The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: Venom (1981)

Posted by Damon Swindall - February 1st 2012 @ 11:00 am

After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!

GREAT Poster

Who are you and what the hell have you done with my Horror Movie Night?!Not that this is a bad thing necessarily, but on occasion our weekly trip into the horrific side of cinema gets a little classy. Usually we are watching the trashy, campy, or just plain odd films of the 70s and 80s so we know where to keep our expectations. Then a film like Piers Haggard’s Venom from 1981 and it screws up the curve. It’s all good though, we still get to watch a great movie full of some crazy performances and at least a few giggle-worthy moments along the way.Three criminals are all set for a big kidnapping that will fetch the trio a handsome ransom. Philip Hopkins (Lance Holcomb) is the ten-year-old son of some wealthy parents and lives in a lovely London townhouse. His mother goes out of town leaving him at home in the “capable” hands of his ex-safari master grandfather, Howard Anderson (Sterling Hayden), and the help – which consists of Louise Andrews the maid (Susan George) and the chauffeur Dave Averconnelly (Oliver Reed). Little do they know that Louise and Dave are in cahoots with foreign criminal mastermind Jacques Muller (Klaus Kinski) and they are going to try to squeeze Philip’s mother’s bank account dry. There is one minor set back. The young child is really into animals and the latest addition to his tiny zoo is a snake, only his harmless pet was mixed up with a deadly Black Mamba that was supposed to be going to a scientific facility for study.Ok, so maybe I was exaggerating a little bit about the classy thing. Give me a break! It does take place in England with a mostly British cast and that is classy dammit! Besides, look at the names associated with this film. Oliver Reed? Sterling Hayden? Klaus freaking Kinski?! Pretty impressive if you ask me. Never you mind that they pull out some rather hammy performances.

Walk like Grandpa
Let’s look at Sterling Hayden for example. This is a man who was in many films in his four decades in the film business. He starred in numerous westerns, film noir, and even had some pretty big parts in Dr. Strangelove and The Godfather. While he may have been at the top of his game at one time, here he is left to play a smart, yet fairly helpless, old man. He does know quite a bit about animals which helps out along the way but he is also the biggest source of laughs in the film. As the traverses the many stairs in the townhouse he scales them with the comical gait of a marionette. Walking or running he looks just as ridiculous in any situation. He also begins many sentences identifying himself and his reason for being in the house – “Howard Anderson, boy’s grandfather.” This became quite the line to quote with my viewing buddy. Another bit that gets a little heavy-handed is the troubled relationship between Dave and Jacques. These two bad guys really have it out for one another, possibly because they both pine over Louise, but there just may be another reason. According to a few sources, including an audio commentary Haggard did for the film, Kinski and Reed did not get along at all. It seems they really hated each other and would antagonize to the point of exhaustion. Guess these two seasoned professionals let a little of this into their work onscreen. Maybe professional isn’t the best word to have used there. Heh.
Ouch!
I have a couple other interesting tidbits of info for you. One is that Tobe Hooper, director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, was slated to be the director. He began shooting but was replaced after just over a week by Haggard. It seems that Kinski was also instrumental in the reasons behind his departure. Sounds like he’s a real fun guy to have on set. The other little fun fact is that there is a zoological expert in the film called to help with the snake situation and the character is named David Ball. This is based on a real guy in charge of reptiles at the London Zoo and he also helped to wrangle the dangerous Black Mamba around set. In the film he is played by Alfred from Burton’s Batman films, Michael Gough. Bonus!Venomdoes feature one thing that all snake, or other animal-run-amok, films should have and that is SNAKE CAM! Nothing makes me happier than that ground level, slightly fuzzy and erratic camerawork to put the viewer in the skin of our predator. The POV thing works well with human killers in films and TV shows so why should an animal be any different? It just makes everything a little more awesome when you go into SNAKE CAM mode, especially if there is a colored filter applied to those shots. It’s the little things like this which really leave me elated. I poked a little fun at our movie, but in all honesty it’s a damn fine thriller. Far from perfect and with some pretty out-there scenarios but still a quite enjoyable 90 minutes. If you are wanting to check it out there is a great DVD release from Blue Underground still available with a nice transfer and a few extra goodies, like the aforementioned commentary. My only real complaint is that there is no sequel even though there is a tease alluding to one.Until next week – always check your snake before leaving the exotic pet store!

Body Count: 4 and one jacked up snake
First Snake: 21:18
Best Death: Louise’s Dramatic Dying Moment
Number of Times Dave Calls the Kid a Bastard: 4

Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-2/1/12: Ice Cream Man (1995)
-2/8/12: The Evil (1978)
-2/15/12: Hospital Massacre (1982) aka X-Ray
-2/22/12: Necropolis (1987)

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