This week’s trip to the cinematic sewer courtesy of Amazon Prime Video is Invasion of the Blood Farmers, a violent ’70s exploitation flick that will have you asking, “Aren’t we all blood farmers, after all?”
When I was a kid, I loved slasher movies; the more violent the better. I’d rent anything at the local video store with a disgusting cover and go to see whatever horror flick made it to my local theater (back when those kinds of movies actually played in theaters). Part of what I dug about the old “video nasties” was the cheap thrill of daring myself to watch the most depraved material I could get my hands on.
But there was another reason I sought out movies like Just Before Dawn or Driller Killer: I couldn’t believe they existed in the first place. To me, it seemed like actual lunatics created them. I’d think, “What kind of people would have made this?”
I knew where “regular” movies came from; I knew E.T. wasn’t real, and I vaguely understood that people in Hollywood worked on sets and shot films for me to enjoy. But cheap slasher movies didn’t seem to come from the same place as Raiders of the Lost Ark… they seemed more real. The lack of polish and money suggested (to me at least) that maniacs had stolen a camera, gone out into the woods, and filmed their most depraved fantasies. I knew logically that no one was really murdered to make these movies… but how could anyone be sure?
Now that I’m older, and I’ve been around low budget filmmaking, I’ve learned that horror movies aren’t (usually) made by crazy people, and even the nastiest flicks come from nice people, talented folks diligently applying their craft to create something that resonates with our horror glands. I understand now that the vérité feel of a movie like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was intentional, a carefully constructed magic trick designed to elicit a “my god, this looks real!” reaction from 13 year-olds like me.
Which brings us to 1972’s Invasion of the Blood Farmers. This grindhouse splatter-flick was not carefully crafted by a genius like Tobe Hooper. First-time director Ed Adlum is earnest enough, but he clearly didn’t have the vision to suggest real-life mayhem somehow caught on film. Instead, this sloppy production does the opposite: it calls attention to the film’s artifice, constantly reminding you that it’s only a movie, and a silly one at that. But it also forces you to think about yourself watching it.
To me, the most compelling aspect of Invasion of the Blood Farmers is its audience.
When I was a teenager obsessed with horror movies, I never thought of whom they were made for. I never thought of myself watching all this bloodletting and murder. But Blood Farmers provides so little traditional entertainment, it almost forces you to reflect on its audience. You won’t ask, “Who would have made this?” You’ll ask, “Who would watch this? and the glimpse it gives is way scarier than the bloodletting druids of the movie’s title… because the answer is “you.”
Unlike the murder movies of the 1980s, Blood Farmers was not created to fill out the “horror” section of local video store and gin up bored suburban teenagers; it’s a product of the grindhouse era of the 1960s & ’70s, a decidedly grimmer milieu than the video boom of the 1980s.
The word “grindhouse” has lately been co-opted to mean something like “over-the-top sensation movies presented with a knowing wink” (think Hobo with a Shotgun), but actual grindhouse horror films were almost never ironic or (intentionally) funny. They were slimy, depraved movies; seedy, irredeemably artless rape, murder, and torture flicks set in a grubby universe where the strong prey on the weak, and all men are monsters.
If you went to see Invasion of the Blood Farmers in 1972, you weren’t doing it because you thought it might be funny. Few would risk walking through the urban war zone of 1970s Times Square for some ironically detached meta-entertainment. You’d be there because you wanted to see someone farming blood, and you wanted it so badly, you’d be willing to enter a theater full of passed out drunks, heroin addicts, and other criminals to do it.
Any information on how its original audiences reacted to Invasion of the Blood Farmers is sadly lost to history. Movie critics of the time ignored it, and it’s not like anyone filled out audience opinion cards, so you can’t know for sure what movie-goers actually made of this story of modern-day druids in upstate New York performing bloodletting rituals to resurrect their queen. But you can surmise.
Watching the movie now, streaming from the comfort of your couch, you can imagine a shifty-eyed 1970s New York dude seeing the title plastered on the marquee of the Lyric Theater and thinking, “Yeah, that’s what I’m doing tonight! Gonna see some blood farming!”
So the imaginary reprobate dons his raincoat and slinks out of his efficiency apartment in Queens, rides the graffiti-covered subway, survives a nighttime walk through the Deuce, hands over a buck, and takes a front row seat in a sticky, run-down theater. That takes dedication… and Blood Farmers requires extreme dedication.
You gotta dutifully sit through the romantic subplot, watch silently at the failed attempts at comedy, vaguely listen as the film’s “scientists” mouth silly explanations about ancient druids and blood reagents, etc., all to get to the good parts: the goddamn blood farming.
Toothless hicks in black hoods and overalls, cackling over a screaming woman tied up in their barn, draining her blood while she struggles and dies slowly; cheap motel rooms splattered in red, the aftermath of a rape and murder; gruesome violence inflicted on innocent people for no purpose; eyes torn out, veins opened and a dog killed and eaten for no reason except that blood farmers are like that. That’s why you bought your ticket, right?
“Times Square Dude” is like me in a different life, minus the ironic detachment. He sat through endless grindhouse films in skid row theaters, while today I pore over streaming options at 4 am. Maybe both of us are hoping to catch an undiscovered classic like When You Coming Home, Red Ryder? (sadly no longer available for streaming or purchase anywhere, as far as I know) but we’ll settle for blood farming. Which isn’t so bad, I guess. It beats Laverne and Shirley reruns or Bohemian Rhapsody anyway.
So show some reverence and respect for skeevy Times Square dude and stream Invasion of the Blood Farmers on Amazon. Whoever did the transfer did an amazing job, so you’ll be able to see the “good parts” much more clearly than you would have been able to on a scratchy 1970s print at a Market Street grindhouse… even if the atmosphere won’t be nearly as awesome.