VENOM (1981) Reviews and overview

 

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Venom is a 1981 British thriller film directed by Piers Haggard (The Blood on Satan’s Claw; Quatermass TV serial, 1979) from a screenplay written by Richard Carrington (Mind Over Murder; Wait Until Dark), adapted from the novel of the same name by Alan Scholefield. Produced by Martin Bregman (The Bone Collector; Sea of Love; Scarface; Dog Day Afternoon).

The movie stars Klaus Kinski (Nosferatu the VampyreSchizoidCrawlspace), Oliver Reed (Blue BloodThe BroodSpasms), Nicol Williamson, Sterling Hayden (Deadly Strangers), Sarah Miles, Cornelia Sharpe (The Reincarnation of Peter ProudOpen Season), Lance Holcomb and Susan George (The SorcerersDie Screaming Marianne).

Plot:

International criminal Jacmel (Klaus Kinski) enlists Ruth Hopkins’ maid (Susan George) and chauffeur (Oliver Reed) in a scheme to kidnap her asthmatic ten-year-old son Philip (Lance Holcomb) for ransom.

Meanwhile, Philip has just brought home a snake from a local importer, unaware that his new pet has been accidentally switched with a deadly Black Mamba destined for a toxicology lab. The lab reports the mix-up, and a police officer is dispatched to the Hopkins residence, only to be shot by the arrogant chauffeur.

The London townhouse is surrounded by police, trapping the criminals, the child, and his grandfather inside with the Mamba, which is now loose in the ventilation system…

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Background:

Tobe Hooper was originally attached to direct but quit because of “creative differences”. At a party at Elaine’s Restaurant in Manhattan celebrating the film’s release, Klaus Kinski boasted how he and other members of the cast and crew had ganged up on Hooper a couple of weeks into the shoot to get him replaced. Director Piers Haggard says that none of the original footage Tobe Hooper shot is still in the film.

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Reviews:

“Of course, no actor, or indeed assembly of actors, can save a bad film. Well, Venom is far from that; in fact, it’s a damn good one […] With something going on all the time, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll never lose interest while watching Venom; its 92 minutes seem to fly by.” 2,500 Movies Challenge

“This film definitely would hold appeal to anyone who enjoys a tense thrill ride loaded with kidnapping, seduction, standoffs, and one deadly creature whose bite will leave you writhing in agony […}  Plus, it’s really just fantastic to watch Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski square off!” Addicted to Horror Movies

 

“What, another dumb killer snake film? Yes, indeed. […] Venom, as it happens, is one of my most cherished guilty pleasures. It is one of those peculiar productions where the stories surrounding it, and the various facets that make it up, are as important, and almost as enjoyable, as the film itself.” And You Call Yourself a Scientist!

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Venom had the potential to become a classic trash movie but the end result doesn’t quite make it. It’s fun however and that cast makes it an absolute must for fans of overheated acting.” DVD Talk

“Made in a time where extreme visual style and graphic gore was dominating the horror movement, Venom seems totally out of place. There is virtually no gore effects, and the story is directed with such a 1950’s sensibility that really makes it seem years more outdated than it really is. Rather than gore driven, it is plot-driven, but with a crime story as drab as Venom’s, that just doesn’t cut it.” Horror Digital

“This movie…has a lot of potential, but doesn’t quite live up to them. The plot is a simple one, but it works.  The problem is that they can only do so much, leading to many long pauses and breaks. The constant cross-cutting between the snake, the police, the criminals and the hostages wears a little thin too.  It’s not terrible- just a bit distracting.” Mondo Bizarro

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” …this crime film with some tense black mamba action sports one of the strangest all-star casts of its era. Though virtually buried upon release (during a year crammed with superior genre fare), this adaptation of a potboiler by Alan Scholefield still stands up fairly well as a solid, low-key genre mix with some enjoyable scenery-chewing from the biggest, most psychotic hams in the business.” Mondo Digital

Venom is a bloody tense movie, with the last half-hour being the stuff brown trousers are made of. Surely the most painful scene has the mamba becoming a real trouser-snake as it slowly worms its way into Ollie’s pants and up his leg. In fact, the only thing that puts a dampener on this film is Kinski’s slow-mo demise, which makes David Hess’ in House At the Edge of the Park look like a Benny Hill chase!” The Spinning Image

“The entire cast manages some solid performances, most notably Williamson as police commander and Miles as the genial toxicologist turned hostage. Best scene: the fanged one’s unforgiving attack on maid George and her agonizing, rough-edged last moments (via a very cool snake POV). Really quite underrated overall.” The Terror Trapvenom6

