Monday, January 1, 2024

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Theater Kid Spurned


Saw ripoffs have a very, very special place in my heart. They're mostly terrible but sometimes, if you're lucky, they're terrible in such bizarre ways that you can't help but be entertained.

Quick Plot: Eight adults awaken in ugly jumpsuits and an uglier dungeon furnished with a toolbox of weapons and a camera to watch their moves. Yes, it's the same setup as at least ten low budget horror movies a year post-Saw, but this one has one of the more hilarious twists I've ever seen (and folks, I've seen a LOT of these kinds of movies).

See normally, "eight adults" is actually "eight strangers" but in this case, they're coworkers. From the janitor to the superintendent, it's a full roster of high school employees who were all complicit in the suicide of a former teacher. Their crime?

Hold onto your diploma for my favorite SPOILER ALERT of all time: they defunded the theater department.

No, seriously.

See, the late teacher in question lost her reason to live after she lost the chance to direct an adaptation of And Then There Were None (which according to this film's exposition, was a "short story turned into a play written by Agatha Christie"). This led her bitter mother to hire assassin The Warden played by a fully masked Costas Mandylor (as if this production couldn't afford his cheekbones) to kidnap a batch of the people she held responsible to broadcast their torture across The Internet.

Yes, there's an INTERNET component to this movie, which brings in my other favorite element of Death Count: THE COPS.

Michael Madsen "stars" as the veteran detective who misses the old days (you know, before kids did things like TEXTING). After having far too great a time making jokes about the possible mutilation and death of 8 (fairly) innocent people, he and his partner are able to locate the game, thanks in no small part to that AWFUL thing called "the internet".

In their defense, there's little to WANT to save about these people. Aside from our lead Rachel (probably the only passable performance by Sarah French), these characters are not just stupid, but inconsistently stupid. The Warden issues clear instructions with clear, proven consequences (Battle Royale head explosion devices, mustard gas poisoning, and so on). Every round, one player vehemently refuses to participate and dies horribly while the others scream at them to just follow the rules. The next round, one of the former screamers...vehemently refuses to participate and dies horribly.

At just 82 minutes (the last two of which switch gears to an even more hilarious commentary by strangers who watched the events of the movie on the INTERNET) Death Count wastes little time. It probably couldn't, as it seems fairly clear that actors filmed most of their scenes over the course of a day or two (more likely, a day...probably, a morning). 

This is my kind of mess.

High Points
Nothing here looks pretty, but credit must be given to the effects team who do some genuinely gnarly work when it comes to the horrific death devices

Low Points
The "lots of stressed kidnappees screaming wildly" element is standard for these kinds of movies, but that doesn't mean it's ever enjoyable

Kooky Credits
I always enjoy the "special thanks" section of a movie like this and by golly, Death Count did not disappoint because this film has FOUR categorizations of gratitude in an order that makes me even more confused. In descending order, we get:

Shockingly, "the filmmakers of Saw" are never mentioned, which is strange because the movie itself name-checks that franchise at least four times.

Lessons Learned

Qualifications for being the superintendent do not include knowing how fire works

A good detective never wastes a half-eaten banana

Friendship should be earned, not retweeted

If I wasn't clear, let me be so here: this is a terrible movie. You will hate everyone on camera, chuckle at their ineptitude, then roar at the extreme way they're punished. Sadly we don't have any Saw sharks, but Michael Madsen gets to cash his check and writers Rolfe Kanefsky and Michael Merino teach an intense lesson about what happens when you defund the arts. Required viewing for school boards everywhere.

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