VISUAL VENGEANCE BLU RAY RELEASE: Heartland of Darkness (1992) and exclusive interview with director Eric Swelstad

In the small town of Copperton, Ohio, Paul Henson (Dino Tripodis), a former big-city journalist, buys a small local newspaper. He quickly falls into a wide-reaching conspiracy of ritualistic199 murder and cult mind control when he discovers that the entire town may be under the spell of Reverend Donovan (Nick Baldasare, Beyond Dream’s Door), Reverend Kane (John Dunleavy) and their flock. As the clues and corpses pile up, Henson and his family are thrust into a life-or-death struggle to expose the truth and stop the demonic cabal’s reign of evil.

Shot in 1989 by director Eric Swelstad on 16mm film and lost in obscurity and distribution false starts for over 30 years, Heartland of Darkness finally arrives on home video for the very first time and is packed with bonus features that spotlight the original creators and document the film’s long history and final completion.

Filmed as Fallen Angels, which was changed to Blood Church and then Heartland of Darkness, Swelstad abandoned the project before finding a distributor. Over the years various producers including Jim Wynorski, Rob Spera and Jody Savin wanted to release the film, but nothing happened. It almost came out from Media Blasters in 2004 before Visual Vengeance became the company to finish it and get it out into the world.

If that doesn’t sell you, Linnea Quigley plays an evil teacher.

I have no idea why this ever got lost. It’s a perfect early 90s direct to video horror film, but perhaps even better than the other movies you would have found on the shelf. Swlstad has a great eye for filmmaking and puts story over simple gore.

The Visual Vengeance blu ray of Heartland of Darkness is available from MVD and has these features:

  • First time available in any format
  • New director-supervised SD master from original tape and film elements
  • Deeper Into the Darkness: New 40-minute behind the scenes documentary
  • Three commentary tracks
  • Linnea Quigley Remembers, a new interview
  • Archival TV interviews, TV spots, behind the scenes footage and trailers
  • Complete original “Fallen Angels” 1990 workprint
  • Blood Church – rare distributor promotional video
  • Six-page 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
  • And much more!

For more details on the label and updates on new releases – as well as news on upcoming releases – follow Visual Vengeance on social media:

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BONUS: I had the chance to speak with director Eric Swelstad about this film and his career.

B&S About Movies: This movie has been gestating for decades, right?

Eric Swelstad: It sure has. The original film was shot as Fallen Angels back in 1989, we ran out of money to finish it. At the time, the distributor in Florida named it Blood Church. And for a long time it had that name, but they also didn’t have the money to finish it. So for a long time, it sat on a literal shelf, waiting to be finished. And then finally, after the last couple of years, we want to get the money together to finish it and we were happy that Visual Vengeance made an offer to release it.

B&S: What do you think of what they did with your movie?

Eric: I think it’s terrific. I was telling Rob that I think his line is like the Criterion of, of, you know, genre releases. It’s really great. The packaging is terrific. The special features are great. There are three commentary track and a behind the scenes documentary that we made, as well as a bunch of other goodies that people can get.

B&S: You’re from Ohio, correct?

Eric: I grew up in both Indiana and Ohio. I went to college at Ohio State University where this was actually a master’s thesis for myself and my cinematographer. So great memories and great times at Ohio State.

B&S: You’re also part of another OSU student film, Beyond Dream’s Door, right?

Eric: Exactly. I was one of the ADs on that film. It was a great experience. So that was how I learned about making a feature at the university and I was like, “Oh, this is great. I’m going to try to do this as well for my Master’s.” And we were able to pull it off.

B&S: I love that both of those movies came out of OSU. They don’t feel like anything else on the shelves at the time.

Eric: Exactly. Yeah, they’re a little bit unique. And of course, some of the same actors like Nick Baldasare and John Dunleavy are in both films. And, of course, our movie was made at the height of the Satanic Panic in the late 80s. So we were capitalizing on what was going on in the country at the time. And it was on the news all the time. We capitalized on that. I came up with the idea for the script. And I said, “Man, this would be a great topic to deal with. made it an action film.”

You know, it’s like a horror action film.

B&S: Were you a horror fan before you made this?

Eric: I was a horror fan. I was more into like movies like Halloween and The Exorcist. You know, I was bmore into those films than I was into stuff like Italian giallo cinema. But I certainly was more into the occult. The Omen was a big influence. Films like that where you’re kind of like thinking, okay, these are ordinary people, but this crazy scary stuff is happening to them. That was what was interesting to me. And then, of course, I love action films. So I incorporated that into the action aspect of this to make it what I call an action horror film.

