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January 11, 2013

Midnight Movie of the Week #158 - Venom

If you're like me, you've probably seen a lot of hammy performances in snake-centric horror movies. But there's a chance you haven't seen the most talented cast to ever ham their way through a snake flick, the cast assembled by maligned horror legend Tobe Hooper for Venom - a film that he quit directing early in production.  So, we can add this one to the list of horror films that Hooper "kind of" directed, can't we?
Pieced together by British director Piers Haggard in Hooper's absence, Venom is a film whose existence is completely bizarre.  You can probably recognize that thanks to the premise, in which a bunch of kidnappers (Klaus Kinski, Susan George, and Oliver Reed) take a young boy as a hostage without knowing that the boy happens to be carrying a deadly Black Mamba snake. That snake is soon released into the house where they are holding said hostage, and that's just the icing on the cake for how weird this movie can be.
For starters, there's the cast of wonderful European genre stars that has been thrown together haphazardly.  It's been reported that Kinski and Reed, known as two of the most volatile men in cinema history, feuded with each other throughout filming. Some of the arguments between their characters on screen feel a little too real, and stare downs between the sinister and cold Kinski and the loud and booming Reed often feel quite uncomfortable, even from the comfort of a distant living room.  Kinski may have had some reason to be angry during filming, as he took the lead here over an offer to play a villain role in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Most reports say this was a monetary choice by the actor, but Kinski also wrote in his autobiography that the script for Raiders was "moronically shitty." Most actors would probably want that choice back, especially when they instead chose a movie whose own trailer proclaims it to be about "the kidnap that became a murder that became a siege that became a deathtrap." (Seriously, click play on that trailer at the bottom here. Outstanding.)
Also appearing in the film, in his final big screen role, is Sterling Hayden as the kidnapped boy's grandfather. Hayden, a veteran of no less than The Godfather and Dr. Strangelove (and Kubrick's The Killing, my personal favorite of his films), kind of looks like that grandpa from Silent Night, Deadly Night who ended up being the face of Chessmaster at this point in his career. Still, he's a good actor who adds a bit of pathos to the film while playing the "cool" grandpa to our animal loving kid.  It's good to see him going toe to toe with the villains one last time; in fact, the film in general plays best when these powerful actors - also joined by Excalibur's Nicol Williamson as a police officer dealing with the kidnapping - are playing off each other. There's far more shouting than any movie deserves, and these actors seem to relish the opportunity to make the angriest kidnappers-and-a-snake movie of all-time.
You could argue that this cast and this kidnapping plot would be fascinating enough - though you can see that the production was a bit of a trainwreck at times - even without the real and deadly Black Mamba slithering about the set.  Haggard was actually quoted as saying that the snake was "the nicest person on set" - another damning comment on this production - but it's still the twist on the normal crime film recipe that makes Venom so random and unique.  You won't find a lot of chills thanks to the snake's presence, but the film's wacky personality creates plenty of tension as we realize a strike could at any moment make these angry men yell even more loudly at each other. (And its probably telling that the noted alcoholic Reed, who yells louder than anyone else in the film, gets his biggest scare when the snake is hiding in a liquor cabinet.)
Venom is more of a curio than a classic, but fans of the actors involved and animals run amok films for grown ups of the late '70s should have a lot of fun with it. If nothing else, it's an excuse to consider what it would have been like if Kinski was Dustin Hoffman in Dog Day Afternoon - and to wonder if the bizarre German actor would have called that script bad names too. Venom is the kind of "big talent in a little movie" production that I just love, and despite some obvious flaws it's still a blast to watch.

7 comments:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Bloody unwatchable British made dog-shit.

Usman Shakil said...

Texas Chainsaw 3D Tops Weekend Box Office With $23 Million

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Hey, The Mike, did you know that Oliver Reed was actually accused of molesting Cindy Hinds on the set of The Brood in 1978 but no charges were ever brought against him because of apparent lack of evidence.

The Mike said...

No he wasn`t Jervaise, you`re just having another one of your pathetic fantasys about how much you would`ve enjoyed molesting her, you bloody dirty pedo animal.

The Mike said...

Actually Jervaise, the ONLY reason you`d watch the latest version of Les Miserables is to see the little girl, you disgusting pervert.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Yeah me and 50 million other closet pedo's, dont forget them ! ! !.

The Mike said...

Admittedly that is true Jervaise, VERY TRUE.