Death Farm Film Revisited

A few years ago I wrote about a disturbing farm safety film I’d watched when I was at school.

At the time my memory was little hazy, but I remembered it being a really sinister and gruesome story of a group of children who visit a farm, and one by one, they all die.

Well, I finally tracked down the film in question. It’s called “Apaches” and Wikipedia describes it as “one of the most notorious public information films of all time.”

It’s a British film and dates from 1977 and appears to have been shown extensively in British schools throughout the ’70s and ’80s, leading to a whole generation of grown-ups who were traumatised by it.

It’s available in its entirety on YouTube, but I feel like I should advise viewer discretion: children get killed, and horribly. When the little girl wakes up in the night after having swallowed poison earlier in the day, man, I don’t ever want to hear that scream again.

I still can’t believe that a) this was shown to me when I was about six years old, and b) they thought it would be relevant to New Zealand children living in what was essentially a rural suburb of Hamilton.

So, as a pre-Halloween treat, here is Apaches on YouTube.

Update: There’s a hilarious fake trailer for “Apaches Redux” and a music video that sets more joyful clips from “Apaches” to Roxy Music’s “Virginia Plain” but ends with The Scream That Should Never Be Heard.

The music guy

When I was in standard three this guy came to my school to teach us about music. Our teacher introduced him then he walked up to the blackboard and drew a squiggle up the top, stood in front of it and asked, “what am I?”

There was silence.

The nerd girl thought and made a suggestion. “A music instructor?”

“Well, yes, I am, but what else am I?”

Another student suggested, “a musician?”

The music guy was getting a little impatient.”Well yes, but what I’m trying to get at is, um, look at what I’ve written on the blackboard and where I’m standing. Can you work out what I am?”

One of the bad-ass boys up the back suggested, “a dork?” The classroom erupted in giggles. Our teacher told us to settle down.

The music guy sighed and said, “this symbol is called a rest. It’s used to written music to show a rest. So when I stand here I’m under a rest. Under arrest!” The class groaned.

The bad-ass boy had been completely correct. The music guy was a dork.

Death Farm Film

I lived on a farm. I didn’t like it and craved concrete not grass under my feet, but that’s another story. This story is about the farm safety film I watched at school once.

Matangi was only about ten minutes drive from Hamilton. It was more like a rural suburb of Hamilton than actual proper country living. Most of the people who lived there had what are called lifestyle properties. Ten acres, some cows some sheep and pony. I think there was only one actual dairy farm in the area. Most people who lived in Matangi had office jobs in Hamilton.

So one day at school – I think I would have been about six years old – my class was ushered into the library, the black curtains drawn and the projector was started up to show us a film about farm safety.

The basic plot was that a bunch of American kids all go to someone’s farm in America for a party and they all end up dead. It sounds like a horror film, right (“Death Farm,” perhaps)? It pretty much was a horror film, designed to scare its audience into observing farm safety.

I’m a bit hazy on exactly what happened in the film, but I can remember the following incidents:

  • The kids were sitting around pretending to be Native Americans, passing a bowl and pretending to drink from it. The bowl was filled with some sort of poison, like weedkiller or something, which is why they didn’t actually drink from it. Except one girl did! She didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to actually drink from it, took a sip, said it tasted horrible and died!
  • There was a big silo filled with grain and this kid dressed as a cowboy had somehow jumped into it. He began to sink down into the grain. Soon he was totally under the grain, with only his cowboy hat remaining on top as a tragic reminder.
  • One of the kids decided to go for a ride on a tractor and couldn’t reach the brake or something and ended up driving off the path, and rolled down a hill where he died!
  • Near the milking shed there was a big pit full of cow poo. One of the kids was probably doing something like running around or playing on the milking shed equipment, slipped and drowned in the giant pit o’ poo!

Whenever one of these unfortunate youngsters died there’d always be a shot of a sad-looking mother making their bed or doing something to show that little Jimmy wasn’t around anymore.

Of course it’s all pretty crazy. I mean what kind of irresponsible parent lets their young child invite a bunch of friends over to their farm, leaves them totally unsupervised resulting in a series of deaths?

What’s even crazier is that my six and seven year old classmates and I were shown this film. I’m pretty sure that if something like this were to be shown in a cinema it would have a rating that would not allow kids that young to see it.

But the best part is that there wasn’t much in the film that was relevant to us. We lived in a rural area, but we were living like suburban kids. Watching TV or playing with Barbie dolls was a more likely after school activity than swallowing weedkiller. The film was really for kids who live on really big farms, whose parents would be farmers, not, say, accountants or managers.

I’m sure my teacher thought she was doing something really good by showing the death farm film, but it was really spectacularly irrelevant. I still do this day do not know anyone with a giant pit of cow poo.