B&S: What were your influences on this?

Eric: I was heavily influenced by the usual suspects. George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, William Friedkin. Coppola, of course, was a huge influence. You know, there were just so many. John Carpenter. I just looked I finally got to meet him a few years ago and I told him just how important Halloween and Escape from New York were to me. I mean, all those great, great films, and I know he’s heard it a hundred times before, but he was so nice. I also recently met Walter Hill. One of my favorites. Yeah, my favorite directors from the 70s and 80s. And I told him, I teach a class about theology in film and we screened The Warriors as an example of Greek mythology and he was tickled by that.

B&S: What do you do today?

Eric: I’m the head of the film department at Valley College in Los Angeles in the San Fernando Valley and love it. I’ve been doing it for about 20 years now. And it’s been great. In fact, I hired some of my students to do some work on this film on Heartland of Darkness. They helped sound with the mix and one of my top students, she produced the documentary Deeper Into the Darkness, which is the behind the scenes movie. It was great having my students work on the main show.

B&S: What’s it like seeing young students being at where you were when you made this movie?

Eric: It’s so inspiring because I give them all these warnings about what not to do, because I went through it and the biggest one I tell them is don’t make a feature film if you can’t finish it. Don’t run out of money like we did. The things that we messed up on this movie are great lessons for today. I mean, things ranging from direction to editing, a whole bunch of stuff. So I think if anything, I just enjoy sharing experiences with the students to let them know what worked for us and what didn’t work for us.

B&S: I love the films that Visual Vengeance is putting out because they’re all so original. And even though the technology to make movies is more available and it should be so much more democratic to shoot a movie today, you don’t see the same drive.

Eric: The tools to make low budget films are there and it’s great. And you know, you could literally could go out and make your own feature film on your cell phone, which is wonderful. But you’ve got to have a story. You’ve got to have something to say. There are so many films that never see the light of day because they’re not that good. And there’s a reason for that. If you’re going to pour your heart and soul into something, you want it to be really good. You don’t want to be like something they would find any every other day. And it just you know, I teach screenwriting, so I talk about, it’s all about the story. It’s all about the script. You’ve got to have a really interesting story to begin and a lot of horror films today. I’m not really into because so many movies today are built around the jumpscare. How many jumpscare should we have in this film? Where the jumpscare is going to be? And that’s just a cliche. Anybody can do a jumpscare! You can put a sheet over your head and jump out at somebody and that’s a jumpscare. But it needs a story. It needs characters that we care about and follow.

B&S: I hate when people say, “Well, Val Lewton’s movies had jumpscares.” Well, they also had stories.

Eric: The great directors that we think of, you know, they didn’t just jump stuff out. They actually had stories. One of my mentors was the late great Robert Wise. He directed a lot of great movies, one of my favorite horror films he did was called The Haunting. That movie is so scary because of sound. It’s what you don’t see that is scary. And the sound is so good in that film and other films like that too. We can all learn from those master filmmakers about how to do horror films.

You’ve got to have a great script. I mean, that was a great script. The remakes that have come out have suffered because they were all about the technical stuff, the jumpscares and they really weren’t about the story. So if you spend time on the story, you’re gonna nail it. You’re gonna get a really cool film, but it’s all about the story. You’ve got to go back and think about character, plot development, character arc. The third act is critical. So all those things may add up to a really good movie.

B&S: I keep getting fooled by the A24-style horror movies that have a great trailer and a not-so-great final film.

Eric: They run out of steam. They delivered it on the first and second act, but by the ending, they’re like, “Oh, we already showed all that stuff. Let’s just wrap it up.”

Look at something like John Carpenter’s Halloween. To really know how to just do a great payoff, he had such a great ending and great characters. Now that’s a good example of how to end a movie. The Exorcist is like that as well. You’ve got the stick the landing.

Imagine if The Omen petered out before the ending.

B&S: Do you advise to start with that ending?

Eric: If you start backward, you know, you can come up with a really good ending and you work backward. That can sometimes work but you got to have a really, really good ending that we don’t see coming. I tell my students, “Twist endings are great. You’ve got to build to them. You got to have a great delivery, but you got to have stuff before that.”

You can do a good twist today. All movies need to have a twist. You’ve got to have something we don’t see coming. Otherwise, no one’s gonna make it.

B&S: What has worked for you lately?

Eric: I really liked It Follows. A lot of it is shot like Halloween, with the stuff shot during daylight and I love that they did really creepy things shot during broad daylight.

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