Written and directed by Eric Swelstad, Heartland of Darkness is a third-rate, bargain-basement movie that became dated five minutes after it finished shooting. The talent is eager but lacking. The story, concerning a satanic religious cult in a small midwestern town, has been done far better in many other films (Children of the Corn comes to mind). The script is pure junk. But damn if I wasn’t entertained for an hour and forty minutes!
This piece of B-movie piffle tells the story of Paul Henson (Dino Tripodus). Widower Paul has uprooted himself and his teenage daughter, Christine (Sharon Klopfenstein), from Chicago, where he was the editor of the Chicago Tribune. Craving the laid-back atmosphere of small-town living, Paul buys the local newspaper, The Chronicle, in lovely Copperton, Ohio. Copperton is a picturesque burg of rigid Americana. This means, of course, that there is evil lurking underneath its quaint exterior.
Paul and Christine haven’t even finished unpacking when Evelyn (Mary Alice Demas) walks into the Chronicle’s office looking for a job as a secretary. She’s a sweet, grandmotherly lady, so we know something is up. “Can you type?” Paul asks. “Eighty words a minute,” she answers. “Good, good. Can you answer the phone?” She nods affirmatively. “Then you’re hired,” he says. I don’t know how good of an editor you are, Paul, but you’re an expert interviewer!
Moments later, a comely young woman walks into the office. This is Shannon (Shanna Thomas). She is seeking a job as a reporter. Shannon has come to Copperton having escaped city life in New York, where she was formerly a staff reporter for The New York Times. Uh-huh. Paul, being the crack interviewer he is, asks no questions and hires Shannon on the spot.
“…a satanic religious cult in a small midwestern town…”
And this is how the movie goes. Plot points are neatly hit, and everyone moves on. Heartland of Darkness has about as much nuance and depth as the puddle at the end of my driveway. But that’s OK, do we really expect it too? Once B-movie queen Linnea Quigley shows up as a sexy high school teacher (she looks more music video model than high school teacher, but whatever) and immediately loses her shirt for no discernible reason, any search for substance becomes a moot undertaking.
Yet, the movie endears because everyone in the cast tries so very hard to be convincing. Well, except for Quigley, who, probably due to her extensive experience in B-movies such as Savage Streets and Vice Academy, knows exactly what sort of production she is in. Tripodus is quite good as a low-rent Fred Ward in Remo Williams mode. Nick Baldasare, as the nefarious Reverend Donovan, the ringleader of this All-American village of Satanists, is suitably smarmy, even if he turns up the dial on the creepy meter a bit too high at times.
Swelstad does the best he can with the obviously limited budget he has. He attempts a few stylish tracking shots, which are appreciated. One explosion towards the end particularly stands out because it is either the most expensive thing in the movie or it is a terrific piece of stock footage. But, again, this is part of the movie’s charm.
Heartland of Darkness runs about five minutes too long, with a final sequence that could have been excised altogether. Nevertheless, it is an ambitious, micro-budget piece of religio-horror and should be enjoyed as such.
"…an ambitious, micro-budget piece of religio-horror..."