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In the word B-movie, the “B” doesn’t always stand for bad. Sometimes — like with the action-horror “Arena Wars” — it can stand for badass.

Arena Wars

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This weekend, I saw the newest slice of shlock from Sonny Mahal’s “Mahal Empire” entitled Arena Wars. If you’re unaware of Sonny Mahal, he’s responsible for some of the more fun, truly independent, lower-budget horror and action-horror films we’ve been treated to in recent memory.

Mahal knows what his bread and butter is, and he serves it up so well. Nobody is seeing Bikers Vs. Werewolves for Oscar-caliber cinema; we’re seeing it because it’s bikers versus fucking werewolves.

And that is precisely what you’re getting with his latest film, Arena Wars, with a bit of underlying social commentary folded into the cheese.

We’ve seen the story play out in similar films like Death Race and The Condemned. It pits prisoners against heavily armored and armed killers in a televised death game where they can win their freedom.

Arena Wars

Michael Madsen does his best here as the co-host of the Arena Wars gameshow. For what he’s given to work with, he’s solid. He’s entertaining and seems like he’s having some fun. Eric Roberts is here because… why the hell not? It is Eric Roberts, after all. And Robert LaSardo is here playing a prisoner in the death game, just like he usually plays. He’s a character actor with a filmography a mile long, and he’s always the same dude — and it kind of always works. Don’t fix what isn’t broken, right?

But that’s essentially it as far as the story goes.

Our characters are fighting to the death, so they have to figure out how to kill others before they get killed themselves. While that’s happening, they are also trying to stop evil billionaires from continuing this barbaric tradition. Therein lies your social commentary on the value of human life in the face of capitalist greed — a topic as timely now as ever.

By the time the credits roll, we realize that this critique of human exploitation is more potent than it has any right to be.

Don’t worry; that doesn’t mean it’s not, first and foremost, wildly entertaining.

Brandon Slagle is behind the camera and proves quite capable of filming the action. We’ve got prisoners that know martial arts and big hulking killers that are using weapons. It’s the kind of action that, if filmed badly, looks awful. Luckily, we’re in the hands of a solid director, and it comes off well.

The acting across the board is strong, considering this film’s budget. On the lower end of horror cinema, you can get some unbearably bad acting; experienced thespians can be expensive. However, everyone here knows exactly what’s expected and needed of them, and they are all game and capable of rising to the occasion.

The kills surprised me most because the gore is quite well done here.

Obviously, CGI is abundant, and I can’t fault it for that because of certain constraints. Still, it’s not terrible CGI (save for one specific kill towards the end, unfortunately). To be fair to the filmmakers and everyone involved, though, this looks a lot better than films with more money to play with than this had.

Arena Wars is the kind of film you’ll likely enjoy if you’re a fan of B-movie far from companies like Asylum and Full Moon. That’s definitely in my wheelhouse, and I enjoyed what Mahal did here. It felt like a film from people who love horror and just wanted to make something fun and have a great time. It also felt like they genuinely cared about the end product and weren’t just trying for a cash grab or a “so bad it’s good” schlock-fest.

Sometimes, it’s obvious films are nothing more than a paycheck, but this one felt like it had some heart invested in it.

I know nothing about Sonny Mahal personally, but from the perspective of this particular horror fan, he seems to be one of the few who cares about horror and makes entertaining films.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3
Arena Wars hits VOD this June.

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