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New Releases for Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Campus

Genre: Horror

Directed by: J. Horton

Run time: 84 minutes

Rating: Unrated

Format: Video-on-Demand

The Lowdown: It’s hard not to feel bad about beating up on a low-budget horror movie like The Campus because obviously, the creative team behind the scenes didn’t intend to make a bad film.

But, that’s pretty much what The Campus is – bad.

First things first, the title is terrible. It tells you nothing, and it bears no relation whatsoever to what is happening on-screen. Sure, the bulk of the action takes place at what appears to be some type of college, but there’s no exposition to let viewers know that.

Second, the acting and the script dovetail into a perfect death spiral. The crux of the plot involves an archeologist who uncovers a hidden tomb and retrieves an ancient artifact that is apparently cursed by the Devil, and whoever holds the artifact has their soul taken in four parts.

Once the archeologist returns to the U.S., he apparently goes mad and ends up dead. That prompts the arrival of his estranged daughter, who whisks into his funeral with an agenda that’s never properly explained. Once everyone has left, the daughter returns and breaks into her father’s office to try and find the artifact. And that kicks into a motion a series of encounters that results in her dying four times.

But none of this is really, properly explained.

Every time the lead actress dies, she snaps right back to the same moment in time, and is aware that she just died, yet she has the emotional resonance of cold toast and never says a word about what’s just happened. Not even a 'What the eff just happened!?!'

Third, the deaths are lame. If you want to watch a really awesome movie about a young woman being killed over and over again in highly creative fashion, told through a coherent linear narrative that also includes flashbacks but manages to still make total sense, watch Happy Death Day.

Fourth, creepy sand ninjas. The first time the lead actress dies, she is pursued by a gaggle of ancient warriors who look like ninjas who just materialize for no good reason with no good explanation. What the hell are these creatures? Where did they come from? Why doesn’t the movie care enough to tell us so we might care?

Fifth, zombies. Why the effing hell are there zombies in this movie?

The only thing going for The Campus is the final scene, which isn’t necessarily all that great, but it’s definitive, it’s forceful, it’s pitch black and it’s the only moment in the entire movie that evidences any type of premeditated thought or has even a remote whiff of creativity.

Obviously, this is likely not the response director J. Horton was looking for, but it's important to note that horror movies, at their core, are pretty simple constructions. You need a good villain, you need a relatable protagonist or final girl, you need decent special effects and lots of blood, and you just need to tell a coherent story. The Campus with some minor tweaking could have included all of those things. As it is, though, it just doesn't work in the way I'm sure it was conceived.

The Campus is now available from Gas Money Pictures to rent or purchase to own on most streaming, Video-on-Demand platforms.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes.

Nudity – No. Gore – Yes.

Drug use – No.

Bad Guys/Killers – You can pick from ancient demons, zombies and weird sand-ninjas.

Buy/Rent – Neither.

Rendel: Dark Vengeance (Shout! Factory, 108 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Billed as the first superhero film from Finland, Rendel: Dark Vengeance, owes a great debt to two 1990’s-era cult classics, The Crow and Spawn.

Writer-director Jesse Haaja is clearly channeling the brooding anti-hero aesthetics that made Al Simmons and Eric Draven such revered pulp characters. His character Rämö (Kristofer Gummerus), a dedicated family man who happens to land on the radar of a truly wicked criminal organization after he breaks protocol and takes a secret file to read later at home, fully embodies the type of average everyman who always ends up losing what he loves most because he doesn’t possess the necessary darkness, at least initially, to stand up and fight evil.

But once Rämö transforms into Rendel, he becomes larger than life, a mythical hero for a world gone mad, who isn’t afraid to do whatever it takes to send icy fear into the hearts of truly bad people.

Haaja excels at staging a series of brutal sequences where Rendel squares off against an endless stream of professional mercenaries and killers. Some of his artistic flourishes are less successful, but thankfully don’t detract from the overall film.

If you love your heroes morally murky and fueled by rage, you’re going to really enjoy Rendel: Dark Vengeance. Me, I can’t wait for the sequel because I want to see what Haaja comes up with now that the introduction to his creation is complete.

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