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Death Count Review

July 16, 2022 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Death Count Image Credit: Mezek Films
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Death Count Review  

Death Count Review

Costas Mandylor– The Warden
Michael Madsen– Detective Casey
Sarah French– Rachel Phillips/ #3
Robert LaSardo– Jose Mendez/#6
BJ Mezek– John Bruno/#4
Devanny Pinn– Selena Marshall/#5
Wesley Cannon– Coach Roberts/#2
Denny Nolan– Mr. Turner/#1
Dave Schecter– Mr. Curtis/#8
Kimberly Lynn Cole– Kim/#7
Dee Cutrone– Mrs. Pine
Charles Solomon Jr.– Detective Tanner

(check out the rest of the cast here)

Directed by Michael Su
Screenplay by Michael Merino, with revisions by Rolfe Kanefsky

Produced by Mahal Empire, Blaen-Y-Maes Bootleg Films, and Mezek Films
Not Rated
Runtime– 81 minutes

Official Death Count Facebook page

Image Credit: Mezek Films

Death Count, a new horror flick from director Michael Su that will hit select theatres, DVD/Blu-ray, and multiple Video On Demand platforms July 19th, 2022, is a sort of homage to the Saw movies and the “torture porn” genre in general. While it loses steam towards the end as it tries to tie up all of its various plot threads, Death Count does manage to feature some decent performances from its cast, some incredibly disgusting practical gore special effects, and the prospect of a new low budget horror franchise that the world desperately needs (and the world always needs new low budget horror franchises, just like it always needs new low budget action movie franchises).

Death Count stars Sarah French as Rachel Phillips, a woman who finds herself trapped in a dingy room with a chain around her neck, a bomb implanted in the back of her neck, a box full of tools, and a camera on the wall. She has no idea why she’s there. She also isn’t alone, as there are people in adjacent rooms to hers dealing with the same situation. Before any of them figure out what the heck is going, a man named the Warden (Costas Mandylor) appears and tells everyone that they’re about to play a game where they have to do what they’re told and obtain “likes” from the audience that’s watching them (this is all being shown on the internets). At the end of each “challenge,” the contestant with the least amount of “likes” will be eliminated. The last one alive at the end of the game will be declared the winner and be allowed to leave. If any of the contestants refuse to participate in the game they will be eliminated immediately. As the game commences and contestants start dying and mutilating themselves, the news media starts reporting on the game and then the police get involved. Where is this “game” happening? Who are these contestants? Who is doing all of this? And is any of it real or is it just some internets scam? Detective Casey (Michael Madsen) and his partner Detective Tanner (Charles Solomon Jr.) intend to find out.

Death Count works best when it’s all about the contestants trying to figure out why they’re being held by the Warden while doing horrible things to themselves in order to survive. There’s some real suspense in between the challenges as you’re never quite sure what the next challenge will be and if the surviving contestants will have enough time or energy to decipher their situation. I’m not sure if I like the overall resolution, but I like how the contestants piece it all together. The movie loses itself a bit when it cuts back to the ongoing police investigation as you’re never sure if that police investigation is meant to be taken seriously. There’s also no real sense of urgency coming from Detectives Casey and Tanner. Yes. Madsen’s Casey swears a lot about what’s going on and he says over and over again that he wants to stop whatever the hell is happening, but Madsen plays Casey in such a weird manner that you think that at some point Casey is going to reveal that he’s in on the whole thing and, in the big scheme of things, it’s all a big joke. That doesn’t happen but, again, you think the more you watch Madsen that it could. That oddness blunts whatever suspense the situation the game contestants find themselves in.

There’s also the question of why these local cops are the only ones investigating this sick internet game when news of the game is worldwide. Why isn’t the FBI involved in some capacity? The movie never addresses this. Perhaps that’s something that will be a major plot point in a sequel?

The practical gore special effects are all well done and exceptionally disgusting, which is exactly what you want in this kind of movie. There’s an exploding head effect that will make you wince, a severed hand and arm gag that will make you hate looking at stringy cheese pizza for a little while, and a severed finger moment that will make you shout out “Jesus Christ!” There are also two full body gore effects that would have been Fangoria centerfolds back in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. The only effect that doesn’t land is a burning man bit that’s CGI. It just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the effects (it would have made more sense to have the character that’s sets on fire instead get crushed with a heavy object of some sort. Or that character could have died via a second exploding head. Yes, the movie already had an exploding head death by that point in the movie, but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t have been a second that was filmed from a different angle. I would have rather seen that than the CGI fire that we get).

