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Indie Horror Films: Review: Heartland of Darkness

Indie Horror Films: Review: Heartland of Darkness

Text © Richard
Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2023
Images from
the Internet

Heartland of
Darkness
(aka Fallen Angels; Blood Church)
Directed by Eric
Swelstad

Donovan Productions;
HOD Productions;
Visual Vengeance; Wild Eye Releasing; MVD Entertainment
101 minutes, 1992 / 2022
www.wildeyereleasing.com
www.mvdvisual.com

While this film was to
be released in 1992 (though filmed in ’89, and not really finished until 30
years later), it had never been offered on any home format until now. And
typical of the Visual Vengeance sub-brand of Wild Eye Releasing, this Blu-ray was
supervised by director Eric Swelstad into an SD master from the original
sources.

Who doesn’t love a
good satanic cult movie, unless you are a fundamentalist yahoo? This film does
not necessarily tread new ground, even though it is 30 years old. While many devil’s
cult releases have come since then, it was preceded by the likes of The
Devil’s Rain
and Race with the Devil, both from 1975. But as I watch
each film with an open mind, let’s hit the play button, shall we?

First of all, y’gotta
love a film that, in its credits, presents Scream Queen Linnea Quigley with an “And”
at the end of the cast list, even though it is 1992. Off to a good start.

Amusingly, I start off
with a question about the prologue. Without giving away the reason, a man is
being chased through the woods by said cult. I understand that the chasers are
wearing sunglasses to indicate that they are a united group, but sunglasses
after dark? Is this a Cramps song? Seems like a visual oxymoron, like someone wearing a baseball cap backwards,
and shielding his eyes from the sun with his hand. The map does not match the
territory.

Dino Tripodis, Sharon Klopfenstein

As the story begins, ex-Chicago
Tribune
writer (saywhat?) Paul (stand-up and future DJ Dino Tripodis
in his first IMDB listing) and his teenage daughter Christine (Sharon Klopfenstein,
in her only role, as with most of the cast), who wears less and less as the
film goes on, has just moved into a small town in Ohio (though mostly filmed
around the Columbus area). Paul has taken over the local newspaper, The
Copperton Chronicle
, which obviously has been shuttered for years. Love the
old typewriters. As I was a phototypesetter for a local Brooklyn weekly
newspaper (The Weekly) in Bay Ridge during the late 1970s, this may
indicate it had been shuttered for quite a few years. He soon hires Evelyn
(Mary Alice Demas). Also hired right off is ex-The New York Times writer
(saywhat?) and shoulder-pads wearing Shannon (Shanna Thomas). Love
interest or cult plant? We shall see.

There are lots of
personality contradictions. For example, the Sherriff (Lee Page) is grumpy to
Paul, but gives him information. The local priest, Rev. Donovan (Nick Baldasare),
obviously the bad guy, pressures Paul and Christine to show up at church. Would
not fly with atheistic me. I mean, the biblical god killed way more innocent people
than Satan did in their holy book. But I digress… Another digressive question:
Paul is trying to make the local, small-town newspaper into a journalistic
hotspot. Have ya ever seen a small-town newspaper? Usually, it is 90% local business
advertising (i.e., the paper’s bread and butter), and the rest is what
is going on at the Rotary Club, “coffee time” jokes, or who has a 75th wedding
anniversary. The hardest news you will find will be how the local crop did this
year, or changes in the trucking rules.

Nick Baldasare

Meanwhile, back to the
show, Donovan quickly presents himself to be the villain that he is (again, no
surprise), through his sermon (of which Christine is enamored). I mean, you
know something is off when the congregation says a communal “Yes” rather than “Amen.”
He is also setting in motion a temptress, Julia (Quigley, who is topless within
5 minutes of her intro; gotta love it), to seduce the newcomers into the fold.

Paul and Shannon are
joined by Reverend Kane (John Dunleavy), who is a Satanic cult expert. Perhaps the
character was named after the Puritan Satanist hunter, Solomon Kane, from the
Robert E. Howard novels. He, Paul, and Shannon, confront Donovan. Which leads
me to some other questions: people are killed off by the cult for the smallest
of infractions, even their own members (e.g., plans to leave town), so if
confronted by this trio, why are they not immediately killed off like the
others, especially after the newspaper first releases a story about the possibility
of the local murders being cult-related? And when do students (Catherine) and
especially teachers (Quigley) show up in high school (where they teach about Aleister
Crowley and the positive side of Hitler) wearing belly-showing clothes and neck
diving tops? Oh, yeah, in B-movies…

Linnea Quigley

When it is payback
time, aka Act 3, the action naturally ramps up. I smiled how one scene near the
end reflected an inverted version the beginning, something rare in most films.

