Sunday, November 06, 2022

Heartland of Darkness: A “Lost” Film Finally Sees the Light of Day

It's not “Satanic Panic,” if its real. They say “the Devil’s greatest trick was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.” If so, popularizing the term “Satanic Panic” was a big part of that effort. A sleepy Ohio town like Copperton is the perfect place for one of his stealth attacks. In this case, it was incredibly stealth. Although teased to fans, this low-budget horror movie had remained unseen and unreleased in any form since its completion in 1992. Thirty year’s later, our long, slow descent into Armageddon will finally be reversed when Eric Swelstad’s Heartland of Darkness (a.k.a. Blood Church) releases on BluRay.

After his wife’s untimely demise, big city journalist Paul Henson moved to Copperton with his daughter Christine. He acquired the local newspaper—maybe it’s the one Burgess Meredith’s demonic Mr. Smith worked at as a type-setter in the “Printer’s Devil”
Twilight Zone episode. At least he won’t have any trouble recruiting, because Shannon Cornell, a former New York City reporter walks in looking for a job on his first day in the office.

On the other hand, the local cops are lazy as heck. They keep dismissing obvious ritualistic murders as drug-related disputes. Copperton’s priest is also weird. The so-called “Reverend” Donovan sounds like he gave the Scriptures a Nietzschean re-write, while also ominously emphasizing obedience to the community and his church. Obviously, he has perverted the church to serve his dark lord. Apparently, the Hensons and Cornell are the only ones Donavan hasn’t corrupted, but he certainly intends to, with the help of his temptress, Julia Francine. She is the one played by Linnea Quigley, who brought a bit of cult-movie star-power to
Heartland, in retrospect.

Heartland is cheap and grubby, but in an amusing bargain basement kind of way. Nick Baldasare is definitely creepy as Donovan and Quigley vamps it up enough to satisfy her fans. Arguably, the demonic corruption of the small-town church is weirdly compelling. It also now has symbolic resonance, at a time when the Pope has made a metaphorical deal with the devil, in the form of Xi Jinping.

Throughout it all,
Heartland looks as dingy as you would expect. It would be disappointing if it didn’t. Of course, some of the featured performances are a little rough, in some cases really rough, but we’ve all seen worse. Even though you haven’t seen it before, Heartland is highly nostalgic. Sometimes it is even creepy, as well as cheesy. Recommended for fans of vintage 1980s & early 1990s Satanic horror, Heartland of Darkness releases Tuesday (11/8) on BluRay.