I also want to commend the movie’s set design as the rooms the game contestants find themselves in are just gross as hell. The rooms are dark, dirty, and “lived in” in the worst way imaginable. There’s a real sense that the Warden has likely used these rooms before on other contestants/victims and that’s truly unsettling. It’s also darkly hilarious that the rooms each have a “Smile You’re on Camera” signs in them. Their presence is such a monumental dick move on the Warden’s part you want to call him an asshole while you laugh about them.

Sarah French does a great job as Rachel Phillips, often referred to by the Warden as #3. French makes Rachel a resourceful protagonist who tries to use her apparent science background to find a way out of the torture room that she finds herself in (not to mention why she’s in the room in the first place). French also shows via her face what it takes to ram a box cutter under her fingernail in order to remove it: steely resolve despite the immense pain. French also manages to make you deal with the ending even if you don’t totally understand it (and I don’t think I do). Outstanding work.

Costas Mandylor is weirdly terrifying as the Warden. Wearing half a plastic mask and a cloak that makes him kind of look like Dr. Doom, Mandylor spends almost the entire movie in one room, talking into a monitor and doling out instructions to the contestants of his game in a strange monotone that becomes more and more unnerving as the movie progresses. Mandylor, well known in the horror movie world for his role as Mark Hoffman, Jigsaw’s henchman in the Saw movies, doesn’t really try to channel anything Tobin Bell did in those torture porn movies but instead makes his own “master of ceremonies” for violence. I’d love to know what the deal is with his mask (is it just something he wears to look scary? Did he suffer serious burns on his face and that’s why he wears it? What’s going on?). Maybe that’s something that will be dealt with in a potential sequel. I know there are more games for the Warden to oversee.

The rest of the cast does fine work. BJ Mezek tries to be a calm voice of reason as John Bruno (#4). He mostly succeeds at it. Wesley Cannon is brilliantly unhinged as Coach Roberts (#2). He plays Roberts as a guy who is calm and nice one second, then a screaming “tough guy” the next. You will be grossed out by what happens to him. You will also be grossed out and then sad after what happens to Devanny Pinn’s Selena Marsha (#5). I mean, that’s what happened to me. Pinn makes you hate the Warden and the situation he has Selena and everyone else in because what the hell did she ever do to anyone? Denny Nolan is hilarious as Mr. Turner (#1), an older guy who desperately tries to make the Warden believe that he is above everything that’s happening to him. Is Turner fully aware of what’s happening to him and to those around him? And Robert LaSardo is just awesome as Jose Mendez (#6), a game player who doesn’t get to spend all that much time playing the game but you end up remembering him. The movie definitely could have used more from him.

And then there’s Michael Madsen. I don’t quite understand his performance. Is he playing Casey as a tough guy or is it meant to be a parody of a tough guy? Is Casey meant to be a sort of scumbum alcoholic cop who is trying to keep things together while dealing with his next big case? Is Madsen just doing the best he can because he’s in pain for some reason? When we first see him in the movie Madsen’s Casey has bandages on his face and looks like he may have just been through a massive brawl before he got into work that day. And why the hell is he eating a banana in the office instead of chugging back a big cup of coffee? And then at the end of the movie Casey comes off as confused about what’s going on, and not like Casey is trying to put the case together in his mind but more like Madsen himself has no idea what’s going on and is just flailing about because it will “look good on camera.” I will say that, even if I don’t “get” whatever it is Madsen is doing here as Casey he is at least always engaging. That’s a good thing.

Even with its issues, Death Count is a worthy low budget horror flick. It has some fun performances, some gross as hell gore moments, and seems like the start of a new low budget horror franchise, something all horror fans should get behind. It’s something you should absolutely check out. Watch out for the Warden.

See Death Count. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: 8

Explosions: In a way, yes.

Nudity?: Briefly.

