Sunday, November 27, 2022

HEARTLAND OF DARKNESS (1989) (Visual Vengeance Blu-ray Review)

aka Blood Church
aka Fallen Angels 

Label: Visual Vengeance 
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 102 Minutes 
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Full Frame (1.33:1) 
Director: Eric Swelstad
Cast: Nick Baldasare, Linnea Quigley, Dino Tripodis, Shanna Thomas, Sharon Klopfenstein, John Dunleavy

Visual Vengeance are a boutique Blu-ray label dedicated to vintage SOV (shot-on-video) and microbudget films that were made from the 1980s though 2000s. They've unleashed a handful of hard-to-find obscurities thus far, L.A. Aids Jabber being a personal favorite of mine, but with this release they've gone the deepest they've dared dig yet - unleashing a never-before-seen 1989 film starring scream-Linnea Quigley (The Return of the Living Dead), Heartland of Darkness aka Blood Church - a student-film inspired by the Satanic Panic of the 80's that's making it's worldwide debut on any format. 

In it Paul Henson (Dino Tripodis), a former big-city journalist, moves to the small town of Copperton, Ohio with his teen daughter Christy (Sharon Klopfenstein) and takes over the local newspaper, The Chronicle. He hires a small staff including intrepid reporter/love interest Shannon (Shanna Thomas), quickly discovering that life in a small town is anything but ordinary. The first story is about a ritualistic murder were the victim has been dismembered, while the local Sherriff attributes it to a drug cartel, but Henson and Shannon recognize the tell-tales signs of a satanic murder and pursue that lead, discovering that the whole town is under the thrall of the local church's Reverend Donovan (Nick Baldasare, Beyond Dream's Door), a satanic baddie with a flock full of devil-hearted henchmen who don't take kindly to outsiders sticking their nose into his satanic stranglehold on the community.

In true satanic-panic fashion it's never quite clear who you they can trust, it seems that the Rev has his satan's claw into everyone in town, including the seemingly kindly old man who runs the hardware store (who has apparently sacrificed a black cat in the backroom!) and the Christy's sexy and inappropriately dressed school teacher Julia (Linnea Quigley, Nightmare Sisters); and possibly the sheriff and local state politicians! As the story carries on dismembered bodies pile up, they uncover a sacrificial altar in the local quarry, the rev cruises the streets at night decked out in a leather jacket and menacing shades, the new crop of babies at the maternity ward are stolen, and a visiting priest following the trail of the cult, Reverend Kane (John Dunleavy, Beyond Dream's Door) is murdered, plus Paul's super-cute teen daughter is kidnapped, which engages the reporter to grab a shotgun and start kicking some serious satanic ass! 

This is a totally fun low-budget slice of satanic cinema, it's made on a shoestring and it's a bit long in the tooth for what it is - 102 minutes - but I had a great time watching it. Both Quigley and Baldasare are a riot as they chew-up-the-scenery with their over-the-top  satanic villainy, plus there's a ton of Quigley nudity if you're into that sort of thing. The rest of the cast play it pretty straight and I wouldn't say it was well-balanced but it works - it does feel like the student film that it is. Not perfect, but perfectly fine and totally fun. While the gore is not dripping off the screen there's some decent gore when the dismembered bodies are found and it actually conjures up some good, low-budget atmosphere with an action-packed finale.

The film was shot back in 1989 as director Eric Swelstad senior thesis in film school under the original title of Fallen Angels, after the initial filming wrapped the director fell short on funds and was never able to complete post-production work. Despite some false starts in getting additional funding and distribution through the years it would not be until microbudget saviors Wild Eye Releasing stepped up to the plate and helped get the project finished, and are now releasing it for the first time ever through their deluxe boutique sub-label Visual Vengeance. It's a bit sad that this did not get a proper release years ago but it's also very cool that a film that languished unfinished and unseen for over thirty years has now finally been unleashed upon the cult movie community, and in a pretty spiffy deluxe edition. 

Audio/Video: Heartland of Darkness (1989) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Visual Vengeance with a "New director-supervised SD master from original tape and film elements". The film was originally shot on 16mm and looks to have been transferred to SD video, and for a shot-on-video production from the late-80's this looks pretty fantastic. It's got the usual SOV issues like fuzzy edges and whatnot but colors look strong and details are far superior to what I am use to seeing with anything shot SOV. Audio comes by way of Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English
subtitles. It sounds quite clean and well-balanced, it's not dynamic by any means but by the standards of other vintage SOV the fidelity is pretty great.  

