The Farm (UK: Panther Books. 1984)
Tagline: "Where Gut-Crunching,
Bone-Grinding Horror is the Only Crop."
You are a lone book buyer looking for
cheap thrills and creepy crawler terror.
You spot this one. Your heart pounds.
Your stomach feels weak. The cold/hot
sweat of excitement beads your pallid,
sunless face. You can hardly wait to get
this beauty back to your crumbling little
house at the edge of the cemetery. What a cover. It has to be the
ultimate in exploitation horror. You pay the price and palm the
book, loving that blood-red cover and thatgrotesque monster-pig
snarling at you. It's time for a trip to The Farm and you couldn't
be happier. For you know exactly what you are in store for:
flesh-eating hogs. What more could a lover of nasties and pulp
horror really want? With a near-perfect tagline pitch to entice you,
it was time to delve into what from all appearances would be the
ultimate in ghastly, gruesome and gor-fying horror.
Or was it?
Laurence James (Richard Haigh) was a highly-prolific British
author who wrote everything from biker novels to sci-fi, espionage
to post-apocalyptic thrillers. Unfortunately for us, James died in
2000. As Richard Haigh, he churned out only two nasties: The
Farm and its sequel, The City. Rumor has it there was to be a
third to complete the Pigs Trilogy, that it was actually written but
never published. The idea that it's sitting in a desk drawer
gathering dust somewhere is quite disturbing to someone like me.
When I cracked this one I was expecting full-bore,
balls-to-the-walls gore horror. What I wasn't expecting was for
Haigh to be such a damn good writer. Let's face a few unpleasant
things here for starters: a lot of the guys who knocked out these
nasties were not exactly great writers, most were just cashing in
on a craze: functionally competent with a good eye for shock
horror, but little more than that. The best among them brought
something more to the table: talent. And that's exactly what
Haigh does. This guy can fucking write! In a sub-genre where
characters tend to be cardboard cut-outs that exist only to be
devoured, Haigh has created wonderful, three-dimensional
characters. I'll be the first to admit there's sadistic streak in me
that loves to see these people get torn apart, but in The Farm I
cringed when it happened. The writing is that good.
The novel. A truck (lorry, if you rather) carrying barrels of
chemical waste--hallucinogens, metabolic agents, anesthetics,
and other nameless stuff--to be illegally dumped gets in an
accident in the Welsh hills, overturning and spilling its toxic cargo
which soaks into the earth. Underground, the chemicals combine
creating something like a hybrid chemical warfare agent that is
carried by subterranean springs to a nearby farm, filling a pond
which the animals drink out of. You can see the trouble coming
already. Back to the accident. The truck collides with a
flamboyant gay fashion designer in a sports car, some nuns in a
Morris, a school bus, and a camping trailer (caravan) and its
death on the highway. Already thumbs up to Haigh for his
amusing cast of characters.
Back to the farm. Paul Thompson, a doctor who abandoned his
Buckinghamshire practice, is living on the farm with his perky,
liberated American girlfriend. Up on holiday are his brother
Richard (a stuffy bank manager) and his wife and two children,
and their aging father and mother. Thrown into the mix is a
stiff-lipped Welsh farm manager and his slutty teenage daughter.
All of them on 200 acres of farmland with cows, geese, wild cats,
rabbits, goats, dogs, and...oh yes...127 ferocious-looking, tusked
hybrid pigs known as Buckland Whites. All of the animals drink
from the pond. The people get their water from a tanker truck that
shows once a week because of the drought. Haigh takes his time
setting up. If Shaun Hutson had written this there would be a
body count by page 20, but that's not how Haigh does it. He uses
the old Stephen King approach of developing the characters then
turning the monsters loose. And when he does, dogs kill people.
Cats eat people. Goats ram people. Geese gore people. You get
the picture. It's like Orwell's Animal Farm on Angel Dust. All of it
setting the stage for those nasty, nasty pigs that encircle the farm
and allow no one to leave and when they try:
"A Buckland White, eighteen months old, weighs something over
two hundreds and forty pounds. As the girl fell one of them
squealed angrily, stepping on her outstretched hand. Cracking the
bones of the back of her wrist, snapping fingers like breadsticks.
The animal stumbled, rolling half on top of the child, breaking her
ribs, the splintered ends of bone tearing into her lungs.
She tried to scream. Really tried, but she was choking. Drowning
on her own life-blood as it flooded into her nose and mouth.
Then the rest of the pigs closed in, pushing at each other in their
frenzy to taste blood and meat."
Or as another young lady discovers to her horror:
"The creatures were both pulling at the same arm, tearing at it
until it was attached only by stretched sinew to the shoulder. One
of the Bucklands let go and went to root under the shattered
rib-cage of the teenager, emerging with the loops of greasy
intestines, yellow and fouled, tangled about it snout."
Yes, nature has surely gone berserk and our cast of characters
are trapped by the marauding animals. The characters lives are
wonderfully intertwined and seem real. Some are likeable and
some--like the farm manager, Pentecost, with his perverted
relationship with his daughter--are not. They die in great numbers
and you're sad to see them go. Who survives the onslaught?
Read this one and find out!
Pros: This book is loaded with them. From the characters to the
plot to the smooth, professional writing, this is a keeper.
Cons: The only slight criticism I can give this one is mere on the
three G's scale: Ghastly, Gruesome, and Gor-ifying. I would have
liked to see more bloody carnage. Those pigs are ugly, fearsome
Overall: Great read. Definitely worth your time. I look forward to
the sequel. I wish Haigh (James) had lived longer for, of course,
the sake of his family and friends, but also so I could have
interviewed him about his interesting career and
particularly...these pigs. The third book was rumored to unleash
the pigs in Australia...does it still exist?? We can only hope...
Four bloody skulls out of five (and only because I wanted more
For our next Guilty Pleasure we get all wet:
"Don't go near the water!"