Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Venom (1981)

Given the title I was expecting Venom to be a horror movie, but it isn’t. It’s a crime thriller, but with venomous snakes included. An odd mix but it kind of works.

This 1981 British production has the kind of cast cult movie fans dream abut - Oliver Reed, Klaus Kinski, Susan George and Michael Gough. With a line-up like that, what could go wrong? And in fact the results are pretty satisfactory.

A sick rich kid lives with his American parents and his grandfather in one of the more luxurious parts of London. The kid collects animals and has an impressive little menagerie. His grandfather used to be an explorer and keep the boy entertained with his takes of thrills and adventure on safari in Africa.

This idyllic life is shattered when the boy is kidnapped by a criminal gang. The gang is led by a shadowy European criminal type (Klaus Kinski). The household’s chauffeur Dave (Oliver Reed) and the maid (Susan George) are also in on the plot. What they don’t know is that when the boy went to the pet store that afternoon to collect his new pet, a harmless African house snake, he was given the wrong snake. He was given a black mamba by mistake. Not just possibly the world’s deadliest snake, but an outrageously aggressive species as well.

The kidnapping is already starting to go badly wrong even before the black mamba escapes. That just adds to the chaos. And it adds to the headaches of the policeman (played by Nicol Williamson) assigned to deal with what has now become a major hostage drama. He has some assistance from a toxicology expert, Dr Marion Stowe (Sarah Miles) but that all goes badly wrong as well and he has to call in a snake expert from London Zoo (played by Michael Gough).

For an 80s movie it’s quite light on violence, despite the subject matter. And what violence there is is fairly non-graphic. Aside from the wild card of the deadly snake it’s a straighforward but very competent thriller relying more on suspense and the very strong cast rather than lots of blood.

Kinski and Oliver Reed make a great movie criminal team. They’re both totally out of control, but in different ways. Reed is jumpy and out of his depth, inclined to be trigger-happy due to his nervousness but at the same time he’d really prefer not to hurt anyone. Apart from the cops. He doesn’t like cops. Kinski is just as wired but much more ruthless and with a more obvious enjoyment in terrorising people. Kinski doesn’t go over-the-top, but being Klaus Kinski he doesn’t need to. He’s quite capable of giving the impression of being a dangerous and unbalanced crazy without needing to do anything too overt.

One of my few criticisms of the film is that Susan George doesn’t get enough screen time. But while she is onscreen she gets to play a sexy villainess, which is why she should have been given more screen time. Nicol Williamson is surprisingly effective as the tough cop. He’s tough and ruthless but in a low-key way.

The original director was Tobe (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) Hooper but he was replaced after production had started by Piers Haggard. Which was probably a good thing. Haggard had a solid track record in movies and TV and he does a very professional job here.

The Region 4 DVD includes no extras whatsoever but it’s an acceptable transfer.

Not a great movie, but an entertaining one that succeeds in what it sets out to achieve.


Shaun Anderson said...

In total agreement - an entertaining and enjoyable little flick. Kinksi and Reed in the same film is great to see. All I can say is Piers Haggard must have had something about him to keep a lid on those two. I give Haggard a lot of credit actually, because he directed my all time favourite British horror film BLOOD ON SATANS CLAW...great review!

dfordoom said...

Shaun, I love Blood on Satan's Claw as well. A great little flick.

venoms5 said...

Nice one, D! You and Sam over at Mondo 70 deliver some choice, very concise reviews, my friend. I haven't seen this one in years, but do own the BU disc and have been meaning to pop it open and see this one again. I do remember liking it, though.

The R1 disc has a commentary with the director, trailers and photo/poster galleries.