Zombies, ghosts, home invaders, and the Devil himself… what more could a horror fan ask for? Last month we hit the set of the then-shooting independent feature The Campus in Burbank, California, and found it rife with all of the previously mentioned horror tropes.
Read on for a first look at the poster, a few exclusive stills, and an interview with The Campus filmmaker J. Horton.
Written and directed by J. Horton and starring newcomer Rachel Amanda Bryant, The Campus is produced by James Bills, Sean Reid, and Kacper Skowron. According to the synopsis: After dying following breaking his deal with the Devil, family patriarch Robert Wainwright passes his debt on to his long-estranged daughter, Morgan [Bryant]. She soon finds herself in a never-ending cycle of terror as she is brutally murdered and then resurrected over and over again, each time losing a piece of her soul. Now Morgan must discover why this is happening and break the deadly cycle in order to escape her chilling fate and find redemption.
Executive produced by Joe Bartone, John Mitchell, and Robert C. Pullman and co-produced by Robert Bravo with associate producer credits going to Holly Rockwell, the Gas Money Pictures/ANC Entertainment/Small Factory Films’ cast is rounded out by Pullman, Brit Sheridan, Scott Menville, Hakeemshady Mohamed, and Aaron Groben with Kevin Caliber portraying the film’s big bad.
Arriving to set on day twenty-one of the shoot, we were greeted by a nearly completed and entirely impressive cave set erected inside a rather inconspicuous office space; the always effusive FX artist Juli Hapney, who was in the midst of transforming actor Caliber into a horned and imposing Beezelbub (fans of 1985’s Legend will be impressed by their creation); and filmmaker Horton for the final evening of principal photography.
“[Producer] James [Bills] and I have been friends for fifteen years,” Horton told us of the lead up to the creation of The Campus. “We met in New Orleans prior to Katrina and worked on each other’s independent films out there for a few years; and then, after Katrina, we moved out here and he would come and shoot some movies for me and I would work in post on his. After about five years, we’d both amassed pretty good resumes, but we weren’t really getting where we wanted to [be], and we thought, “All right, let’s combine our resumes and start a new company, and the result was Gas Money Pictures.”
“The first film we shot together was a feature called Edges of Darkness,” continued the filmmaker, “a zombie film back in 2008 that Anchor Bay released in the US, and it actually did pretty well. Right after that we moved into Trap, and I did about maybe ten other indie features for a company called AMG Film Partners. After working for them for several years, I got kind of burned out making low-budget films for other people, and I wanted to get back to doing my own stuff and to work in horror again. So we found this location and got our offices here, and I just kept looking around thinking, ‘This place would be great for a horror movie.’”
As for what inspired the narrative of The Campus, Horton told us, “I had several scripts done, but I really wanted to write something that would showcase and use the production value of this location. So I knew it had to be a single location thriller, and I’d just watched [1993’s] Groundhog Day again and thought that I’d like to see a horror movie version of that, except that when the lead comes back, it’s in kind of a different horror movie scenario.”
“So this one starts out like kind of a home invasion piece with guys stalking [our protagonist] in Aztec masks, sort of like The Strangers or You’re Next; but every time she dies, she comes back in the same building but in a different scenario, and there’s five in total,” he illuminated of the film, which was shot with Cinevision anamorphic lenses on an Alexa.
“I’d read this piece from Aztec culture, which stated that the human soul has five pieces, and that if the Devil was collecting your soul he’d have to collect all five,” Horton expouned. “So we did The Strangers thing, which then moves into a ‘body horror’ section, where her body just slowly eats itself, and I was kind of inspired by the Creepshow segment [King’s “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”] for that, and then from there it moves into a ghost story, then to zombies, and then into the Devil himself. The backstory is that our main character’s father had sold his soul for his first born when he was a young man, in the event he’d ever have a child, which he didn’t intend [to do]. But years later he does [have a daughter], so when she turns eighteen, he pushes her away so that he doesn’t have to sacrifice her. So she’s pissed off at him, and of course since he reneged on his deal, the Devil kills him, but the Devil still wants the soul promised him so he comes after the daughter, and she gets caught in that cycle.”
As for the special effects and character makeups, which Horton decided to deliver ninety percent practical, he stated of FX artist Hapney, “I’ve done a lot of horror movies, and while I won’t disparage anyone else I’ve ever worked with, her personality, talent, and execution on set… I’ve never worked with anyone as good. She’s awesome. When I’d started this project, Robert Bravo of BravoFX had done the design of the monster, and he’s just an awesome creative guy, but he really needed someone like Juli to come in and execute, and she’d been friends with Joe Bartone, who is executive producing, and he’d brought her on, and I just love her. [She’s got] boundless energy.”
With post-production expected to be completed by August of 2017, Horton concluded,“Horror’s always been in my heart.”
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