The acting runs from
quite decent, such as the two male leads, to just wooden and terrible (I will
leave out the names), but that is to be expected in B-films. During the 1980s
and ‘90s, indie films leaned towards bad acting, but that is also part of its
charm, in my opinion.

There are hours upon hours of extras on this
Blu-ray, so if you are interested in this kind of thing, you should be happy. It
took me three days to watch everything, including these extras. First up is a
full-length commentary with the director, Eric Swelstad, the lead actor Nick
Baldasaere, cinematographer Scott Spears, and composer Jay Woelfel. I was amused
that they brought up the sunglasses after dark; in fact, they mention a bunch
of topics I did above, though I watched this after the film. While sometimes
hard to tell who is talking, they are respectful, do not talk over each other, and
tell interesting stories. It was better than I expected with this large a crowd.
The second full lengther is with Tony Strauss of Weng’s Chop magazine. It
a bit of a more academic deep dive into the culture before and after the film,
info on the shoot itself, and histories of the actors. Often these dives are
dull, but Strauss’ keeps it a bit light without losing any of his topic’s integrity.
Some of what he says is reflective of the previous commentary, but even then,
he adds more on top of it.

One of the noteworthy extras is the 2020 documentary
featurette, “Deeper into the Darkness” (39 min). This is a well put-together collection
of interviews of crew members and Baldasaere, mixed with archival footage both
in front and behind the camera. Really fun to watch, actually. I really enjoyed
the part about Quigley (though she is not interviewed), and the release has
been dubbed “The Lost Linnea Quigley Film,” which I found amusing. There is
also a trailer for “Deeper into the Darkness.” Meanwhile there are two Quigly-related
shorts, a new interview called “Linnea Quigley Remembers” (6 min), and a very
grainy, obviously VHS taped off the TV archival interview on the program “Close-up”
(20 min). The newer one is just Linnea talking about her experience with the film
and gets to plug her website. The older interview by Jane Sachs is from
Columbus Fox Television, as Quigley not only talks about this film (under the title
Fallen Angels), but her career and her animal rights work. All very
cool, but I especially liked the many commercials between the two segments,
including a promo for an upcoming Beach Boys special.

The complete, original
Fallen Angels 1990 workprint (37 min), is also available with a commentary
track with director Eric Swelstad, which is how I watched it. This was to be shown
to promote investors. It has the timeclock on the bottom and is grainy, which
helped me appreciate the modern, final cut. Unfortunately, there is no subtitles
for this version, which is not surprising. It is extremely abbreviated, with
some different moments here and there with more raw edits, including video
noise between scenes. For the ritual scene, it is almost like a blooper reel as
parts are shot over and over. Also, some scenes, such as a key Quigley bit, is
shown both with and without nudity. A lot of the conversation is similar in
information to the other commentaries. Naturally, there is a “The Making of Fallen
Angels
” (18 min), which is vintage newscast interviews with Quigley and Swelstad
in a longer format. Again, it is a grainy and extremely “noisy” VHS copy, but it
is interesting as a lot of the info is unique and not mentioned in the
commentaries.

A 1990s abbreviated version
of the film for distributor promotion, edited by someone out of the loop of the
director, is Blood Church (13 min). Again, fuzzy, washed out, and time
stamped. It is kinda weird and incoherent. A SFX featurette is “Heartland of
Darkness
: Filming [Name Redacted]’s Death” (3 min). I have removed the character’s
name because it would be a spoiler. This was cool. Following, is an article
scanned from Fantasm magazine, which I saw but did not read.

Then there is the behind-the-scenes
image gallery, television spots, two versions of this film’s original coming attractions
and the new one for this release, as well as a couple of Visual Vengeance
trailers, and optional English subtitles.

On the physical side,
there is a six-page liner notes booklet, a Limited Edition slipcase (first
pressing only), a collectible Linnea Quigley folded mini-poster, a stick your
own’ VHS sticker set, and a reversible sleeve featuring original Blood
Church
promotional art

For a low budget (appx
$100,000) indie film (despite all the Pepsi placements), the practical SFX (with
one exception) looks astoundingly good, and there is a lot of it. So is the nudity
by more than one character.

Before this, I had
never heard of Heartland of Darkness, which is no surprise considering
it seen as a “lost film,” but despite my questions, I found it to be a very
enjoyable vintage piece of its period.

IMBD listing
HERE

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Monica has a BA in Journalism and English from the University of Massachusetts and an MS in Journalism and Communications from Quinnipiac University. Monica has worked as a journalist for over 20 years covering all things entertainment. She has covered everything from San Diego Comic-Con, The SAG Awards, Academy Awards, and more. Monica has been published in Variety, Swagger Magazine, Emmy Magazine, CNN, AP, Hidden Remote, and more. For the past 10 years, she has added PR and marketing to her list of talents as the president of Prime Entertainment Publicity, LLC. Monica is ready for anything and is proudly obsessed with pop culture.

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