Reel Toronto: The Saw Sequels
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Reel Toronto: The Saw Sequels

Toronto's extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn't always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.

You can’t spell “Toronto” without “torture porn.” Well…you can, but we’re trying to kick this off with a zinger, okay?

Saw is a landmark film. The 2004 original, filmed in L.A., cost barely over $1 million to make and raked in about $100 million worldwide. If you’re a horror film with those kinds of numbers, you need to have a few sequels, and so began the fondly remembered era of movies about people getting killed and/or maiming themselves in innumerable, creative ways.

Now, you can make your original flick any old place, but when you’re making a sequel, you have to keep your bottom line down. Despite the massive box office haul of the first flick, Saw 2 was budgeted at $4 million, which, to offer just a bit of perspective, is about 1/3 of what it cost to make the first Star Wars movie 35 years ago. (On the other hand, Star Wars didn’t have Donnie Wahlberg starring.) Anyway, you want to make a movie on the cheap and so Toronto is the place to be.

Indeed, Hogtown would become home to all six (!) of the Saw sequels, though you’d hardly know it. They mostly take place in basements, hospitals, and other grungy interiors, meaning they could shoot just about anywhere with talented film crews and a place to film. In our case this was largely at Cinespace. Also worth noting: the credits of all six (!) sequels offer special thanks to both the Metropolitan Hotel and Terroni. If Jigsaw magically comes back to life and you want to meet him, start thinking “thin-crust pizza.”

Look, it’s Donnie Wahlberg having a character moment with the Toronto Islands in the background!

Given that they filmed six (!) movies here, it’s actually rather amazing how little of Toronto is on display. Heck, there’s more Toronto to see in the first five minutes of the (equally horrific) Short Circuit 2 they made here than in all of the Saw movies combined. You really only get to see anything substantial in two sequences of note.

The first is a police action during Saw 2. The cops head out on a raid that looks like it was edited by a coke addict with ADD.

The whole thing was basically shot in the Portlands, probably so they could stay within walking distance of Cinespace. The raid is supposed to be hitting the fictional “Wilson Steel” building, which actually seems to be the infamous Hearn Generating Station.

En route you can see this smokestack, and while we’d like to say it’s the Hearn’s, there are a few of them down in that part of the city.

But there’s also a rather brazen bit of skyline…

…and then you can see the top of the Harbour Castle and…oh, no you di’n’t! Showing the CN Tower in a movie not set in Toronto is a cardinal sin. Shame, Saw makers!!

But then, Saw VII (aka Saw 3-D) suggests maybe all these horrible things actually were taking place in Toronto. How else to explain this opening shot? (Well, the opening shot after we see a guy cauterize his own amputated leg against a hot pipe…)

You can judge for yourself whether this is an overt declaration of setting or perhaps merely a letter of thanks to the city for it’s support. Either way, it’s pretty damned clear that’s Roy Thomson Hall. Someone nerdy savvy enough can probably date the filming within a week based on the location of the First Canadian Place scaffolding.

Indeed, the whole opening sequence takes place here, as the camera pans down…

…across the plaza in front of Metro Hall…

…to this storefront at the base of Metro Hall itself, where carnage is about to ensue.

Whether the Saw films are any good is in the eye of the beholder. It’s hard to argue they haven’t done well by the city, and vice versa. They brought in all sorts of money and gave lots of work to talented crew members and the city’s growing fake blood industry…

…and, as previously mentioned, they digested a lot of those delicious stone-fired pizzas. Mmmm mmm.

CORRECTION: November 16, 16:45 p.m. This post originally stated that Star Wars was released 25 years ago. In fact, it was released 35 years ago.