VENOM (1982)
Director: Piers Haggard
Blue Underground

VENOM was set up as an unlikely British production for American TEXAS CHAINSAW director Tobe Hooper. After two weeks, Hooper (along with several other behind-the-camera people) was replaced by Piers Haggard, a skilled English TV director who also delivered the genre classic THE BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW a decade earlier. Although Paramount's original American distribution of the film would lead you to presume it was the latest horror blockbuster, VENOM is actually a biting thriller with a cast of unforgettable character stalwarts.

The story involves a proposed scheme by a burly chauffeur (Oliver Reed), a pretty nanny (Susan George) to kidnap a wealthy American boy (Lance Holcomb) with the outside help of a German terrorist (Klaus Kinski). A deadly Black Mamba snake is accidentally brought into the family's large townhouse (via a mix-up at the pet shop!), and is set free to wreak havoc. After a visiting police sergeant is shot by the overzealous chauffeur, the kidnappers are forced to hold hostages, including the boy's ex-big game hunter grandpa (Sterling Haden) and a toxicologist (Sarah Miles) who was supposed to receive the snake in the first place. The swift and unpredictable venomous creature slithers through air ducts and behind walls and curtains, while the hostages and their assailants fear it attacking at any given moment. In the duration, a competent police commander (Nicol Williamson) and a horde of cops have set up outside, communicating with the townhouse insiders, and doing their damnedest to keep the situation under control.

In VENOM, the erratically vicious Black Mamba snake--conveniently tossed into an unfamiliar and claustrophobic atmosphere--is a plot device that adds a monstrous monkey wrench to an otherwise ordinary hostage scenario. Under the capable hands of Haggard, the somewhat ludicrous script is mounted with ample suspense, and the snake portions are always convincingly chilling (wide-angle shots of the snake's point-of-view are also well-executed). The cast is enough to want any movie buff to endure this, elevating standard exploitation B-fare to a classy thriller level--and a lineup of talent you will never see under one roof again. Oliver Reed's character is nervous, sweaty and temperamental, while Kinski ironically plays his villain rather calmly, contemplating his actions more thoroughly. When they're together on the screen, you can sense their real-life rebel-rouser reputations in full throttle. When Reed and veteran Hollywood tough guy Hayden are on screen together, you can just imagine the scent of booze radiating from their persons. The rest of the cast, including Miles, George and the always excellent Williamson (EXCALIBUR) carry on expertly. Others aboard include Cornelia Sharpe (the producer's wife), John Forbes-Robertson (Dracula in Hammer's LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES), Edward Hardwicke (Watson to Jeremy Brett's BBC Holmes), and horror film icon Michael Gough as a snake handler.

Previously a pay-cable TV favorite in the U.S., and released on video here by Vestron in the early 80s, VENOM has now been refreshed thanks to Blue Underground's DVD release. Anamorphic and correctly letterboxed at 1.85:1, contrast and definition are excellent, and colors look attractive for the most part. The entire show is blemish free, with only minor grain and/or murkiness in scenes that never looked that good to begin with. Audio options include a 6.1 DTS track a 5.1 Dolby Digital EX track and Dolby Surround 2.0 track--and aside from some low dialog in spots, the audio is rendered very well with no noticeable defects.

Included is an audio commentary track with director Piers Haggard, moderated by Jonothon Sothcott. Although at first Haggard seems uncertain that he'll recall much, he shortly gets motivated and is never at a loss of things to say, and with such a cast to talk about, that's a good thing. He discusses how he took the film over from Tobe Hooper, and how he disliked the lighting of what Hooper shot, as well his dressing Kinski like a Nazi! Haggard then tells many anecdotes about the cast, and best of these are the stories concerning the feuding and hatred between Reed and Kinski. Sothcott does his usual expert job of moderating, and the two are also doing a commentary for the Region 2 release of BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW (which hopefully MGM will issue in The States with said commentary).

Other extras include the original trailer, four different American TV spots, a nice still gallery with some notable excerpts from the pressbook, and well-written bios (with some amusing quotes) on enemies Kinski and Reed. (George R. Reis)