DVD Review: Dark Heritage: The Final Descent

Dark Heritage: The Final Descent
Cornerstone Films
Released in 1989
Starring Mark LaCour, Clint Harrison, Tim Verkaik, Eddie Moore and Joan Parmelee

DVD Review by Chris Welch

So, when I stumble across a 21 year-old low-budget horror movie that I have never heard of, on DVD, and the back of the case says “An uncredited adaption of H. P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Lurking Fear,’” I just have to buy it immediately.

And watch it immediately.

And then take my time to think through what I actually want to say in this review.

Dark Heritage: The Final Descent came out in 1989, the same year that Batman, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Field of Dreams, Born on the Fourth of July, Star Trek V and of course, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were all released. It got lost in the shuffle, so to speak.

The movie is a very low budget horror movie, and it follows the basis of “The Lurking Fear,” but it also wraps a modern (well, 1989) frame around it to extend the tale to a feature length film. It also changes the setting to Louisiana, which is where I assume the filmmakers lived. To quote the DVD case: “After a violent thunderstorm, mutilated bodies are found at a Louisiana campground. Investigative reporter Clint Harrison uncovers a dark local legend about the reclusive Dansen clan, who may be connected with the murders. Determined to dig up the truth, Clint and his buddies decide to spend a stormy night at the seemingly abandoned Dansen mansion.”

After the initial murders, most of the movie is set-up for the final scene, when the protagonists finally meet the Martense-inspired Dansen clan. The acting is pretty stiff, the dialog is at times painful, and the whole budget seems to have gone into the old-fashion special effects of make-up and gore; though it should be noted this is not a “gore-fest” type of movie. The movie does, however, get a few things right along the way, in terms of the revealing mystery of the cannibals.

It comes across — and this is just speculation on my part — as if it were the final project for a film student. If that is the case, then that explains a lot about the acting quality.

But — and this is part I took my time to think about — the movie has an absolutely wonderful payoff if you are a fan of “The Lurking Fear.” The final scene when the clan crawls out of the mansion during a storm is right out of Lovecraft’s manuscript. And the “Dansen” clan fits the Martense clan in every way, including the eyes.

And the scene a few moments before the payoff, during the “reveal,” the part where we as viewers get our first real good look at the inbred cannibals, is downright frightening. All I’ll say is it happens in an underground tunnel.

These two scenes are worth suffering through the rest of the movie. That part of the movie is, simply, phenomenal. If this is indeed a student film (I found the DVD in a used bookstore, and there was no booklet inside the case, and there is not a lot of info on IMDb) then that student deserved an A+ for those scenes alone. It’s like digging in a coal tunnel and finding a diamond at the end.

In some ways, this movie anticipates The Blair Witch Project, which was released a whole decade later. In other ways, it seems like every other 1980s low budget horror movie that got lost in the crowd.

Dark Heritage: The Final Descent is an interesting artifact, and one worth watching if you have the time, or want to be a completist in your Lovecraft-inspired DVD collection.

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