“Woefully archaic in its British B-pic reliance on very cheap thrills and very worn dramatic clichés, and without any self-parodic saving grace, Venom spells box-office poison […] There is more (by way of digressive star turns, that is), but never enough to raise a glimmer of interest or tension in the static rituals of siege cinema.” Time Out (London)

“The morally discriminating snake leaves all the good people alone (though sending plenty of chills up their spines) and only bites the villains. Wide-angle shots representing the snake’s point of view are thrown in to drum up some scary effects. The film boasts one of the best casts to grace a British film in a long time; without the snake, it could have been an intriguing thriller.” TV Guide

“What it all boils down to is that Venom suffers from a lot of boring hostage negotiation scenes and a decided lack of a body count. Don’t get me wrong, when the snake attacks, its damn good times. I particularly liked the scene where it repeatedly bit Susan George in the face. The piece de resistance though comes when the slimy sucker crawls up Oliver Reed’s pant leg.” The Video Vacuum

Choice dialogue:

Commander William Bulloch: “Look, could you tell me just how dangerous very dangerous is?”
Doctor Marion Stowe: “The most dangerous snake in the whole world, that dangerous.”

Blu-ray release:

On May 31, 2016, Blue Underground released Venom as a Blu-ray + DVD combo with the following extras:

Newly transferred in 2K High Definition from its negative
Audio Commentary with Director Piers Haggard
Theatrical Trailer
Teaser Trailer
TV Spots
Poster and Still Gallery
Booklet featuring new writing by Fangoria Editor Michael Gingold

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Cast and characters:

Klaus Kinski … Jacmel
Oliver Reed … Dave
Nicol Williamson … Commander William Bulloch
Sarah Miles … Doctor Marion Stowe
Sterling Hayden … Howard Anderson
Cornelia Sharpe … Ruth Hopkins
Lance Holcomb … Philip Hopkins
Susan George … Louise Andrews
Mike Gwilym … Detective Constable Dan Spencer
Paul Williamson … Detective Sergeant Glazer
Michael Gough … David Ball
Hugh Lloyd … Taxi Driver
Rita Webb … Mrs Loewenthal
Edward Hardwicke … Lord Dunning
John Forbes-Robertson … Sergeant Nash
Ian Brimble … Constable in Police Station
Peter Porteous … Hodges
Maurice Colbourne … Sampson
Nicholas Donnelly … Superintendant Police
Cyril Conway … Man in No.17
Sally Lahee … Woman in No.17
David Sterne … Driver
Charles Cork … Driver’s mate
Howard Bell … Constable
Alan Ford … Peters
Norman Mann … Williams
Tony Meyer … Martin
Michael Watkins … Rogers
Gerard Ryder … Smith
Moti Makan … Mr Murkerjee
Katherine Wilkinson … Susan Stowe
Eric Richard … Airline Clerk
Arnold Diamond … Head Waiter
Pat Gorman … Policeman (uncredited)
Eric Kent … Workman (uncredited)

Filming locations:

London, England
EMI Elstree Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, England

Filming dates:

27th September 1980 to 20th December 1980

Production:

In a 2003 interview for Fangoria magazine, director Piers Haggard has said: “I took over that at very short notice. Tobe Hooper had been directing it and they had stopped for whatever reason. It hadn’t been working. I did see some of his stuff and it didn’t look particularly good plus he also had some sort of nervous breakdown or something. So anyway they stopped shooting and offered it to me. Unfortunately, I had commitments, I had some commercials to shoot. But anyway I took it over with barely ten days of preparation – which shows. It doesn’t become my picture, it’s a bit in between…

[Oliver Reed was] scary at first because he was always testing you all the time. Difficult but not as difficult as Klaus Kinski. Because Oliver [Reed] actually had a sense of humour. I was rather fine of him; he could be tricky but he was quite warm really. He just played games and was rather macho and so on. Klaus Kinski was very cold. The main problem with the film was that the two didn’t get on and they fought like cats. Kinski, of course, is a fabulous film actor and he’s good in the part, the part suits him very well. They were both well cast but it was a very unhappy film. I think Klaus was the problem but then Oliver spent half the movie just trying to rub him up, pulling his leg all the way. There were shouting matches because Oliver just wouldn’t let up. None of this is about art. All the things that you’re trying to concentrate on tend to slip. So it was not a happy period”.

Trailer: