During the late 1970's and early 1980's, just as filmmakers were finding new and exciting uses for humans as predatory machines, there was an explosion of nature-run-amuck themed films in which animals of all shapes and sizes went medieval on mankind's collective arse. Whether it be frogs, ants, spiders, grizzly bears, or a angry baboon with a rubber mallet, horror films became a sort of Animal Planet for the snuff film set. While every critter had it's day in the sun, it seemed that one in particular proved extremely popular and very adept at scaring the pants off of pretty much everyone; the oft-maligned serpent. Piers Haggard's Venom, an exciting and very well made hybrid kidnapping drama/horror flick, features just such an antagonist in the guise of the world's fastest and deadliest snake-the dreaded........KLAUS KINSKI!!
The son of a wealthy hotel magnate (Holcomb) is left in the care of his adventurous grandfather (Hayden) and the family's hired help, Louise and Dave(George and Reed), when his mother heads off to meet her husband in Italy. Louise and Dave have been conspiring to kidnap the boy for a king's ransom, and have planned their entire operation around the mother's trip. When Jacmel (Kinski), Louise's lover and the brains behind the operation, arrives to take the boy away, he finds that little Philip has left by taxi to pick up a new pet that his grandfather had ordered for him; an African house snake. When Philip returns, Louise tells him that Jacmel is there to take him to see his grandfather, but Philip insists that he put his new pet away before he goes. When Louise opens the box, Philip's "harmless" pet bites her repeatedly and slithers away into the walls. Jacmel, Dave and Grandpa rush in to discover Louise quickly succumbing to the effects of a poisenous snake bite, courtesy of a screw-up at the pet shop. It seems Philip's harmless house snake was sent to a local venom research facility, while he got their intended parcel; a deadly Black Mamba! When the lab reports the switch, a police officer pays visit to Philip's home hoping to get the snake before it hurts the boy, but is instead greeted by a shotgun blast to the chest by the trigger happy Dave. The police surround the home, trapping the kidnappers and their hostages in the house with the stealthy serpent.
Venom is a goofy yet extremely fun flick that is actually more of a crackling hostage drama than horror film, and that's probably why it works so well. The story focuses more on the kidnappers and their gradual disintegration under pressure than on the snake that's making the rounds about the house, and I rather like the limited use of the creature as a sort of "wild card" element in the overall plot. This lets Kinski, Reed, and Nicol Williamson, as the police commander/negotiator, chew up great chunks of scenery as the poisenous guest assumes more of a supporting role. I also appreciated Haggard's use of a REAL snake as opposed to some crap animatronic creation or rubber toy on a string that we've come to expect from this sub-genre (although in the film's rather pitiful finale, we do get one of those!).
The DVD from the folks at Blue Underground features a fantastic widescreen anamorphic transfer that's simply pristine. I'd seen Venom many times on television and video and it's never looked as sharp and vibrant as it does here. The audio has also been given a 21st century facelift, with three options; the original 2.0 stereo track, a 5.1 DTS track, and a 6.1 DTS track for all of the cutting egde audiophiles out there. I opted for the 5.1 track and it sounds fantastic.
Blue Underground is notorious for digging up extras for even the most obscure films, and this one is no exception. We get a terrifically entertaining audio commentary by director Piers Haggard, theatrical trailer, television promo spots, a poster and stills gallery, and talent files on the principal cast and crew.
Venom is a guilty pleasure. It's got a bit of a thin premise and loose grasp on reality (snakes are one of nature's more relaxed predators, no matter what species, and would more than likely coil up in a wall and stay there for a year rather than attack something it couldn't fit in it's mouth), but the all-star cast, fast pace, and taut script by Robert Carrington lend to our suspension of disbelief nicely. I had a blast with this one!