw," it's used on two separate victims, and neither survives.

3. 10 pints of blood (Saw V)

Did you ever, as a kid, build a LEGO set and make a mistake early on, figuring it out later and having to undo all your work until you found the error? Imagine that the mistake cost someone their life, and you really needed that life to finish the project. That's what's frightful about the 10 pints trap: the realization that everything up to that point has been done wrong, building on a fundamental mistake. The traps set for five players along the way only seemed to be traps of attrition — though they could be played that way, they could also be solved by everyone cooperating. As Jigsaw guessed, though, all involved were too selfish to consider the possibility.

So for the final trap, 10 pints of blood must be drawn by saw blade (natch) to fill a beaker to stop some bombs from detonating, and had the five players all survived, they could each give two with relative ease. Unfortunately, only two remained, meaning each would need to give half the blood in their body. The average adult human contains 10-12 pints; losing more than half is usually fatal.

Still, even with good reason to hate each other — Mallick (Greg Bryk) set fire to a building thought abandoned, inadvertently killing eight people, and Brit (Julie Benz) indirectly hired him — the two finally pooled their resources.

And bodily fluids.

2. Self brain surgery (Saw X)

Pretend to be an anesthesiologist at Jigsaw's expense, and the very least you're likely to suffer in return is some extreme pain without anesthetic. But for Mateo (Octavio Hinojosa), it gets even worse. With the aid of a camera/monitor, a bone saw, and some tweezers, he must cut open his own head, grab a chunk of his brain, and dissolve it in a jar of enzymes in order to break the circuit that keeps the trap key locked up. He tries not to play, but that only results in Jigsaw administering electric shocks. However, the twisted mastermind also offers reassurance — some people can live without entire hemispheres of their brain, which can rewire itself! So there's definitely, possibly, maybe a slim chance to live, post lobotomy.

Somehow Mateo manages to saw open his skull and grab a chunk of brain, which requires insane amounts of mind over matter. Most humans would have dropped the tools from either the pain, or the injured brain clouding their thoughts. As for grabbing the key while suffering from severe brain bleed ... well, we'll never know if Mateo could do that, because he's not fast enough. The contraption around his head heats up like a radiator, then clamps shut into a sort of Mayan iron maiden mask, with face-melting results.

Jigsaw's semi-assurances aside, it's not clear anybody mortal could survive this one.

1. The bathroom (Saw)

Though hardly the most gruesome of the traps, it's deceptively harrowing. "Torture porn" has always been a misnomer for the "Saw" series, since torture by definition is prolonged, but the action in that first movie's bathroom, while seeming to the moviegoer to take place in real time, actually begins at 10:20 p.m. and ends at 6 a.m. That gives Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) and Adam Stanheight (Leigh Whannell), seven hours and 40 minutes in which to saw off one foot each in order to escape. In "Mad Max," the original "saw through the chain or your leg" movie, Mel Gibson's Max imposes a time crunch on his victim, who has seconds before the vehicle he's chained to explodes. John Kramer, by stretching it out much longer, gives his two victims a lot more time to contemplate the horror of doing the deed, even though Dr. Gordon ultimately pulls it off quite quickly.

To fill out the time, Kramer leaves clues to suggest ways Dr. Gordon can kill Adam first, and makes clear that the good doctor's daughter will be killed if he doesn't comply. Most of the master traps in the sequels don't leave much time for such contemplation, rushing the potential victims from setpiece to setpiece. By really allowing the psychological torture to sink in, and force the victims to engage in a slow, painful self-mutilation with barely adequate tools, Jigsaw makes this the one most likely to cause lingering PTSD in several forms for any who survive.