Update: I found out that the film is called Apaches, and is responsible for traumatising an entire generation of children!

Feel My Serpentine

When I was 14 my English teacher was pretty cool. She was probably only a couple of years out of teachers college, young, hip and had a kind of punk hair style.

She decided that instead of getting us to analyse poems instead we’d be allowed to bring along our favourite songs and analyse those.

This sort of thing can cause problems – a couple of years later when my brother was doing the same thing he took along an NWA tape and the teacher started playing “Fuck the Police” until she heard the lyrics and quickly stopped it.

There’s also the problem that many songs 14-year-olds are into don’t have many meaningful lyrics. I remember reading the lyrics to various popular songs in Smash Hits. Many times there’d be things like this:

Ride on time (x8)
Wo-oah
(Ad lib to fade)

But after sorting through the selection of tapes that my classmates had brought along, my teacher decided on one that she thought would work. It was “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns ‘n’ Roses. A track off their recently released album “Appetite for Destruction,” it was a favourite amongst the metallers in my class.

She put the tape on and we listened to the first verse:

Welcome to the jungle
We’ve got fun ‘n’ games
We got everything you want
Honey, we know the names
We are the people that can find
Whatever you may need
If you got the money, honey
We got your disease

The first question she asked was if we knew what the jungle was. There was a bit of discussion, someone suggested that the jungle represented society, and most people agreed with this. Then someone else suggested that maybe it was drugs, and the class was more or less split between society and drugs. It was time for the chorus:

In the jungle
Welcome to the jungle
Watch it bring you to your knees, knees
I wanna watch you bleed

It was decided that this meant that society and/or drugs, which had previously wanted to be nice to you, now wanted to be nasty and see you suffer. Things were still a bit vague, so we moved onto the next verse:

Welcome to the jungle
We take it day by day
If you want it you’re gonna bleed
But it’s the price you pay
And you’re a very sexy girl
That’s very hard to please
You can taste the bright lights
But you won’t get them for free

It seemed that this verse was directed towards a female. This could that symbolise that the jungle/drugs/society was a male and the thing it was talking to was a female, or it could be a specific man and woman, like Axl Rose and his girlfriend.

Things got a bit awkward when it came to analysing the line “you’re a very sexy girl”. The jungle/society/drugs was obviously judging her outward appearance. But things got more hectic with the next chorus:

In the jungle
Welcome to the jungle
Feel my, my, my serpentine
I, I wanna hear you scream

It was that line, “feel my serpentine”. What was a serpentine? There was that river in London, and it could also mean something like a snake. But he wanted her to feel it, he wanted her to feel his snake-like thing. He wanted her to feel his… er, time for another verse.

Welcome to the jungle
It gets worse here everyday
You learn to live like an animal
In the jungle where we play
If you got a hunger for what you see
You’ll take it eventually
You can have anything you want
But you better not take it from me

The mention of living like an animal (a serpentine?) was impressive as it took the jungle metaphor one step further. But unlike a real jungle that might be ok to live in, this one got worse every day. It was interesting that the jungle was enticing the possible female, but also letting her know that she couldn’t have anything from it.

And when you’re high you never
Ever want to come down

This worked strongly in favour of the jungle-as-drugs supporters, but the jungle-as-society crew pointed out that high didn’t have to mean high on drugs. High society, perhaps?

You know where you are
You’re in the jungle baby
You’re gonna die

This could mean that the female person/metaphor had overdosed on drugs/society. But if it was drugs, why would drugs want a person to die? Wouldn’t the drugs want a person to stick around so they could take more drugs? Or would that only be a drug dealer. Wait, maybe the jungle was a drug dealer? The chorus was repeated again, then the song ended with:

In the jungle
Welcome to the jungle
Watch it bring you to your
It’s gonna bring you down-HA!

Ok, so there’s this person who might be a woman or it might be something that is being symbolised as a woman and she’s being talked to by the jungle who might be drugs or society or possibly a drug dealer, and is probably male. The jungle wants her to have a good time, but says she’s going to die. He also thinks she is sexy and wants her to feel his serpentine.

By the time the bell rang I’m not sure we were really sure what the song was about. But the important thing is that the ability to analyse pop song lyrics has stuck with me. When I’m sitting around watching music videos and there’s that boy band singing, “you’re making it hard for me,” I know exactly what they mean.

My First Rant

When I was 14, I had to write a speech for English. I was going to do mine on names, and it was going to be like, “isn’t it funny how certain types of people are called Trevor!”. But when I went to write it I got writer’s block (or perhaps I was blocking myself from writing crap?).

I sat down at the dining room table and tried to write the speech. I got the title and one sentence on topic before I launched into a diatribe about how the world was doomed.

