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Old 07-22-2004, 05:56 AM
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Default Venom

Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: July 21, 2004

Released by: Blue Underground
Release date: 9/27/2003
MSRP: $19.95
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes

Tobe Hooper will always be remembered for reshaping horror with his masterpiece, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but after several film disappointments, Hooper would come to be known for the films he didnít direct. In 1982 there were three. The first was E.T., which Spielberg had asked Hooper to direct. Hooper declined because of scheduling conflicts with The Funhouse. The next was another Spielberg film, Poltergeist, which many claim that Spielberg took over directing due to creative differences. The third film Hooper right out abandoned, due to what some claim to be a nervous breakdown. That film was Venom, and is now being released on DVD by the house that Lustig built. Released to poor business in í82, was Hooper right for leaving this star-studded snake picture? Letís scale the vaults, shall we?

The Story

inline Image A beautiful maid, an explosive chauffer and a sly terrorist. Together, the three conspire to execute the perfect crime. The maid (Susan George) will kidnap a rich manís son, while the chauffer (Oliver Reed) provides the getaway vehicle and the terrorist (Klaus Kinski) implements the ransom negotiation. A snake is literally thrown into their plan, as the little boy unsuspectingly brings home a deadly black mamba. Thinking it was only a house pet, the boy loosely cages the killer snake in a room with all his other animals. When the boy goes to cage the snake, the plans are thwarted when the boyís grandfather (Sterling Hayden) returns home earlier than expected. The band of outsiders decide to stage the kidnapping inside the house, and hold the boy and his grandfather hostage. Although the Anderson family may be captiveÖsomething else roams free.

inline Image Amidst all the chaos, the snake has broken free. It roams the house, picking off the unsuspecting home dwellers one by one. Meanwhile the criminals attempt to strike a deal with a stern cop (Nicol Williamson), asking for money, transportation and freedom. Will the group last long enough to get their reward, or will the black mamba usher forth a white hot night of hate?

inline Image Venom is a weird hybrid of a film; part crime thriller and part animal attack picture, it ends up becoming a whole lot of nothing. Picked up by director Piers Haggard after Hooper left a mere week into production, Venom subsequently feels very rushed and unpolished. Haggard confesses to not have had much time to plan, and as a result the story is one vague and inconsistent mess. Although the title would suggest that it is a snake film, the mamba is really only a plot device to add danger to the attempted crime. It helps kill some of the baddies every time there is a lull in the action, and distorted point of view shots help inject the otherwise static camera shots with some life. Despite this, the snake really is only a secondary element in what is otherwise a crime picture.

inline Image With the crime element the focal point of the film, the story is paramount to creating suspense, as the success of the picture resides on the intrigue of the crime itself. The crime is, however, dull and uninvolving, and surprisingly underdeveloped. A thin line of ambiguity runs through the whole film, as it is often unclear what Kinski and Reed are up to, who they are, how they know each other, or what this kidnapping means to them. There is a lot of sitting around, and often it seems as if the captives are not really captive at all, as grandpa roams the house looking for snakes and the boy just kind of works on generating every shocked expression imaginable. For a crime picture, it is odd at how little urgency or care is put into the story or the characters. It doesnít matter whether or not they get the ransom, since everyone knows that the snake will kill them all off in the end anyway.

inline Image I neglected using character names in the plot description, because I honestly could not remember a single one. The characters are so shallow and underdeveloped; they are basically reduced to thin character archetypes (the maid, the chauffer, the cop, etc.). No back story is given to try to develop them, so there is really little reason at all to care. Not even a strong cast can elevate these characters out of shallow triteness. Reed and Kinski have such awful chemistry (Haggard says in the commentary how they did not get along on set), always seeming to cringe as the other delivers a line. Such repulsion is detrimental to a film where the two leads spend almost the entire film in the same room. The other actors are not much better, all seeming aloof in a script devoid of characterization. Susan George can only look pretty (and she is a long way from her Straw Dogs days), Sterling Hayden can only look old, and everyone else just looks bored. For a movie so dull, such a sterling cast should have been the only saving grace. It isnít, and seeing great actors like Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski wasted is a real shame.

inline Image Made in a time where extreme visual style and graphic gore was dominating the horror movement, Venom seems totally out of place. There is virtually no gore effects, and the story is directed with such a 1950ís sensibility that really makes it seem years more outdated than it really is. Rather than gore driven, it is plot driven, but with a crime story as drab as Venomís, that just doesnít cut it. A year later Oliver Reed would star in the Canadian-made snakesploitation picture, Spasms, and while not perfect, it was everything that Venom was not. It made the most of its B-movie character actors (Reed and Peter Fonda), featured fine make-up by Dick Smith, and one big, bad and brutal snake. Watch it instead of VenomÖVenom bites.

Image Quality

As per usual, Blue Underground has delivered another fine transfer for a film far less deserving. Venom is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and looks very sharp. For a moderately dark film, the black levels and overall picture are very deep. In those scenes in the house, where shadows engulf Hayden as he seeks out the snake or Reed and Kinsi while they banter, the shadows look thankfully noir. The transfer is very clean and almost entirely without blemish. Genre releases just donít get much better transfers than this.


Blue Underground gives the film DTS ES 6.1, Dolby Digital EX 5.1 and Dolby Surround 2.0 mixes, and all sound good, if not particularly different. There are a few noises and sounds that get pushed to the rears, but generally things stay up front. Michael Kamenís uncharacteristically banal score comes off very clearly, and gets some good use in the back as well. Whether you have the full 6.1 setup or not, Venom sounds good, if not great, no matter how you hear it.

Supplemental Material

inline Image While not a packed disc, there are still some good supplements that pepper this disc. The first is a commentary by director Piers Haggard and moderator Jonothon Sothcott. Both are extremely English, and wry tone accompanies the entire track. While Haggard does divulge some vague facts about Tobe Hooperís involvement and the acting clashes on set, he never really goes into much detail, and as a result the track is a bit of a tease. Haggard has to be provoked to give out any information, and even when he does it lacks specificity. The two do enjoy themselves however, and even if the track isnít particularly interesting or informative, at least it is friendly.

The other supplements are mostly promotional material. A dull theatrical trailer is included, as well as four TV spots, and a poster and still gallery. The most notable thing about the gallery is the press kit, which includes cast bios on all the actors including even the black mamba! The final extra, but undoubtedly the best, are the two comprehensive talent bios for Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski. So much more than just poor IMDb listings, these two essays give a wealth of background on these two great actors. Choice quotes and some truly fascinating history make up the bios. They make for a couple great reads, and it is with great hope that Blue Underground continues to add this feature to their future releases.

Final Thoughts

Venom is a limp and boring film, made all the worse by a completely wasted cast of genre veterans. In the realm of snake pictures, this one ranks near the bottom. The video transfer by the Blue ranks near the top, however. With a solid accompanying audio track, and a few worthwhile supplements, Blue Undergroundís DVD certainly is no slouch. Tobe Hooper was right to distance himself from the film, but fans will want to slither up close to this DVD.


Movie Ė D+
Image Quality Ė A
Sound Ė B+
Supplements Ė B-

Technical Info.
  • Running Time - 1 hour 32 minutes
  • Color
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English DTS ES 6.1
  • English Dolby Digital EX 5.1
  • English Dolby Surround 2.0
  • Commentary with director Piers Haggard and Jonothon Sothcott
  • Theatrical trailer
  • TV spots
  • Poster and still gallery
  • Talent bios


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