Own Your Copy of the Lost Linnea Quigley Film “Heartland of Darkness” by Purchasing at Amazon! Click Here to Amazon.
Copperton, Ohio – a quaint and quiet, unsuspecting small town if looking to downsize from the big city hazards. However, beneath the provincial veneer lies a satanic cult spearheaded by the local Reverend Donovan and his flock of townsfolk worshippers. Donovan’s grip reaches far beyond just the local municipality as the insidious cult schemes to turn the state’s top officials into devoted followers of Satan. Copperton’s new local newspaper editor, Paul Henson, along with eager reporter, Shannon Cornell, use their journalistic gut instincts to unearth and expose the corruption by Donovan up to the ladder of the town’s sparse governmental hierarchy, but with only a few residents unsubscribed to Donovan’s fanatical sermons, Paul and Shannon have nowhere to turn in order to protect themselves, Paul’s daughter Christine, and the entire state of Ohio from succumbing to Satanic domination.
Once lost in limbo for three decades, “Heartland of Darkness” finally sees the light of retail shelves day! Left unfinished for many years, director Eric Swelstad, then an Ohio State film student, supervises the completion of the horror thriller that revolves around satanic cults, grisly sacrifices, and sheep mentality based on the 1980’s satanic panic craze that swept the nation. Penned by Swelstad, who moved on with this lift and helmed a handful of direct-to-video titles, such as “The Curse of Lizzie Borden 2: Prom Night” and “Frankenstein Rising” in the early 2000s, and filmed in and around Columbus and the Granville village of Ohio, the 1989 principal photographed production was thought to be ultimately completed by 1992 but due to funding and production constraints, that was not the case. The film also went through a couple of other titles, beginning with Swelstad’s original script title “Fallen Angels” and then changed to “Blood Church” at the behest of a possible financier that eventually fell through. In the end, the film settles on “Heartland of Darkness” as a privately ventured production Steven E. Williams (“Draniac!”), Wes Whatley, Michael Ray Reed, Thomas Baumann, Mary Kathryn Plummer, and Scott Spears (“Beyond Dream’s Door”) serving as producers.
One of the reasons why the obscurity adrift “Heartland was Darkness” was so sought after by horror fans is because the title became one of the lost films of scream queen Linnea Quigley. Standing at only 5’2’’ tall, the “Return of the Living Dead” and “Night of the Demons” actress was a hot commodity during the late 80’s and a genre film giantess who ended up having a fairly prominent, written-in role just for her hire in what is, essentially, a student film. Quigley’s role as the town’s high school teacher, Jessica Francine, makes the hormonal boy in me wish my teachers actually looked than beautiful and provocative in high school, but in the same perspective, Quigley doesn’t appear or is barely older than Sharon Klopfenstein as Paul Henson’s daughter, Christine. The two share a high school hallway moment while sporting crop tops, tight bottom wear, and discussing paganistic occultist Aleister Crowley and Nazi mass murderer Adolf Hitler and while the additional scene gives Quigley screen time, it evokes risibly campy optics. Dino Tripodis defines the principal lead Paul Henson, a former Chicago Tribunal editor having left the midwestern journalism powerhouse after the death of his wife. Stepping into a world of cultism, Paul’s eager to save what’s left of his family at all costs by exposing grisly murders as more than just drug-related collateral damage (I didn’t know drug wars were such a big thing in Ohio). The debut of Tripodis’s performance fairs well enough to solidify himself as the marginalized hero against a Goliathan opposition that’s deep rooted and backed by powerful leaders, but hands down, Tripodis is outdone by Nick Baldasare as the dark featured, maniacally calm Reverend Donovan. Baldasare has such a tremendous presence as a fire and brimstone agent of the most notable archfiend that his performance swallows the shared screen moments with Tripodis. A few principals come off as rigid and flat in their efforts. As the sheriff of Copperton, Lee Page is the biggest offender with an obvious staged act of busting Tripodis’s balls for a better part of the story. “Heartland of Darkness” is a mixed bag of showings from a remaining hyper-localized cast compromised of new to little experiences actors including Shanna Thomas, Sid Sillivan, Ralph Scott, Dallas Dan Hessler, Ray Beach, Mary Alice Dmas, and with the John Dunleavy in a magnetic role of a cult-crime fighting preacher.
