Director – Piers Haggard, Tobe Hooper
Cast – Klaus Kinski, Oliver Reed, Nicol Williamson, Sarah Miles, Sterling Hayden, Cornelia Sharpe, Lance Holcomb, Susan George
Release Year – 1982
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Last year I reviewed the film Rites of Spring and mentioned how much I love story lines that involve criminals becoming the victims, and Rites of Spring director Padraig Reynolds took note of that and suggested I check out Venom. I looked it up and was excited to see that it debuted in 1981 (you can’t go wrong with 80s horror) and also starred one of the genre’s best actors, Klaus Kinski (Crawlspace, Creature). On top of that I also love horror films that involve killer animals, so I assumed this would be an experience I would surely enjoy…and I did. Venom is a simple flick sure to please those wanting a simple experience, and with darn good direction this becomes one of the best killer animal films there is.
When international terrorists, lead by Jacques Muller (Klaus Kinski), kidnap the child of a wealthy couple, their plan is foiled when the police surround the home and a black mamba, sent to the home by mistake, is let loose and begins killing them off one by one.
I admit I had my doubts about this film, wondering how an early 80s film could deliver a horrifying experience with a Black Mamba – we usually see giant snakes like Anacandas and pythons – but sure enough good direction brought Robert Carrington’s screenplay, adapted from Alan Scholefield’s novel, to life. From the get-go the story hints at foul play and an inside job about to go down, and sure enough the young Philip is kidnapped and his grandfather is taken hostage as well. Things go awry early on thanks to a bonehead move by one of the kidnappers, but they have no clue about the horror that resides within the home thanks to a botched delivery. The black mamba takes little time getting to know its victims and attacks a kidnapper in vicious fashion, then it makes its way around the film’s many dark corners and crevices waiting for its next opportunity. After this initial horror we get plenty of tension thrown in as the kidnappers desperately try to avoid the killer snake and at the same time try to successfully negotiate their way out of the home with a free ride. This story depends heavily on the police negotiator, Cmdr. William Bulloch, whose efforts make this story equal parts horror and crime drama. I would say this film has much more tension than it does horror, but the horror was so intense that it kept me engaged and I never found myself straying. There are not many deaths in the film, and thanks to good execution the story did not need an abundance of deaths to seal the deal.
Director Piers Haggard did a good job executing this flick, which was abandoned by original director Tobe Hooper after 10 days of production due to “creative differences”. Haggard himself said that none of Hooper’s original footage made it into the final cut of the film, and if that is true then I must say the longtime TV director did a hell of a job bringing this simple story to life. To start, he gets great performances from his many prominent characters that aid heavily in selling the film during its slower and non-action-packed moments. Klaus Kinski is his usual creepy/angry self and Nicol Williamson was fantastic as Cmdr. William Bulloch, as was Sterling Hayden as the young kidnapped boy’s grandfather, Howard Anderson. The main location used, which is the home of the young boy and his grandfather, was vital in creating good tension with its low-lit atmosphere and the nowhere-to-run scenario our characters were faced with. Most importantly though, is Haggard’s execution of the Black Mamba. Initially I was unsure of how the snake would be executed, and I am glad to say that the snake comes via live-action effects and nothing is spared when the snake attacks. Haggard provides a full-frontal view of the kills, which naturally are not immediate but agonizing for the victim, and we see such ferocity in the snake that I was left with the biggest grin imaginable. Before Anaconda delivered acrobatic kills that mimic Cirque du Solei performances, there was the Black Mamba in venom that vehemently bit the faces and vital areas of its criminal “victims”.
Overall, Venom is an awesome killer snake film that comes with some of the most intense snake kills I have ever seen. The tension is heavy and good writing, direction, and acting performances keep this an engaging experience I suggest you check out if you enjoy killer animal flicks.