Saw | 2004
A magnificent example of turning a minuscule budget to advantage. The whole of James Wan's franchise-spawning film was shot in 18 days inside a single converted warehouse in the industrial area east of Downtown Los Angeles.
The scuzzy bathroom, in which Dr Larry Gordon (Cary Elwes) and Adam (co-screenwriter Leigh Whannell) are held captive was, along with the hospital, cop station, parking garage and even the interior of Dr Gordon’s home (with its bare brick walls), part of the same building. This, and the complete absence of any daylight exteriors, create almost subliminally the atmosphere of inescapable claustrophobia.
The location is the Lacy Street Production Center, 2630 Lacy Street at West Avenue 26, across the LA River from Elysian Park, south of the Arroyo Seco Parkway.
You can glimpse the Lacy Street frontage in the only brief exterior night scene as Tapp and Detective Sing (Ken Leung) arrive at ‘213 Stygian Street’, the warehouse / lair after getting clues to its whereabouts from a seeing a gang tag and hearing a fire alarm on Jigsaw’s video.
If you were wondering, there is no ‘Stygian Street’ in LA. Stygian refers to the impenetrable darkness of the River Styx, the division between earth and the terrors of the underworld in Greek mythology. Pretty apt.
There are – kind of – a few more locations, in the black and white photos we see.
When Tapp and Sing first pin down the address, that photo is of the Starkman Building, 944 Mateo Street at Palmetto Street in the old industrial area of Downtown LA, now rapidly being gentrified as the Arts District.
Full marks as a location spotter if you recognized it as the apartment of Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) in the same year’s National Treasure, or as the venue for Braga’s street party in Fast and Furious (The Fast and the Furious 4).
The reverse view we’re shown is along Palmetto Street, and the old Barker Bros Warehouse, 1243 Palmetto Street, which was Don Kim’s sweatshop in 2006’s Crank, with Jason Statham. These downtown warehouses have been used a lot, although as they’re being smartly renovated, as this one has, I expect we’ll be seeing less of them.
Finally, there are Adam’s photos of the “shitbag hotel” (that’s how it’s described) where Dr Gordon has a furtive assignation with his mistress.
In the film you’ll notice it’s called ‘Hotel Barfly’ – not a very likely name for even the seediest of flophouses.
It didn’t take much to change the name slightly on the photographs. It’s our old friend the Hotel Barclay, Main Street at 4th Street in Downtown’s Skid Row district.
Opened in 1897 as the Van Nuys Hotel, the Barclay was the last word in luxury, but the area quickly became home to the poor and dispossessed and by the Thirties it was already known as Skid Row. The hotel, like many in the area, has been low-income accommodation for many years though there are rumours of it being redeveloped as a high-end boutique hotel.
The Barclay has a long history of screen credits, often standing in for ‘New York’ as in 1998’s Armageddon or the Oscar-winning As Good As It Gets (the hotel’s ground floor supplied the interior of ‘Café 24 Heures’ where Jack Nicholson irritated the hell out of waitress Helen Hunt).