Movie Mixtape: 6 Movies To Watch With 'Jigsaw'

(Welcome to Movie Mixtape, where we find cinematic relatives and seek out interesting connections between new releases and older movies that allow us to rethink and enjoy what's in our theaters as well as the favorites on our shelf. In this edition: Jigsaw.)

There's almost nothing like the Saw movies in cinema. Launching 7 movies in 7 years without going the direct-to-video route was an amazing achievement launched by an innovative, thrilling piece of indie horror. It's easy to forget that, considering how silly and cartoonish and convoluted the films have gotten. Peel away all those messy, pus-covered layers, and there's something bone-sharp and angry beneath.

The franchise is an astonishing sprint, but squeezing blood from a stone gets tricky when you kill your killer off and then make a lot more movies.

Which brings us to Jigsaw. After a 7-year hiatus and the last film literally being called The Final Chapter, the Rube Goldberg of slashers returns to try to get a few more drops of O-positive out of the screen.

A list of movies to watch with it should just be the first 6 Saw movies and a Wikipedia recap of Saw: The Final Chapter, right? Let's try to delve a little deeper.

Undead (2003)

A year before Saw proved that low budget indie horror was alive and thriving, Undead proved that low budget indie horror was alive and thriving with a four-barreled shotgun. Schlockier and a lot more gonzo than the game-playing companion that launched a billion-dollar franchise, this Australian gem focuses on a group of survivors navigating zombie hordes and, you guessed it, aliens.

The most impressive thing about it is the CGI, crafted by the editor/writer/producer/directors The Spierig Brothers, who have made a career out of doing VFX on their MacBooks, exploiting their own time and talent without big budgets to throw at their ambitions. They also made the vampire drama Daybreakers and the time travel brain-sizzler Predestination. Their latest project? Jigsaw, of course.

Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

This is...not a great movie. But Halloween: Resurrection is a fascinating companion to Jigsaw for a couple of reasons. First, it's also the eighth installment in an iconic horror franchise featuring a baddie that refuses to stay dead. Second, while it wasn't exactly a years-later shot at re-animating a once profitable franchise because Halloween had limped along steadily throughout the '90s, the logic-defying sentiment of "resurrection" is definitely alive and kicking here (as is the live-streaming internet horror-tainment concept of people trapped in a house that Saw also eventually mined for plots).

It's also the last installment (before the Rob Zombie reboot timeline), so its emergence shortly before Saw came on the scene is fitting. As if one horror titan passed the sequel crown off to another. Saw is closer to the original Halloween for its budget and inventiveness than the clown show of cheap deaths in Resurrection, but the seventh Saw movie is closer to the latter than the former. It's Carpenter's Third Law of Horror Thermodynamics. Sleek and clever eventually becomes bloated and convoluted.

Jackass: The Movie (2002)

Let's be honest: the paper cut scene from the first Jackass movie is harder to watch than anything Saw has to offer. The feature version of the super dumb, super wonderful TV show had the crew shock each other with a muscle stimulator, walk across a tightrope over a bunch of alligators, navigate through a minefield of mouse traps, snort wasabi, get a tattoo while off-roading, and more torturous daredevil nonsense. Including the paper cuts.

Jigsaw loves to put keys into people, but Ryan Dunn put a toy car into his anus and went for an x-ray, so who's more daring?

The point here is that the Jackass gang would absolutely survive Jigsaw's traps. The second point is that, well before Saw 3D, the franchise had morphed into a pastiche of Jackass-style horror setups. More laughable than squirmy.

 Cheap Thrills (2013)

Speaking of slick, aerodynamic, and nasty, all glory goes to E.L. Katz's directorial debut about a jobless man (Pat Healy) reconnecting with a grimy old pal (Ethan Embry) and randomly running into a psychopathic rich couple (David Koechner and Sara Paxton) who offer them an increasing amount of money for doing increasingly insane things. What do even use your pinkie for anyway?

It's a completely different flavor of the same power dynamic and psychological torture that fuels the Saw franchise. Where Jigsaw's victims are literally trapped, Healy's character Craig is stuck economically, which puts him under wealthy boot heels whether he wants it or not. Both traps also offer a sense of power if you come through alive on the other side of them. Something's been taken away, but something else has been given in return. In this case, it's a load of cash and a lot of soul searching.

Fermat's Room (2007)

A fiendishly clever thriller that's like Saw without all the blood, the characters in this film are all still in one giant trap. The trap just happens to be getting smaller.

Fermat's Room kicks off with a mysterious person who uses an enigma to draw several people to a secluded room where they're forced to solve math problems or risk the room shrinking. Each is supposed to stick to using an alias, but their personal connections (and potential connections to their host "Fermat") soon leak out, heightening the tension as their lush prison threatens to crush them.

Crawlspace (2013)

Josh Stolberg is one of the writers behind Jigsaw (alongside partner Peter Goldfinger), and while his career has been a mixed bag of bad comedy and Piranha 3D, he directed this home invasion thriller that stands out because of its kills.

The film features a family moving into a large home only to find small things amiss about it. A tricky garage door. Missing food. Turns out the home's last owner (Steven Weber) hasn't left, and he gets a weird amount of freedom to take out nosy neighbors and brassy babysitters with a deadly vacuum cleaner, a half-constructed garbage disposal, and Christmas lights. The whole thing is pretty ridiculous, but Weber's character's motives and desperation are realistic. Foreclosure is an ugly business.

Jigsaw trailer

The Mix

A horror franchise successfully coming back from the dead? Stranger things have happened. Saw has fallen so hard, so fast as a direct result of the series' one-every-Halloween release concept that it's difficult to remember why we went nuts for it in the first place, but it's possible to hope that Jigsaw can remind us.

Fortunately, even if the franchise's time has passed, there are a lot of other cerebral horror films out there to freak us out and make us think about who's hiding in our new house, what we'd do for quick cash, and how we might survive on our wits alone.

There's also always Johnny Knoxville getting tossed in the air by a bull. [Cue the Saw theme song].