Hard to fathom why but still completely understandable how “Heartland of Darkness” remained in celluloid purgatory for so many years. Swelstad had tremendous ambitions for a student film that included a visual effects storefront explosion, but the money well dried up to finish shooting, touch ups, effects, and digitizing the filmmaker’s efforts onto a marketable commodity to distribute. At last, here we are, 33 years later with a finished copy of the “lost Linnea Quigley film” and, boy-oh-boy, does not disappoint, living up to the expectational hype surrounding the film’s once stagnant, hidden from the world existence. Swelstad creates the illusion of vast world from the small town of Copporton to the big cities where the District Attorney and Governor reside. Car chases, rock quarries, a church nave, animal intestine smeared ditches, and a slew of constructed sets, an array of offices, and an abundance of diverse exteriors. “Heartland of Darkness” might have a lot going on and is often repetitive in the scenes with Paul and Shannon pleading their case to multiple officials to probe into gruesome deaths and the cult’s leadership but not to the story’s detriment as all the progressive storyline dig Paul and his small band of investigators into a deeper danger hole with Donovan and his Devil devotees under the guise of God’s Church. Scott Simonson’s entrail splayed and blood splattering special effects culminates to a shotgun showdown at a virgin sacrifice and an impressive full-bodied impaling that is, frankly, one of the best edited shots of the film. “Heartland of Darkness” is rayless and scary, callous and cold, formidable and shocking with a pinch of sex and is finally within our grasp!
Visual Vengeance, a pioneer in curating the lost, the forgotten, and the technically shoddy indie cult and horror films, releases for the first time on any format ever “Heartland of Darkness” on Blu-ray. Coming in as VV08 on the spine, the Wild Eye Releasing banner strays their first seven SOV features to bring aboard a 16mm negative transfer, director-supervised from original film elements of the standard definition masters. Visual Vengeance precautions viewers with the usual precursing disclaimer that due to the commercial grade equipment and natural wear of aging, the presentation is the best possible transfer available, but, honestly, the full screen 1.33:1 aspect ratio presentation looks outstanding without much to critique. Obvious softer details were expected but with the celluloid film, there’s not much in way of macroblocking or tracking complications as common with shot-on-video tape features. Compression verges to a near perfect reproduction of the picture quality. Skin coloring and overall grading is congruously natural in grain and stable image. The English stereo mono track doesn’t pack a punch but isn’t also frail with strong mic placement and the dialogue is clean and clear of imperfections as well as major hissing or popping. The faint 16 mm camera whir can be heard but isn’t distracting, adding a comforting churr to the footage. Optional English subtitles are available. Special features include a new 40-minute behind-the-scenes documentary Deeper into the Darkness, an audio commentary by writer-director Eric Swelstad, actor Nick Baldasare, cinematographer Scott Spears, and composer Jay Woelfel, a new interview with cult icon Linnea Quigley, commentary with Tom Strauss of Weng’s Chop magazine, an archival Linnea Quigley TV interview, the complete “Fallen Angels” 1990 workprint, the same workprint with audio commentary with Swelstad, vintage cast and crew Ohioan newscast interviews in the Making of Fallen Angels, the original promotional video for “Blood Church,” a behind-the scenes image gallery and footage, and the original TV spots and trailers, of this feature and other Visual Vengeance films, from the static, composite menu. Ready for more? “Heartland of Darkness” comes with just as much physical bonus swag with a limited-edition prayer cloth, a six-page liner notes from Tony Strauss complete with color beind-the-scene stills, a folded mini-poster of a leather-cladded Linnea Quigley’s high school hallway scene, and retro Visual Vengeance stickers inside a clear Blu-ray latch snapper with new, illustrated cover art that also has reversible art of the original “Blood Church” promo art, sheathed inside a cardboard slip cover with a different and new illustrated cover art. The region free, 101-minute release is unrated. Visual Vengeance continues to pump out gilded, undiscovered treasures and giving them the royal treatment. For “Heartland of Darkness,” this sublime release was 33 years in the making and is one Hell of a bounty!