The Las Vegas movie machine is back in business, and this weekend's splashy premiere of 'DEATH COUNT' couldn't have been more exciting. Vegas 411 was there to cover the event, and yours truly got the privilege of watching the film with its producers. Brothers Sonny and Michael Mahal have created a literal empire (Mahal Empire Productions) out of grindhouse thrillers, and DEATH COUNT could be their grittiest yet.
The world premiere of DEATH COUNT was held at Galaxy Cinemas at Boulevard Mall, east of the Strip. Red carpet interviews were hosted by Vegas Live with Ninon. Guests flew in from as far away as Portugal to attend. The film stars Michael Madsen (Kill Bill, The Hateful 8, Reservoir Dogs) and Costas Mandylor (Saw 3 through Saw 7, The Doors). Director Michael Su was on hand, as were dozens of members of the cast and crew. Actor/director Ronnie Lloyd Nanos (Ring of Desire and the upcoming Death Club) and actor Ben Stobber (Immortal Wars) made sure everything ran smoothly from guest arrival through the screening itself.
DEATH COUNT screening Las Vegas Mahal Costas Mandylor
Fans of Mandylor's SAW franchise and the ESCAPE ROOM series will have a great time watching DEATH COUNT. The plot revolves around a life-and-death game of unspeakable mutilation, broadcast in real-time to viewers on the internet. Eight victims of this brutal challenge wake up inside frightening cells, chained next to a trunk filled with gruesome tools, devices, and instruments of torture. Voters decide on who survives each round, and players who refuse to participate are "eliminated" thanks to explosive charges embedded in their bodies.
The central figure of DEATH COUNT is "The Warden" (Mandylor), a cloaked and ominous host who lays out the challenges while serving as judge...and sometimes, executioner. Thrill-seeking audience members cast their votes while investigators follow a trail of clues, hoping to find the prison before it's too late. As the rounds get more brutal, a connection amongst the players....and Agatha Christie...unfolds. It becomes clear that someone else is behind The Warden, pulling his strings for an even more sinister purpose.
I spoke to the Mahals after the screening, congratulating them on what appears to be a solid hit. I also confessed to hiding behind my jacket during the more gruesome scenes. That gave them a chuckle. "Then we've done our job", Sonny joked. Proceeds from the screening were donated to Animal Help Alliance, a Vegas-based pet charity. Then everyone hopped onto their party bus for a post-screening gala at Town Square's Baobab Cafe.
Costas Mandylor (left) and director Michael Su celebrate the birth of Elvis at Westgate Las Vegas
The following evening, I met Mandylor and director Michael Su for cocktails at Westgate's International Bar. They and their friends had come to attend an Elvis Birthday Party hosted by Westgate Las Vegas, and the three of us talked about the difficulties of shooting a film during the shutdown. The actor, who has over 150 roles to his credit, was living in Las Vegas at the time. Most of the interior sequences were filmed here. Having a storyline where principal characters were confined to individual cells was actually conducive to health precautions.
Some warehouse sequences and scenes at the police station were shot in Los Angeles, which was an ironic situation for actor Mark Justice. The handsome action star, who resides in Las Vegas, is known to many for his Slotzilla zipline billboards plastered across the valley. Justice has worked on a number of Vegas-based pictures, including IMMORTAL WARS: Resurgence, which premiered at AMC Town Square a few years back. His first collaboration with Su was for Bridge of the Doomed, which recently completed filming.
Vegas-based action star Mark Justice flies to the rescue
Both Justice and Mandylor are teaming up once more with director Michael Su for the upcoming BLOODTHIRST, a futuristic vampire-hunter adventure currently in post-production. On board are familiar faces from the Mahal professional "family" like Tara Reid, Robert LaSardo, Ben Stobber, Sarah French, Dee Cutrone, BJ Mezek, and Wesley Cannon. Composer Scott Glasgow has created powerful scores for both films, and Su will once again serve as Head of Cinematography.
More importantly, DEATH COUNT is one of several films that make Su's return to the director's chair after a seventeen-year hiatus. He's excited about possibilities that await the Vegas-based movie production team and sees both DEATH COUNT and BLOODTHIRST as possible franchise starters. If you have any doubts, stick around for the closing credit sequence. The next round of players has already been selected.
"Time's a-wasting. And then there were..." - The Warden