Book Review: Blood Farm, by Sam Siciliano

I know I said I’d review some more horror books, and I’m actually getting around to it. Honest! I’ve just been a little busy with non-literary amusements as of late. Speaking of which, go see The Guest. It’s a wonderful film that manages to be a great homage to John Carpenter/James Cameron 80’s thrillers as well as being its own thing. Also, it has a rocking synth soundtrack.

I’ve also been a little distracted by Dragon Age: Origins. I’d been meaning to play the game for awhile, and then I heard you could download it for free…and yeah. A little late to the party, but I’m enjoying it thus far. Maybe if you’re nice (or if I’m just not reading enough), I’ll regale you with tales Princess Fightdwarf and her giant murderpuppy.

Anyway, on to the book! Because sometimes, you see something on the bookshelf that you just can’t pass up. And the last time I was at the used bookstore, look what I found!

This is where you get blood oranges.

It’s such a wonderfully straightforward title, isn’t it? There’s a farm. And there’s blood on the farm! BLOOD FARM. It’s just such a wonderfully 80’s horror title. This in turn makes me realize I don’t know all that much about the history of the horror genre in literature. I mean, I know the highlights- Shelley, Poe, Stoker, Lovecraft…and then I’ve got like a gap that goes all the way to King. I’m not saying Siciliano is on the level of the aforementioned authors, but I think it’d be interesting to put the book into context.

As one might guess from the title, Blood Farm is a vampire novel- kind of like Dracula with flannel shirts, I guess. It’s interesting to note that the vampires within its pages are pretty monstrous- but more on that later. There was one thing I didn’t notice until I started reading the book was its subtitle: An Iowa Gothic.

America’s Transylvania.

Apart from being a rather hilarious phrase, Siciliano really goes all out with his Iowa Gothic theme; the opening chapter opens with prose that verges on purple- but then, a few pages later, we see the protagonists, Mike and Angela, chatting and giggling and sharing a joint. An interesting juxtaposition between classic Gothic horror and 1970’s slasher tropes, I suppose.

The book takes place over the course of like 48 hours in the middle of an Iowa winter, so we’re reminded of how bleak and cold and lifeless everything is every couple of pages or so. It’s actually enough to make me say “just get on with it already” after awhile. I mean, really, if this book took place in the middle of summer, it’d be about a hundred pages shorter. The real kicker about this is, towards the end of the book, a character out and out says “oh hey all this cold weather is kind of a metaphor for vampirism,” which kind of cheapens the symbolism. I mean, by page 250 or so, I get it. The character who out and out explains the symbolism then gets eaten by demonic pigs about a chapter later.

Anyway, the plot is straightforward, almost to the point of ridiculousness. Mike, a 1970’s-moustached hearse driver, is sent to go pick up a body from Blut farm (get it?). Along the way, he picks up Angela, a super-hot hitchhiker who’s out in the middle of the Iowa winter for…reasons that aren’t explained in the book.

So yeah. Mike and Angela meet in chapter one, fall in love and make out in chapter two, and they’re doin’ it by chapter four. Blood Farm is fairly frank in its sexuality- which I guess I should’ve expected, as the book’s pretty much the written equivalent of a grindhouse horror flick. Sexuality and horror have always gone hand in hand, but it’s worth noting that the sexytimes between Angela and Mike are pitched as ‘good,’- consensual, loving, enjoyable- Mike’s even got a condom handy. Very sexually liberated.

In contrast, there’s Dr. Blut, the vampire lord of Blut Farm. I get the feeling Blut doesn’t get along with other vampires. I mean, all the cool undead kids have castles and listen to Bauhaus or whatever. All Dr. Blut has to show for his centuries of undead-ness is a big creaky mansion in the middle of Iowa. At least his mansion’s got a big pipe organ, because…well, why not?

Anyway, back to the sexy bits. As, while Mike and Angela getting it on is slanted as a good thing, Dr. Blut’s sexuality…isn’t. He’s not a sexy broody vampire, you see- or even one of those mysteriously regal ones. Instead, Dr. Blut’s a rapist. Literally. His whole schtick is that he bites women, drinks their blood, and then rapes them as well. Then he yells at them for being whores or something, because Dr. Blut is an asshole. Now, I can understand making Blut a monstrous creature, since he’s a vampire and all- but at the same time, that’s pretty much all Blut does. He says he has some ambitious plan to head up to Chicago where he’ll have more victims, but it makes you wonder just how long it took him to get his shit together to start the ball rolling in the first place. Maybe he was just waiting for the Chicago vampires to forget how much of a loser he was, or something. Being a one-note villain is somewhat of a pain, but when your one note is ‘RAPE,’ well…that’s pretty much shitty writing.

So yeah. Blut biterapes Angela, at which point Mike runs away to get some help from some of Angela’s friends: a priest (who Angela slept with, dun dun dun), a folklore professor (he’s the guy who gets eaten by demon pigs), and Angela’s roomate (who is also a witch and works as a double agent for Dr. Blut because she was in love with Angela or something?). Pretty sure there are Castlevania games with deeper plots (and better vampires) than this.

Mike and Co. prove to be fairly shitty vampire hunters, spending most of their time slogging through the snow. Angela’s roomate gets biteraped, and the folklore dude gets eaten by pigs (I dunno why I keep mentioning that), but then Mike and the Priest stake vampire-roomate (possible sexual metaphor there), at which point Dr. Blut shows up, knocks them around a bit, and then gets his throat cut by Angela when she resists his mind control. The end.

So yeah. I wasn’t expecting too much going into Blood Farm, and in that respect, it delivered. I’ll give it some points for the Iowa Gothic schtick, but a horror movie (or, er, book) is only as good as its monster- and while Blut certainly is a horrible creature, he’s just not as interesting as he could be. At least there’s that distinction between ‘good’ sex and ‘bad’ sex? It’s a slightly more mature treatment of sexuality than one would expect from this kind of sleazetastic horror novel. Just slightly, though.

You’re not missing much if you pass Blood Farm up if you ever see it on the shelves of a used bookstore. Except for the demon pigs, that is. I bet the book would’ve been more fun if it were about killer pigs instead of rapey vampires.

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