Venom (1981)

OCTOBER 26, 2008


When I see Oliver Reed or Klaus Kinski in the cast list for a movie, I know that if nothing else, it will have some glorious scenery chewing. I see them BOTH in the list, I expect greatness. And with a killer snake in the mix, there was no reason to believe that Venom would be anything but amazing. Sadly, that is far from the case; I think the 2005 Venom (the voodoo zombie killer in the swamp movie) was more exciting.

Part of the problem is that it’s not even really a killer snake movie. It’s a siege movie, a la Desperate Hours, with the snake being more of a plot complication than a plotline. Other than the occasional “POV” shot of the thing roaming the heating ducts, it’s pretty much MIA for like 45 minutes straight. Come on now.

Still, it wouldn’t be so much of a problem if Kinski and Reed were allowed to cut loose, but the two of them are more or less subdued throughout the movie. Reed fares a bit better, since he gets to shout at a little kid for no reason (his repeating “He’s a cheeky little bastard!” over and over is the movie’s highlight), blow away a cop, and of course, drink. Actually I’m not sure if he actually gets the drink; after offering every hard alcohol in the book to a hostage, he opens the liquor cabinet and the snake makes a rare cameo. No one dies as a result, but the cabinet is knocked over, so I guess no booze for him!

Kinski, on the other hand, is pretty bland. His showdown with the snake is pretty awesome, but otherwise his role mainly consists of standing around and telling Reed to stay calm or whatever. Why get such a legendary nutjob to play a generic villain? Hilariously/sadly enough, he turned down a role in Raiders of the Lost Ark (presumably, not Indy) for this forgotten and dull movie.

And what’s with director Piers Haggard's obsession with stills in this movie? Several establishing shots are just still images, and other shots are lengthened as the camera will pan to something and then inexplicably freeze. Worse is when the snake attacks Reed; they cut to his perfectly still feet as the snake crawls on the shoe. One can assume he is “frozen in fear” or whatever, but even then there would be SOME motion in the damn things. Couldn’t a PA or a grip have shaken the leg a bit from off camera? The snake is also rather unanimated; it looks so fake at times it’s a wonder they bothered ever using a real one.

Strange for a British film, it’s not very amusing either. There’s one funny part in the film’s final act, when a cop is preparing to enter the home. He argues about goggles and explains why he can’t bring a shotgun; it’s very dry and amusing. But otherwise it’s pretty humorless. Since the movie doesn’t deliver on the horror front, the Brits picked a bad time to play it straight.

One good thing is Michael Kamen’s score. He rarely did horror films, and while it often doesn’t match what’s occurring on screen (its all ominous before anything bad is even hinted at), there’s still a lot to enjoy about it. He is best known (to me) for his Die Hard and Lethal Weapon scores, but he also did The Dead Zone, another great and underrated horror score. Apparently his Venom score wasn’t released on CD, which is a damn shame. A further shame, he died a few years ago, depriving us of having him score Die Hard Faux, which would have been the highlight of that film as well (Marco Beltrami was hardly a suitable replacement).

The DVD has a commentary by Haggard. It’s pretty fascinating at times, as he mainly just talks about how everyone on the movie hated each other; in particular Kinski and Reed (not a big surprise, given their legendary egos). He also talks about how he came in after Tobe Hooper was fired. All that, plus the frequent silence, results in a commentary in which you learn more about behind the scenes drama than onscreen action. It’s the only extra of note, but since the three primary stars are dead, I can’t say I’m surprised.

In closing, I would like to ask: can someone PLEASE make a good killer snake movie? Right now my top pick is Anaconda fucking 2.

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. when i first saw this i thought it was 2005 venom, which I actually enjoyed

    never heard of this one


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