This was 1989, before the Berlin Wall came down, when there was still a bit of nuclear fear and also at the beginning of when being enviromentally friendly was in vogue. That, coupled with standard 14-year-old girl angst, made for an interesting outpouring.

I showed it to my dad, as a sort of “Ha, see, I am completely incapable of writing a speech!” gesture. He read it and said it was good and I should use it as my speech. I was shocked. I couldn’t do that! It was too controversial! It had “piss” in it!

In the end I wrote a forgettable speech about names and presented that. But I kept my enviro-rant. Here it is.

NAMES

Everyone has a name. But why should I care. So everyone has a name. Big buzz. I suppose that would turn some idiots on, but it leaves me quite bored. This whole speech idea is boring. What I’m trying to say is how am I supposed to write a stupid speech when no one at any point in my life has told me how to write a speech.

It’s like trying to factorise a2 + 5 – 6 when you don’t know what factorising is, or writing about the GNP of Chad, when the only Chad you know is a movie actor. It’s unrealistic. I won’t say it’s not fair because (and I quote) “Nothing in life is fair”. It’s ridiculous, stupid, foolish, immature and dumb.

The guidelines I was given are about as useful as an empty bottle of Twink. The only think you can do with it is to pour hot water in a jug, put it in and melt it, although the notes would only get wet, so it would be better to throw it out. No re-cycling would be environmentally better.

Speaking (or writing?) of the environment, what really pisses me off is when people, when asked what they are doing to save the earth from complete destruction, say something really weak like “Oh I use a pump action hairspray”. Using pump action instead of CFCs won’t stop the world from being destroyed. If you really really really really really really really care about the earth and the fact that you might not live to see tomorrow, then using a pump action hairspray is a rather stupid excuse.

Just imagine 100 years later, the world is almost destroyed and future generations will look back and say “Oh gee look my great-great grandmother used a pump action hair spray. Well at least she isn’t going to die of skin cancer/radiation sickness (etc)” It is really sick.

Personally, at the rate things are going at, I don’t really think that any one could save the world from becoming an uninhabited round ball floating round the universe with Venus, Saturn, Mercury, Pluto, Mars Uranus Neptune and Jupiter. What use will all the progress man has made over all the years, the pain man has suffered will be suffered for nothing, the triumph that man has gained will be nothing.

One million dollars will have the same value as a handful of dirt.

At the moment man is literally committing suicide. Like smoking at first there are no immediate signs, but later the damage happens, but by then its too late to do ANYTHING to change it. The earth is unique. There is NO other planet in the known universe that has life as earth does. Instead of countries spending millions trying to get men to go to Mars, they should be spending on saving this planet that is doomed for destruction.

This is my speech.

Undesirable

From the New Zealand Herald, 28 June 1999

“Takapuna Grammar, on the Auckland North Shore, has banned students from bringing cellphones, because of fears they will interrupt classes, distract students and encourage contact with undesirable influences, such as drug suppliers.”

When I read it I laughed. I don’t specifically know what the students at Takapuna Grammar are like, but I’m guessing they are probably just normal teenagers. Apparently their school thinks that cellphones are going to mess them up.

So what, the teachers can’t do what movie theatres do and request that students turn their phones off before coming to class? And if your phone does rings during class then your teacher gets to confiscate it for a day or something. Is that too hard?

What do they think, the students are going to take calls in the middle of class with everyone else listening?

And I laughed even more at the “contact with undesirable influences” comment. Ringing up drug dealers? I think someone had been watching too many Hughes brothers films. Like some guy’s going to ring up in the middle of maths and order a vial of crack.

And y’know, when I was at high school I don’t think anyone had a cellphone, and people still managed to get drugs.

Oh wait, it’s not even the buying of drugs on the phone (“Yeah, stick it on my dad’s Visa”) that is the concern, it’s the undesirable influence of the drug suppliers. Like this:

[Ring ring]
Drug Supplier: Hello, Nasty Neil’s 24/7 Drug Emporium. Neil speaking.
Student: Hi, it’s Chris here from Takapuna Grammar. I would like to buy some marijuana cigarettes, please.
Drug Supplier: Drop out of school, do lots of drugs, steal things, scare old ladies, do wheelies in public parks and generally have no respect for authority.
Student: Ok, cool. Thanks.
Drug Supplier: Bye.

The negative effects of cellphones are being highly inflated and the positive effects aren’t even being looked at. Gee, what out of character behaviour that is coming from school administrators!

For a young man or woman, especially one who does not have their own means of transport, a cellphone can be a very useful tool and can offer a certain degree of security and freedom.

And it saves them using the school’s phone which costs the school 4 cents per minute.