Color, 1972, 78m.
Directed by Ed Adlum
Starring Bruce Detrick, Norman Kelley, Tanna Hunter, Jack Neubeck, Cynthia Fleming, Paul Craig Jennings
Code Red (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Retromedia (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1)

Color, 1972, 85m.
Directed by Theodore Gershuny
Starring Patrick O'Neal, Mary Woronov, James Patterson, Astrid Hereen, John Carradine
Code Red (DVD) (US R0 NTSC), Film Chest (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Invasion of the Blood FarmersShot for pennies in upstate New York, Invasion of the Blood Farmers Invasion of the Blood Farmersbelongs comfortably with the efforts of 16mm sleaze wizards like Andy Milligan, William Girdler, and particularly exploitation legend Michael Findlay, who edited this film for director Ed Adlum. (In turn, Adlum produced and co-wrote Findlay's 1974 trashterpiece, Shriek of the Mutilated.) Barely coherent but rarely dull, this madcap tour through a backwoods region populated by scientists, mad cults, and bloody mayhem became something of a drive-in staple during its day, sporting an early '70s PG rating that still allowed for a reasonable amount of blood and mayhem.

During the fiery, crimson-tinted intro, we learn from a pretty good James Mason imitator about the history of druids who continue to thrive to this day across the globe. Why, they've even shacked up in the great American Northeast, where locals are falling prey to a pair of farmers who bleed their victims in a wooden shack. A nasty incident at a local bar in which a man collapses dead from means unknown triggers a local investigation, which touches on the bizarre experiments of one Dr. Anderson (Kelley). The scientist's tinkering with human blood triggers the interest of our modern druids, led by the not terribly imposing Creton (Jennings). It seems their bloody actions (which include ambushing people in the shower) can all be justified because they intend to revive their dead queen, a beautiful blonde kept preserved in a glass coffin.

The memorable poster art for Blood Farmers depicted a hillbilly farmer preparing to gouge a top heavy woman with a pitchfork, but the film is a little stranger than your average exploitation Invasion of the Blood Farmerseffort. Like the thematically similar Motel Hell, the film uses its rural setting and farmland locations to interesting effect, a far cry from the gothic castles and bubbling laboratories which had populated horror films in the previous decade. Some sequences in particular, such as an extended bloodletting ritual by masked farmers in a barn, foreshadow the later (and obviously far superior) The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and while the intensity level is kept at bay by numerous unintentional chuckles (check out the shoe polish hairdos) and gaping plot inconsistencies, there's enough going on to keep fans of Z-grade trash busy munching on their popcorn.

Briefly released on VHS in the format's infancy, Blood Farmers dropped off the face of the earth before finally resurfacing in 2001 on DVD as part of Fred Olen Ray's Nite Owl Theater on his Retromedia label. Now discontinued, this release features the director camping it up with his wife and a bevy of semi-nude starlets; it's also augmented with the original theatrical trailer and spots for a number of Ray's films. The non-anamorphic transfer looks pretty decent, but more on that in a moment.

In 2013, Code Red reissued Blood Farmers in a deluxe edition with the participation of Adlum, who features in an audio commentary with moderator Lee Christian, covering topics including the pseudonymous name of cinematographer "Frederick Douglass" (contrary to IMDb, it wasn't Roberta Findlay), the upstate New York locations, and local talent recruited for peanuts including Neubeck (who was asked to limp for no good reason whatsoever). Also included is the theatrical trailer, a button promising radio spots that kicks Invasion of the Blood Farmersinto the main feature instead, and a button for bonus "Disgusting Code Red Trailers" that leads to only one, Heated Vengeance. The transfer is taken from a 35mm print that's obviously seen better days with debris and splices in abundance; however, it's anamorphic and pleasingly film-like with an appropriately grungy veneer. In contrast, the Retromedia is cleaner (with some obvious noise reduction applied) with considerable brightness and color boosting; this makes the film look fresher and more vibrant, to be sure, but its accuracy is definitely questionable. Which one you Invasion of the Blood Farmerschoose will be a matter of personal preference, but you can't really lose either way.

In any case, the Code Red easily wins hands down in the extras department. And if that weren't enough, it's a double feature packaged with another early '70s regional favorite, Silent Night, Bloody Night, which made the rounds on public domain labels in horrifically dark, unwatchable transfers for decades. The Code Red transfer is a new HD scan from a drastically superior print bearing the title Deathouse, also used for a similar standalone release (sans extras) from Film Chest. (For a look at some of the interesting differences between the color timing of the two, check out this DVDBeaver review, which sums the situation up quite well.) To put it succinctly, though, this is the best the film has ever looked on home video, and anyone who was put off by the cruddy past versions should give it another chance.

As for the film itself, it's a bit of a slow burner at first but is drenched in that wonderfully grim atmosphere you find only in '70s independent horror films; this would play perfectly alongside other titles like Messiah of Evil or The Severed Arm, to name but a few. Even when it ran (virtually uncut, amazingly) as one of the earliest entries of Elvira's Movie Macabre (which made a running gag out of that ringing bell), the film still possessed a strange, spooky power and made its mark on more than a few viewers. Director Theodore Gershuny brought along his then-wife, Mary Woronov, for both this film and their much wilder follow up, Sugar Cookies, for a dark tale about the Butler house, a remote family home cursed by a violent past and a particularly twisted family history. Diane (Woronov), daughter of the local sheriff, narrates the events she experienced alongside one of the remaining Butler descendants, Invasion of the Blood FarmersJeffrey (Patterson), who intends to sell the house off to the local city council against his late grandfather's wishes. The sale is to be handled by attorney John Carter (O'Neal), who arrives in town to sort things out and finds more than he bargained for. Soon an anonymous lunatic is making sinister phone calls to everyone involved and bumping them off at the Butler house, setting the stage for a grand nightmarish flashback no viewer has ever forgotten.

It's really that flashback that cinches this film's status as a significant, neglected gem in the '70s horror cannon. Shot in creepy sepia tone and capturing the feel of a waking nightmare as well as any of its ilk, this extended sequence is notable both for its participants (including underground Warhol legends Candy Darling and Ondine, plus Flaming Creatures director Jack Smith) and its shocking violence, including a broken glass gag that still packs a punch. Adding to the fun is a wonderfully melancholy, effective score by Gershon Kingsley (highlighted by a skewed twist on "Silent Night"), which finally earned a belated soundtrack release in 2007. Interestingly, the liner notes for that release indicate the film itself was substantially reworked numerous times between the completion of shooting in 1970 and its eventual release in 1972, courtesy of Cannon Films (before Golan and Globus famously took it over). As with other Cannon titles of that period like Blood on Satan's Claw up through Schizoid, this one made its way to tape in the early '80s courtesy of Paragon and eventually fell into the public domain, with the negative (or at least prime materials) presumably still shut away in the MGM vaults somewhere. In any case, it's a welcome gift all year round to finally have a respectable presentation of this chilly little number, which is bound to earn even more fans thanks to its status as one of the first and creepiest holiday slashers.

Reviewed on January 25, 2014.