Visual Vengeance pack this gem with the extras starting off with a pair of audio commentaries;  the first with an Audio Commentary with director Eric Swelstad, star Nick Baldasare, cinematographer Scott Spears and composer Jay Wolfe, then a second Audio Commentary with Tony Strauss of Weng's Chop Magazine. There's also a 39-min Deeper Into the Darkness: New Behind-The-Scenes Documentary featuring director Eric Swelstad, Associate Producer Thomas Baumann, star Nick Baldasare, cinematographer Scott Spears and composer Jay Wolfe, which tells the tale of this 30-year in the making satanic panic gem, plus we get the 6-min Linnea Quigley Remembers: 2021 Interview in which she recalls making the film, and how this is a film that her fans have long asked her about, seeing it on her IMDB but until now, being unable to actually find it anywhere.  

We also get a 20-min Linnea Quigley Vintage Local News Interview which looks like it was sourced from VHS; a 13-min Behind-the-Scenes Image Gallery; a pair of 
Heartland of Darkness Trailers; the  37-min Complete Original “Fallen Angels” 1990 Workprint Version; a 21-min 
The Making of Fallen Angels - Vintage Cast & Crew Newscast Interviews; 1-min Fallen Angels - Vintage TV Spot; 13-min Blood Church – Rare Distributor Promotional Video; 3-min Behind-the-Scenes: Reverend Donovan's Death;
and a Fantasy Magazine - Director Spotlight.

The single-disc release arrives in clear keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring a new illustration as well as the original Blood Church promotional artwork. Inside there's a Six-page Booklet with liner notes by Tony Strauss of Weng’s Chop Magazine, the illustrated liner notes set the time and place for the satanic panic, and of how director Eric Swelstad filming this as his film school senior thesis, and how it took thirty years to finally finish. There's also some other cool ephemera like a frame-worthy Collectible Linnea Quigley Folded Mini-Poster, a ‘Stick Your Own’ VHS Sticker Set, and a Limited Edition Heartland of Darkness “Prayer Cloth” - which might be the coolest packaging extra yet from Visual Vengeance.  The first pressing of this release also includes a Limited Edition Slipcase with it's own unique artwork, which is pretty cool, looking a bit like it could have been an 80's metal album cover. The disc inside features the same artwork as the limited edition slip. 

Special Features:
- First time available in any format
- New Director-Supervised SD Master from Original Tape and Film Elements
- Deeper Into the Darkness: New Behind-The-Scenes Documentary (39 min) 
- Audio Commentary with director Eric Swelstad, star Nick Baldasare, cinematographer Scott Spears and composer Jay Wolfe
- Audio Commentary with Tony Strauss of Weng's Chop Magazine 
- Linnea Quigley Remembers: 2021 Interview (6 min) 
- Linnea Quigley Vintage Local News Interview (20 min) 
- Behind-the-Scenes Image Gallery. (13 min) 
- Heartland of Darkness - Original Trailer 1 (2 min) 
- Heartland of Darkness - Original Trailer 2 (2 min) 
- Complete Original “Fallen Angels” 1990 Workprint Version  (37 min) 
- The Making of Fallen Angels - Vintage Cast & Crew Newscast Interviews (21 min) 
- Fallen Angels - Vintage TV Spot (1 min) 
- Blood Church – Rare Distributor Promotional Video (13 min) 
- Behind-the-Scenes: Reverend Donovan's Death (3 min) 
- Fantasy Magazine - Director Spotlight
- Six-page Booklet with liner notes by Tony Strauss of Weng’s Chop Magazine
- Limited Edition Heartland of Darkness “Prayer Cloth”
- Limited Edition slipcase - First Pressing Only 
- Collectible Linnea Quigley folded mini-poster
- ‘Stick your own’ VHS sticker set
- Deeper Into Darkness Trailer (57 sec) 
- Visual Vengeance Trailers: Asylum of Darkness (1 min), Vampires and Other Stereotypes (1 min), Scream Queen (44 sec), Heartland of Darkness (2 min) 

This is one of my favorite releases yet from Visual 
Vengeance, a solid never-before-released, low-budget satanic shocker with a terrific backstory and a ton of heart. If you have small town satanic horror flicks like Enter the Devil (1972) or Hack-O-Lantern (1988) on your shelf I think there's definitely room in heart for this nearly-lost, shot-on-video gem - highly recommended.  

Screenshots from the Visual Vengeance Blu-ray: 



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