Mahal Empire released Death Count (2022) through Gravitas Ventures back in July of this year. For those that not keeping score, Sonny Mahal his brother Michael have been making waves, raising funds and cranking out high-quality horror, action and thriller flicks. Sonny has been kind enough to give us early access to few movies to review, and so far we have really enjoyed them.
We missed the timing to review the pre-screener for this one, but we wanted to take a look before Death Count hits international distribution. Death Count currently streams for free on Tubi.
An awesome and familiar plot
Probably the most outstanding thing about Death Count is the brutal honesty in which it confronts its own identity. Anyone with a pulse will quickly see the parallels between it and the Saw franchise. Not only does director Michael Su not hide from that comparison, he embraces it. In fact, the films news anchors coving recent crimes reference the similarity and call out Saw and Hostel by name. At one point Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill) refers to the situation as “See-Saw 69, the Remake”.
Give me a plot I already know and remind me why I love it.
J. Brams, Malevolent Dark Contributor
But wait, there’s more. Death Count features a man named Costas Mandylor, the same Costas Mandylor that played Detective Mark Hoffman in the Saw series. Any knowing that the Saw story arc knows that Mandylor is no stranger to being the villain. The only difference this time is that instead of playing apprentice, he runs the whole horrific show.
The film begins in a dank dark cell in an unknown prison where a woman awakes, hungry and scared. Soon she comes to realize she is just one of several people locked up with chains a around their necks. Soon they learn their fate. A masked man makes them play a game. He enumerates a set of rules and explains that if anyone cheats, an explosive device implanted at the base of their brain will explode. The goal of the game is this: compete for “likes”, the currency of the Internet. At the end of a round, whoever possesses the least likes gets whacked.
Death Count, built on a solid cast
The cast offers one of the most compelling arguments for Death Count. Robert LaSardo (Night of the Tommyknockers, Amber Road) makes a another appearance in a Mahal Production. This time, his on-screen time is short, but memorable as the first contestant to die at the hands of the The Warded, The Warden. As usual, LaSardo squeezes in some laughs before meeting his doom… explosively. We think the gore-hounds will appreciate this one.
Costas Mandylor (Saw franchise) also brings some dark humor to the film. For starters, his costume makes him look a Mortal Kombat B-lister. Subtly, he displays his disappointment and dismay with his bumbling contestants. The Warden periodically utters an audible sigh as if to say, “did you not understand the part where I said that I WOULD kill you if you did that? Why did you do what I just told you not to do?”.
Our favorite character comes in the form of Detective Casey, played by Michael Madsen. Those that remember Madsen’s career know him to be one of the best actors from the early Tarantino era. His penchant for tough-guy comedy shines through Detective Casey. More often cast as a bid guy, this role worked really well for Madsen and fully embraced his strengths as a actor.
Detective Casey and partner, Detective Tanner (Charles Solomon) make for some great dialog as they drive around looking for The Warden in a Tarantino-esq sequence.
The lead role of prisoner #3, Rachel Phillips, is played by actress Sarah French. In a fight for survival, French carries her character through a heavy arc of confusion, reconciliation and finally survival instinct. Of all the cast, French provides a bit of emotional depth and a touch of redemption to balance out the darkness and violence.
As for one final shout-out, we would like to recognize Denny Nolan as #1, Mr. Turner. We loved Denny in Night of the Tommy knockers. In Death Count, Denny fails to convince that he has ever used the word “motherfucker” outside this narrow confines of this script. That not only makes for great dark comedy, but makes his character endearing at the same time.
Brutality and bloodshed for all
While Death Count does its best to offset its violent intent with a splash of dark comedy, make no mistake, Death Count goes hard into the realm of gore and wince inducing injury. At the end of the day, Death Count relies on the painful torture and death of its contestants to drive the narrative forward.
While the film has many moments, the pyrotechnic deconstruction of one of the prisoners heads sets the stage early. Another scene involves a frenzied self-inflicted attack with the cringe end of a ball peen hammer on a human hand. I’ll freely admit that I had to look away. We are talking really potent stuff. The practical effects are in your face and really good. Watch out for mustard gas!
Languishing 3rd Act
Death Count starts on a solid premise, and the honesty of its implementation helps sell the story in the early frames. However, it struggles to wrap it with a bow. Avoiding spoilers, the story tries to interleave a tale infidelity, dishonesty and betrayal. Much like in the Saw series, writer Michael Merino tries to weave a tapestry of deception to describe how all of the contestants got themselves into this situation. While technically Death Count ties up the loose ends, it forgets to put an exclamation point on it.
Sadly, the film never reveals any meaningful detail about The Warden, that omission leaves the film feeling a bit unresolved.
Overall, Death Count provides another strong showing for the Mahal Empire team. While the plot fails in its bid for perfection, the cast carries the film to the finish line. Like most of the films from this studio, it’s a ton of fun. While it never really ascends to the heights that the Saw films reached, its a perfect late night streamer for people that love the terror of confinement and torture (You sick individuals).
Remember to look for Death Count on Tubi. We’ll update the article as soon as we have more details on International distribution.