Director Michael Su and writer Michael Merino’s “Death Count” (with revisions by Rolfe Kanesky) is the new independent horror release whose tagline is, “8 contestants. 8 cells. 1 deadly game.”

There will certainly be comparisons to James Wan’s “Saw” (and a few other modern genre favorites) in this film that finds eight strangers trapped in holding cells, with no memory of how they got there.

Things get dangerous when Warden (Costas Mandylor) informs each one that they are all to be participants in a most deadly game.

If they fail to acquire enough online “likes” within the allotted time frame, they will be brutally murdered by their sinister host/executioner.

To get the needed “likes”, the unwilling competitors must “play” a ten-second time limit game of violent dares. Refusal to play ends in immediate death thanks to devices inserted into the back of their necks, of which their host holds the trigger.

As the game commences, true fear and absolute panic overcome the kidnapped group, but have no fear horror fans, if it is gore you seek, you will be greatly rewarded.

Haley Dunphy, Vanessa Giacoletti, and Junior Rubio (from Nightmare Nevada) handle the Special Effects. The way the film handles their great work is a throwback to the blood-spattered gorefests of yesteryear. Pliers, hammers, and other assorted vicious instruments including animal steroids(!) assure the audience that blood will indeed flow in what will be a balls-to-the-wall orgy of horror violence.

As a lifelong fan of the FX work of the legendary Tom Savini, Rob Bottin, and Rick Baker, and being a supporter of Grindhouse-tinged horror, the use of the special effects team’s “nastiness” was quite the thrill!

Be warned horror newbies, for the squeamish, “Death Count” is not.

Michael Madsen, as Detective Casey, owns his moments here. While this undervalued and underused character actor can sometimes be sluggish in his genre work, the actor uses the screenplay’s dark humor to good effect. It is nice to see him having a bit of twisted fun.

Sarah French, Devanny Pinn, Robert LaSardo, Wesley Cannon, Devanny Pinn, B.J. Mezek, Denny Nolan, Kimberly Lynn Cole, and Dave Shecter are the doomed contenders, each actor doing well portraying their respective fears and frustrations; each one getting their memorable moments of terror and butchery.

Sarah French’s Rachel is the unlikely heroine of the picture; the character that tries (as best one can amongst the chaos) to figure out why this is all happening and how the hell they can make it out alive.

There are connections to be made, dots to be connected, and a mystery to be solved. As Rachel (and the audience) works harder to piece it together, the dares become more and more sinister. We can only imagine the FX artists standing off-camera with glee in their eyes!

To be fair, the screenplay is a pastiche of “been there/done that” from different movies, but director Su has a sense of wild abandon mixed with focus.

While keeping his eyes focused on crafting an entertaining horror film, the filmmaker balances his bloodletting with a sharp eye and tight editing from Jeremy Wanek.

Existing as a throwback to the unabashed gore of 1980’s genre cinema, an homage to “Saw” and films of its ilk, and a skewering of online freaks who will do anything to get noticed, “Death Count” works.

In the best way, this is one jarring and blood-soaked rollercoaster ride of carnage.


Death Count

Written by Michael Merino

Directed by Michael Su

Starring Costas Mandylor, Michael Madsen, Sarah French, Kimberly Lynn Cole, Robertr Lasardo

R, 81 Minutes, Mahal Empire/ Mezek Films