Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Venom (1981)

I’m just going to jump in and proclaim VENOM the greatest killer-snake movie of all time (I would not be surprised to learn about some crazy Asian snake flick that makes VENOM look as sedate as a Mitch Miller concert). Much of its value comes from its cast, which includes some of the acting profession’s most notorious troublemakers. You’d have to be nuts to cast Klaus Kinski (SCHIZOID), Oliver Reed (SITTING TARGET), Sterling Hayden (THE LONG GOODBYE), and Nicol Williamson (THE EXORCIST III) in the same movie. When original director Tobe Hooper (THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE) was fired a few days into production, it may have saved his sanity.

Piers Haggard (THE FIENDISH PLOT OF DR. FU MANCHU) was a rapid replacement for Hooper, but to his credit, none of VENOM’s backstage shenanigans show up on the screen. It’s a neat little thriller with a unsettling premise that should affect you whether you’re afraid of garter snakes or let your pet python crawl freely around your home. Kinski leads a band of kidnappers after the asthmatic grandson of wealthy hunter Hayden. Kinski’s conspirators include family chauffeur Reed and the boy’s nanny Susan George (MANDINGO), Kinski’s lover who uses her wiles to keep muscle-headed Reed toeing the line.

It goes to show no matter how intricate your plan, you can’t think of everything. Such as a black mamba, the world’s most vicious and poisonous snake, getting loose in the house. Hey, it could happen. With Williamson’s laconic police inspector and his men surrounding the house, the kidnappers, Hayden, snake expert Sarah Miles (RYAN’S DAUGHTER), and the boy are trapped inside with a killer that could literally be almost anywhere — inside the air vents, behind a curtain, hiding in a dark corner. Yikes.

For a last-minute director pulled from the ranks of British television, Haggard does a remarkable job keeping the suspense high and your rear end on the edge of your seat. VENOM is a very good thriller, thanks to its wily direction, stellar cast, and creepy cinematography by Gilbert Taylor (STAR WARS), who keeps the camera close to accentuate the claustrophobia that enhances the characters’ fear.


Unknown said...

I actually saw Venom in a theater - honest.

Two things I recall:

- Early in the movie, a short, squat, gravel-voiced landlady takes delivery of the Snake, quite unaware of its negative tenant potential.
I recognized her as Rita Webb, at the time a frequent player on The Benny Hill Show, which had then just broken through in the USA.
From the response of the theater audience, I'd say I wasn't the only one.

- When the next edition of Leonard Maltin's Guide came out, Venom scored a BOMB rating.
As near as I can recall, this immortal line appeared in the review:
... Half of the highly-paid cast appears to be drunk; the other half looks like it wishes it were.
In subsequent years, this review has been rewritten (toned down, actually), but that original is hard to forget ...

Felicity Walker said...

Not to be confused with Spasms, also an early 1980s killer snake movie, also starring Oliver Reed, but made in Canada, with such Canadian stars as Al Waxman.