Studio: Blue Underground
Theatrical Release: January 29, 1982 (USA)
Blu Ray Release: May 31st, 2016
Director: Piers Haggard
Review by James Klein
This review is going to be biased and I am just going to be upfront about it. Venom holds a special place in my black heart. I remember watching this on TV as a young kid and it actually may have been the television premiere if I am not mistaken. Of course the film was edited for television (although after watching it again I think this could pass for PG-13) but I was captivated and creeped out watching this taut English thriller. It doesn’t help that I have always had a certain uneasiness regarding snakes. Needless to say this film stuck with me for years and despite its flaws, I really enjoy the hell out of it.
Young Philip (Lance Holcomb from Christmas Evil) is a frail sickly child whose great passion is collecting rabbits and hamsters and of course reptiles. Coming from a wealthy family, Philip’s entire room is filled with all sorts of creatures that occupy his time. When his mother leaves home to pick up his father at the airport, his grandfather is given the task to watch him (played by Johnny Guitar himself, Sterling Hayden) while his mother and father are away. Little do they know the family’s maid (Susan George from Straw Dogs) and their chauffeur (Oliver Reed from The Devil’s and The Brood) have plotted a kidnapping scheme to kidnap Philip and hold him for ransom. Leading the trio of villains is ring leader Jacmel (Klaus Kinski from The Great Silence and Prince of the Night) whose plan falls apart when the short tempered chauffeur shoots a policeman in broad daylight after the young boy screams for help.
Taking refuge in the town home, the villains demand money and a car from the police, lead by Commander William Bulloch (Nicol Williamson from Excalibur) who is in charge of this hostage situation. Raising the stakes is the fact that Philip had recently purchased a snake that he had picked up at a pet shop, only the order was mixed up and he received a deadly black mamba instead. Once the snake has gotten free and starts attacking anyone in its sight, the kidnappers now must face off against the police and the deadly reptile. This makes matters even tougher for Bulloch as he must find a way to get the hostages out safely from not only the kidnappers but also from the venomous snake.
Right away, there are some issues with the plot. What kind of pet store would switch an order of a gardner snake with a poisonous one, especially a black mamba? How exactly did these kidnappers think they were going to get away with Philip? Their plan seems like something a child would come up with. What good was it that the kidnappers lured another doctor into the home without the boy’s medicine that he desperately needs? If you can get past these odd plot holes, Venom is a lot of fun.
First off, Piers Haggard’s direction is very good (he took over for Tobe Hooper after 10 days of shooting) and his POV shots of the snake is rather neat to watch. Taking place almost entirely at night, the films dark look adds to the creepiness and mystery of where this snake may be. When the snake is shown, for most of the screen time, it was actually a real snake. Nowadays the snake would look like some CGI pile of shit slithering around with an overly big mouth. Piers also gets some great performances out of the all star cast which also includes Sarah Miles and Michael Gough. I don’t know about you people but if a movie contains Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski, its hard not to want to watch. The movie is also not without some subtle humor, the kind of humor that is lacking in most films nowadays where comic relief is more in your face, hitting the viewer over the head by making them feel safe and unthreatened. I also enjoyed the musical score by Michael Kamen who went on to do one of my favorite film scores, The Dead Zone and one of James Dubs favorites, Highlander.
I have been waiting patiently for Blue Underground to re-release this gem on blu ray after their 2001 DVD release. I am happy to say that the wait was well worth it as Blue Underground has released a DVD / blu ray combo accompanied with a thick booklet which details the making of the film along with a reversible blu ray cover (I prefer the theatrical poster cover, not the one with Susan George in her undies which is not even in the movie!). The picture quality looks fairly decent although I noticed the movie looked a little soft at times, noticeably more during the exterior night sequences. Color and image stability are great, with no print damage to be seen. The audio is even better with options to listen to the film in 7.1, 5.1, and 2.0. I loved these options and wish most blu ray companies would release their films in several audio options like this.
The special features are carried over from the DVD release which contain the teaser and theatrical trailers along with a few TV spots. There is the typical poster and still gallery that I don’t know one single person who ever looks. The audio commentary by Piers Haggard though is a must listen. He has so many great stories about the very troubled film shoot starting with Tobe Hooper who had a nervous breakdown working on the film to Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski fighting and arguing with each other everyday. Piers has some great stories to tell and even admits he thinks the film could have been better had he had more time to plan instead of being brought on at the last minute to take over. It’s a very entertaining commentary that I highly recommend.