Ride Review: Saw: The Ride
Photo by Matthew Wells on Flickr
Tucked away in a corner of Thorpe Park resort is a ride that was marketed as the scariest roller coaster of all time.
Perhaps it could have done without that kind of building up, because what this ride does well is more than just cheap horror. In this Ride Review, we’re delving into the details of Saw to see why the Gerstlauer has been dividing opinions for over a decade. We’ll be judging this ride by our usual five criteria, which include:
– Queue and facade
– Physical ride experience
– Theming (including audio and atmosphere)
– Operations (reliability, capacity and throughput)
– Suitability (sense of belonging in the area and park as a whole)
This is now the seventh Ride Review, and it’s going to be extremely interesting to see how Saw comes up against fellow Thorpe Park attraction Nemesis Inferno, which was the first ride we ever reviewed on Theme Park Addict. Let’s find out how it compares!
Opening in 2009, Saw: The Ride was advertised as the first roller coaster based on a horror movie in the world. The ride was built with both indoor and outdoor sections, one of the few coasters in the UK with such a feature, and at the time of opening boasted the world’s steepest drop. Of course, it’s inspired by the Saw films, a series of horror movies centred on a serial killer who entraps his victims and forces them to choose between death or sacrifice.
Queue and Facade
The great genius of Saw is that it takes a fairly ugly warehouse and makes it an appropriate setting for a ride. In almost any other context, the building that hosts half of this experience would feel uninspired and cheap. Here, though, it’s perfect for what the ride is trying to do. It’s a little unsettling, giving off the impression that guests are entering a place where something terrible could happen to them. All the designers needed to do was make the building appear ancient and abandoned- and it worked.
The queue line starts off as a cattle pen- with the added touch of barbed wire topping the tall chain fences- before winding into something more interesting. Wooden-fenced paths pass sculptured depictions of Jigsaw’s traps, with mannequins twisted amongst the scenery. The big issue here is heat- it gets so hot in the outdoor queue on sunny days, particularly in the height of Summer, making the area genuinely unpleasant to stand in for longer than ten minutes or so. When you finally enter the building (passing a sign which declares “your time will come”), you’re greeted with the sound of a shotgun going off, which is guaranteed to make any first-time rider jump. From there, it’s up the stairs and into the station. All of this succeeds beautifully in ramping up the tension and fear factor which continues building up until that 100-degree drop. As someone who has ridden Saw over a dozen times, it’s all too easy to forget the sheer terror that I felt as a teenager entering that warehouse for the first time. If that’s anything to go by, the queue and facade certainly achieve what they set out to do. 8/10
Physical Ride Experience
If we really separate the theming completely from the physical ride experience, this category is almost certainly the biggest let-down suffered by Saw. Yes, the first drop is excellent- but would it be as good if there were lights to allow riders to see it coming? The first inversion before the lift hill is also great but, similarly, the fake corpse on the floor makes it.
The highlight of the ride hardware is the vertical lift hill, which I still find seriously unnerving, and the beyond-vertical drop. The former is a highly tense experience- mainly because you know how screwed you are if it breaks down there- while the latter is improved by an admittedly impressive head-chopper. From there, the ride isn’t bad- it’s just too short. Under thirty seconds from drop to break run isn’t that short by Thorpe Park standards, but by universal measure it’s over in the blink of an eye. Some people also report finding the ride extremely rough and, while I don’t have this issue, it’s certainly a problem that leaves me no choice but to mark the ride down a bit. On a final note, the brake run is a little too harsh for even my liking, slamming riders into their restraints painfully. A ride that starts so promisingly lacks in some key departments, and it’s a shame. 5/10.
Here we have to split our analysis into two sections: indoor and outdoor theming. We’re actually going to talk about the outside section first, as it’s easily the least interesting of the two. After the huge, sometimes-spinning blades that create Saw‘s iconic head-chopper moment, the ride theming is fairly barren. This isn’t necessarily an issue, because let’s face it, if all rollercoasters had to have theming from beginning to end to be considered good the industry would pretty much be Disney hanging out and making all the money. Special shoutout to the Billy puppet at the end of the brake run, which gives guests a lasting memory to take down the stairs and out of the building with them.
What’s inside is, to me at least, far more important. The ride utilises darkness brilliantly to ensure guests see exactly what it wants them to see. Crucially, this doesn’t include the huge drop that kicks off the ride with a bang as a flash of light reveals a spiky metal mechanism that the cars almost ram right into. Before that is a suitably creepy pre-show featuring Billy on his tricycle, delivering a short monologue to give riders one final jolt of fear before things kick off. After the drop, the cars are plunged into a room where gusts of air create the impression of crossbow bolts flying past, and are treated to a gory body beneath the first inversion that occasionally squirts water at unsuspecting victims. 8/10.
Right off the bat I have to mention that Saw does suffer from a few reliability issues. The breakdowns aren’t frequent enough to be a major issue in my opinion, but it is one area where it suffers in comparison to other ‘coasters in the park. However, throughput is generally fairly good, with eight riders in a car and cars dispatching two at a time with five or six usually on the track at once. Still, this is a popular ride and, like all of the big five at Thorpe, queue times often get big. On many a day, this will be the busiest ride at the park and it’s just not worth the 80 minutes that it’ll sometimes demand. 6/10.
Like all five big ‘coasters at Thorpe Park, Saw is the centrepiece of the area in which it stands. In this case, the rusty, spiky aesthetic of the attraction fits right in and provides a focal point for the neighbouring Samurai (which, on a side note, could do with a re-theme now it’s so distinct from other Lost City flat rides).
Saw was also perfect for what the park needed at the time- an eye-catching cash-maker which appeals to the basic instincts of teenagers and young adults looking for frights and thrills. In many ways, one could argue that it hasn’t aged fantastically. The Saw films have grown far less relevant and current in the past decade, giving the ride the feel of a cult classic more than a cutting-edge invention. I’d have to go as far as to say that Saw: The Ride feels about twice its actual age, and it holds slightly less intimidation factor than it once did. This is one ride that could certainly do with an update. 6/10.
As a ride that is better than just solid but doesn’t get in many enthusiasts top three best Thorpe Park ‘coasters, it’s not too surprising to see that we score Saw: The Ride at an average of 6.6/10. While the indoor section is a treat (and terrifying for first-time riders), the second half of this experience falls a little bit flat. Don’t get us wrong, though, it’s still a great ‘coaster and holds a current place in both of our UK top 10 lists- it just misses the mark by inches at the crucial moment.