One of my favorite things about the horror genre is the diversity of its antagonists. The killers of our favorite movies come in all shapes and sizes. There are the brooding villains from the slasher films, supernatural entities that haunt and hunt their prey alike. Hell, there are even killer gingerbread men and murdering puppets! However, among all of these, some of my favorite films are those that utilize nature’s various killers. You know, films like Jaws, Shakma, Rogue, etc. Add to that list of rampant animal killers Piers Haggard’s 1981 flick, Venom.
A trio of criminals plan to take a young asthmatic boy from his home as a hostage in a grander scheme. A mix up at Mr. Loewenthal’s pet store and an unexpected visit from the police department throw a huge wrench into the whole plan, however. Now, trapped inside of the house with the world’s most poisonous snake and armed officers outside, can the three escape unscathed?
Although I feel strongly that the 80’s are certainly the golden age of horror cinema, I am still always weary of first-time watches from that era. I enjoy most films that I’ve seen from the time, but we all know there are some really terrible ones out there, as well. Still, after reading the synopsis for Venom, I just knew I had to give it a fair shot. And I’m glad I did!
Venom features an amazingly talented cast of performers, some familiar and some faces I’ve never seen. I’ve now watched Klaus Kinski in a few roles and am convinced the man is the perfect villain, whether he’s playing a nazi, a vampire, or just your run-of-the-mill underworld criminal, as he does here. By his side is Oliver Reed (The Brood, The House of Usher), Nicol Williamson (The Exorcist III), and ten-year-old Lance Holcomb (Christmas Evil). All of these actors, along with the rest of the cast, really did do a wonderful job on screen together, even if they couldn’t get along when the cameras were off. According to director Piers Haggard, working with the cast was like working with an entire nest of venomous snakes, as opposed to just the one mamba!
What could make a movie that stars Klaus Kinski as the ‘bad guy’ even better? Oh, I know, a killer snake! Sure, Venom is a great heist/kidnapping/hostage flick, but what really makes it an attraction to genre and horror fans is the inclusion of the world’s fastest and deadliest snake, the black mamba. Having that slithery stalker hiding in the house the entire time really heightened the level of suspense and luckily it was not over-utilized; When the reptile finally came into the scene, it was very welcome and viewers just know right away they are in for some gruesome stuff.
Most of the time, the audience is treated to a real snake. While there are a few scenes where a fake one is present, it doesn’t really take away from the suspense or tension that has been developed up until any specific moment. The use of the real snake, coupled with some neat cinematography with warped imagery to get into the POV of the snake itself was really great to see for a film from 1981. In fact, I’m sure that if Venom had been done today, there would be no real snake involved at all, just some crappy CGI stuff that every and all horror fans would loathe. Yuck.
Overall, Venom is a great watch. The script is well-developed, the acting is top-notch, and the reptilian kills are a treat to see. I recommend watching it just for Kinski’s final scene with the snake, alone. That one scene is a true testament to how great a performer the man really was.
I’ve mentioned it before, but it is worth noting again — Last year, every distribution company seemed to step up their home release game. There were so many amazing collector edition releases chock full of extras from everybody. Blue Underground was no different. Their release of Venom includes two discs (Blu-ray and DVD), reversible sleeve art, and a bonus collectible booklet with artwork from the film’s shoot and writing from Fangoria editor Michael Gingold. The release is available now, so be sure to grab a copy and add it to your collection!
This film gets a final Repulsive Rating of 4 cheeky little bastards out of 5.