Death Count begins as a woman, who we will later discover is named Rachel (Sarah French, The Special, Clown Fear) wakes up in a small cell with no idea how or why she’s there. A toolbox in the cell contains an odd assortment of items including a hammer and a whip.
As it turns out, she’s one of eight people in similar cells, they include Selena (Devanny Pinn, Chase, Crossbreed), Jose (Robert LaSardo, Damon’s Revenge, Death Race), and Mr. Curtis (Dave Shecter, Burn It All, Beloved Beast). Like Rachel, they have no clue what is going on.
A hooded figure who refers to himself as The Warden (Costas Mandylor, Cosmic Sin, Saw franchise) addresses them and tells them their survival depends on what they are willing to sacrifice and tells them the rules of his game. They need to get likes from the internet audience, usually by committing acts of self-mutilation. The one who gets the least likes at the end of the round meets a nasty end. An explosive implanted in their skull ensures that they participate.
Michael Su (The Revolting Dead, My Demon Within) directs from a script by Michael Merino (Acceleration, The Haunting of Pearson Place) with revisions by Rolfe Kanefsky (Art of the Dead, Automation). And they get the film off to a bloody start with an exploding head and a nod to The Prisoner as contestant #6 refuses to participate and his device is detonated with gory, and non CGI, results.
As you can tell, Death Count, even without the casting of one of its recurring actors, is firmly in the same torture porn genre as the Saw films. There are elements of social media horrors like Funhouse and Shook as well as assorted Dark Web snuff stories mixed in. A subplot involving the police, led by Detective Casey (Michael Madsen, Conjuring: The Book of the Dead, Every Last One of Them) further invokes the memory of the Saw films as well as Argento’s The Card Player.
As with most films of this nature, the main attraction is the gore. Yes, some people will swear it’s the mystery of who is behind it and why these victims have been chosen. And Death Count does give us a subplot about the characters trying to figure out what they did to end up here.
But it’s the kills and effects that people talk about, and Death Count delivers on both counts. The film may lack Saw’s outrageous traps and devices but it makes up for it in sheer nastiness as eyes are blown out of their sockets, people are burnt alive, sprayed with Mustard Gas, and slowly torn apart. As AC/DC said, “If you want blood, you got it”
I know I’ve frequently said I’m not a fan of these kinds of films, but Death Count is actually a lot of fun. The characters are engaging enough that I actually gave a damn if they lived or died and the scenes of violence are carried off with the right mix of gruesome practical makeup and sound effects that I cringed more than once.
Acting as his own cinematographer, Su makes the most of the prison sets, adding a claustrophobic, trapped feeling to the proceedings. That’s also accentuated by Scott Glasgow’s (Attack of the Unknown, Slay Belles) score. But the real stars of Death Count are Haley Dunphy (Bus Party to Hell, Three Cheers for Satan), Vanessa Giacoletti (Beast Mode, Bridge of the Doomed), and Junior Rubio (Bleach, The Red Man), the film’s effects team. They certainly give the audience what they tuned in for and then some.
The film does have its share of problems. The Warden’s outfit makes him look like the villain from a cheap sword and sorcery film which detracts from the character’s menace. And several of the characters make some incredibly bad decisions. But when it’s all said and done Death Count is an entertainingly nasty dose of blood and body parts, and that’s what films like this are all about.