Jigsaw stripped of dignity in fourth ‘Saw’ gore fest

Poor Jigsaw. The architect of the most deadly traps ever committed to celluloid has endured inoperable cancer, a debilitating car crash and even the premature death of his son, but nothing as painful or degrading as “Saw IV.”

He deserves better. Despite his macabre methods, John “Jigsaw” Kramer (Tobin Bell) has remained one of the most charismatic serial killers in screen history through two chilling sequels. Now, he is back, however improbably, after suffering a lethal cut to the throat in “Saw III.” Needless to say, he's in a sour mood.

He should be, since, like one of his many victims, he is trapped in the mechanics of a plot that defies common sense. While the “Saw” franchise has often strained the limits of the imagination, it has always been informed by a twisted but durable logic — until now.

“Saw IV” thrusts Jigsaw and his arbitrarily chosen accomplices back onto the killing floor through a series of expository flashbacks that strip the bogeyman of his menace and reason. All that's left, in the end, is a grotesquely mutilated corpse, which serves as a fine metaphor for the movie itself.

For fans — and I count myself among them — there is hope that “Saw V,” inevitably due next Halloween, will recapture the inspired (and aggressively distasteful) lunacy of past installments. Donnie Wahlberg, whose long-suffering Detective Mathews finally meets a most bitter end in “Saw IV,” won't be there. Will Jigsaw? Who knows? As the late, great Fred Gwynne argued so emphatically in “Pet Sematary,” sometimes dead is better.

» CREDITS

Saw IV

* 1/2

Starring: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell, Lyriq Bent, Donnie Wahlberg

Written by: Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan

Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman

Rated: R

Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

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