Horror films and science go hand in hand, in a way, but it’s generally acceptable to say the gruesome scenes in horror films aren’t necessarily realistic. However, that can’t be said for every horror attempt. While most are still within a realm of fantasy with no realistic way of translating into the real world, there is one franchise in particular that did its homework before shocking us with gore.
If you’ve seen any installment of the Saw franchise, you know that the story based around traps intended for people to escape was the original premise. Common sense tells you that order to escape something, it has to be survivable, right? Well, the original creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell had their bases covered from day one in regards to the scientific accuracy and technical survival rate of the traps, at least for the first trilogy.
With this article we’ll focus on a four specific scenes from the first Saw trilogy that are not only shocking and crazy to think about, but they are for the most part scientifically and medically accurate. While the percentage of accuracy may not be at 100%, they are still within the realm of reality because of the research and dedication James Wan and Leigh Whannell put in prior to making this franchise. In other words, there will be blood but you could realistically still walk away.
4. Brain Tumors and Surgery – Saw III (2006)
Not only did Saw co-creator and writer Leigh Whannell do his research, but so did Jigsaw actor, Tobin Bell. To make the dialogue and actions surrounding John Kramer’s cancer realistic, Whannell visited surgeons and oncologists at UCLA Medical Center. Speaking with real doctors helped him gain the knowledge to write a medically accurate script, as well as give Lynn and Amanda a leg up on some “graduate school medical jargon.” We also can’t forget about the “basement brain surgery” that takes place. The procedure that Lynn performs on John while held captive in his lair is actually called a craniectomy. This procedure involves removing a piece of the skull to alleviate pressure on the brain. Sound familiar?
In addition to Whannell’s hard work, Tobin Bell did some research of his own on the subject of the effects of terminal brain cancer. Bell met with a personal friend of his to research what a seizure looks like so he could give a realistic performance. He also studied basic body gestures that typically comes with having a form of terminal cancer.
3. The Bathroom – Saw (2004)
As could be assumed, being chained by the ankle to a pipe is completely realistic. But even if that was the only aspect of this trap, you could manage to survive for at least 3 days. Why just 3 days? Well, the human body can survive under some harsh conditions, and can even go up to 3 weeks without food, but on average you can only live 3 days without any sort of hydration. Adam had a leg up on Dr. Gordon in the water department as he was chained up right next to a working bathtub, but eventually he would expire without food.
As for cutting off your foot to escape, even that is survivable to an extent. If you managed to pull off what Dr. Gordon did and saw off the foot without losing consciousness in the process, you would have to seek medical attention as soon as possible. It’s rather impossible to cut off the foot without an arterial bleed, so you would only have approximately 45-60 minutes before bleeding to death. Applying a tourniquet buys you a little bit of time, but having an open wound like that increases your risk of infection or shock. The odds aren’t great, but it’s not completely impossible.
2. The Reverse Bear Trap – Saw (2004)
It’s a bit tricky to decipher the accuracy or survivability of a trap like the reverse bear trap. By just looking at it, you can assume that it’s pretty survivable if you manage to unlock the device in time, just like Amanda does in the movie. Technically speaking, I guess you could say that locking a device like this into the upper and lower jaw to have your mouth “permanently ripped open” is a bit extreme, but plausible.
As for the man lying on the floor, this is when Saw creators Leigh Whannell and James Wan actually did their homework. While writing the original script, Whannell contacted doctors at various hospitals to ask what drug could inhibit someone’s ability to move, speak, or feel pain without killing them. After striking out with several doctors, one finally revealed that an overdose of opiates might achieve such an effect. I suppose that is why Detective Sing tells Dr. Gordon the man on the floor had been injected with an opiate overdose. How the key managed to get into his stomach is another story, but we all know what happens when you swallow something. It’s pretty safe to say that however the key got there, it only had 4-6 hours before it got retrieved or it would have been digested into the large intestine.
1. The Nerve Gas House – Saw II (2005)
The main trap in Saw II shows Jigsaw’s victims trapped in a house that has a deadly nerve gas being pumped through the air vents. The film portrayal of the survivability of this trap shows dependency on those inside not only working together, but also on finding antidotes scattered throughout the house.
It could be assumed that the syringes contained compounds that serve as an antidote for toxic nerve agents as it blocks acetylcholine receptors in the nervous system. Although a specific name is never mentioned in the film, serums like atropine or pralidoxime serve as real-life antidotes for toxic nerve gas. So, technically speaking, the nerve gas house was completely survivable. That is, if you got to the antidotes in time.
As for the type of nerve gas administered, this is where is gets a bit tricky. Typically when nerve gas is administered, it takes anywhere from 1-10 minutes to kill you depending on the volume. In the first tape played in the house, Jigsaw references the 1995 Tokyo Subway Attacks where sarin gas killed 13 people. It can be assumed that due to that clue, the gas used in the house was sarin. However, that does somewhat decrease the scientific accuracy given how quick acting and lethal sarin gas is. Types of nerve gasses less lethal that sarin include:
Chlorine – also known as bertholite, it was used by the Germans during WWI and surged as a chemical weapon during the Iraq War in 2007.
Hydrogen Cyanide – used as far back as WWI when the United States and Italy utilized it as a chemical weapon. It was also primarily utilized by the Nazi’s in WWII for concentration camp gas chambers, otherwise known as “Zyklon B,” and the Jonestown massacre in 1978.
Sulfur Mustard – first used in WWI by the Germans against British, French, and Canadian soldiers, and has since been utilized in combat by Japan, Iraq, Egypt, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Pioneering chemotherapy drugs against leukemia and lymphoma were also derived from sulfur mustard gas.
Phosgene – derived from carbon monoxide, it was used as a chemical weapon during WWI and by the Japanese in 1938 in the Second Sino-Japanese War.
At the end of the day, all of these nerve agents contain the same deadly elements and will kill you rather quickly. Unless an extremely minimal amount was being fed into the house’s air ducts, it’s unlikely that any of the people inside of the house would have lasted as long as they did. What they did get right was the symptoms of nerve gas poisoning such as running and bleeding noses, coughing, abdominal pain, vomiting, and seizures.
What is your favorite Saw trap? Let us know in the comments!
Former graphic design student… I love movies more than I like most people. Feel free to discuss film with me! @icemyeyes