Doobage:A series of rooms bathed in red light, a woman in a dingy room with a chain around her neck and a bomb in the back of her neck, loud noises, a tool box filled with various tools, a plastic canister with a cookie and a bottle of water, a warning about playing a game, exploding head, exploding eye, a police station, bloody hand, arm, and wrist removal with stringy skin, neck breaking, a young man on crutches, bloody thumbnail removal, forearm slicing, hand slicing, acid to the face, knife through the hand, bloody fingertip removal, mustard gas attack, boiling skin, serious barfing, pliers hooey, needle with steroids shot into a guy’s chest, bloody skin removal, deliberate gut removal, more barfing, tooth removal, talk of a petition to stop a school’s drama department from putting on a violent play, talk of suicide, a kerosene shower, tape bondage, ball gag hooey, hand smashing with a hammer, forehead cutting, an old woman, electrocution hooey, more tooth removing, self-whipping, a seriously bloody back, sudden boobs, smoke bomb hooey, an exploding room that isn’t an exploding room, gut stabbing, police car stealing, a sort of confusing ending, the prospect of a new low budget horror franchise, and audience members of the game talking about whether or not the game is real over the end credits.

Kim Richards? None.

Gratuitous: “and Michael Madsen,” a yellow “Smile You’re on Camera” sign, Costas Mandylor, Costas Mandylor wearing half a plastic mask, Robert LaSardo, Michael Madsen eating a banana, multiple police officers complaining about the internets, Michael Madsen sporting multiple wrist tattoos, multiple breaking TV news stories about the game on the internets, multiple self-inflicted non-suicidal injuries, “Fuck you!,” Michael Madsen saying “cocksucker!,” Michael Madsen discussing serial killers, people talking about school district budget cuts, Costas Mandylor singing “Ten Little Indians,” “They’re not Indians, they’re Native Americans,” CGI fire hooey, Michael Madsen making a crude but hilarious joke about smoke and fire, a sort of confusing ending, the prospect of a new low budget horror franchise, audience members of the game talking about whether or not the game is real over the end credits, and a metal song playing over the end credits that sounds like Michael Madsen is the lead singer but he isn’t (it’s actually done by a band called Psycho Synner).

Best lines: “What is this?,” “You speak fucking English? I ain’t doing nothing!,” “No! I will not participate!,” “People! What the hell is going on in here? Did a bomb go off or something?,” “Yeah, something like that, Captain. I’m getting reports that some guy’s head just exploded on the internet,” “My God, the internet! It’s always the internet!,” “Kevin, I think the whole thing is a hoax,” “The Warden! Let’s go to the Warden!,” “I didn’t do anything to deserve this,” “It amazes me how people can’t follow simple rules these days,” “School is no longer in session, number one,” “So what? A broken nail. I’ve seen worse,” “This is horseshit!,” “I’m a role model in this community!,” “Now we’re cooking with gas,” “Fuck! Just killed another one!,” “Well, then I guess the shit just got real,” “This is your plan? You fucking meathead,” “Why are you doing this? I don’t deserve to be treated this way! None of us do!,” “And then there were three,” “It’s always the arts that has to go,” “I guess you were right. How clairvoyant of you,” “Never argue with a vengeful mother,” “I’m sorry about Charlotte. I am,” All right, freeze bitch!,” “He’s in my fucking car,” “There’s one thing I learned today. Never give up,” and “What is this? A game?”

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
Death Count is a new horror flick from director Michael Su, is a sort of homage to the Saw movies and the “torture porn” genre in general. While it loses steam towards the end as it tries to tie up all of its various plot threads, Death Count does manage to feature some decent performances from its cast, some incredibly disgusting practical gore special effects, and the prospect of a new low budget horror franchise that the world desperately needs (and the world always needs new low budget horror franchises, just like it always needs new low budget action movie franchises). The performance by Michael Madsen is a bit too weird (what the heck is going on with his Detective Casey?), but Costas Mandylor as the movie’s villain the Warden and Sarah French as the movie’s protagonist Rachel are terrific. Death Count is worth checking out. See it, see it, see it. Death Count will be in select theaters, DVD/Blu-ray, and on various Video On Demand services starting July 19th, 2022, including Spectrum, AT&T, DirecTV, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, Vimeo, and more.

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Death Count, Bryan Kristopowitz