The Film (4/5)
Venom is a film that went under my radar for far too long. I will be forthright in admitting that I am not one for nature gone awry films, with the exception of Jaws, and a few other films of it's ilk. Venom being a tale of a snake on the loose seemed like it wouldn't be of interest to me, and like so many times in my viewing history, I have been proven very very wrong.
Venom follows the goings on at the home of Ruth Hopkins. A woman whose husband is on a wilderness exploration, that as the film begins she is about to join him on. Ruth’s son, Philip is a collector of exotic pets, and accidentally acquires a deadly black mamba snake from the pet shop rather than the non-lethal snake he was supposed to. As it turns out, the maid of the household, Louise (Susan George, Straw Dogs) has been planning with the chauffeur, Dave (Oliver Reed, The Devils) to kidnap the boy and hold him for a ransom. Alongside, their terrorist partner, Jacmel (Klaus Kinski, Aguirre: The Wrath of God) the trio enact the kidnapping at the household, but things go badly, when a police officer arrives to report on the Black Mamba mixup, and is promptly shot by Dave. This brings out the London police force, and turns the situation into a standoff between the kidnappers and police, and the deadly black mamba snake that is now loose in the house.
Venom is an excellent thriller, with a simple, yet slightly convoluted premise done exceptionally well. The film was originally to be helmed by Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper, who apparently shot 10 days of the film and then left the project. The film was then picked up Piers Haggard, who most notably directed the British folk horror classic Blood on Satan's Claw. The Hooper footage was scrapped, so that the film would look the same throughout, and what we have is a simple, but excellent thriller shot in a way that looks like a more cinematic representation of a BBC TV show/movie from the era.
The film is obviously promoted as as "animals attack" film, and I would be hard pressed to disagree with that marketing decision. There is a deadly snake on the loose in the house, and it could strike at any moment. But the film's genius lies in the fact that it is not the villain of the piece, but a chaos factor that is involved in the midst of a kidnapping/crime thriller. The film's main plot is the kidnapping of the boy, and the police negotiations to end the standoff. The black mamba is nature in action. Good guy or bad guy in the film, it can strike anyone at any time, adding a secondary layer of suspense to the piece.
Venom is stacked to the brim with cinema talent from the aforementioned Klaus Kinski, Susan George, and Oliver Reed, and also appearances from such film luminaries as Michael Gough, Sterling Hayden, and Nicol Williamson. The cast across the board have very solid chemistry, and work off each other quite well (I would love to see behind the scenes footage of Reed and Kinski).
The film does have some minor pacing issues, playing more like a TV movie than a theatrical film. However, it is overall a fun time to be had, and something ripe for rediscovery.
Blue Underground presents Venom in a quite solid 1:85:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer that preserves the film's OAR. The Blu-ray looks quite good with nicely reproduced colors, excellent detail, deep blacks, and solid natural grain. There are some softer moments, and I did detect some places where noise reduction might have been used, but not so much that it dominated the transfer.
There are multiple audio options on the disc including a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, and a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. I stuck to the 5.1 primarily for my viewing and was quite pleased. Separating of sound was solid, with score, and dialogue coming through nicely.
Venom comes with a commentary by Piers Haggard who does a solid job recalling stories from the making of the film. There are also trailers, TV spots, and digital text extras.
Not being a huge fan of animal attack films, I was quite surprised to find how much I enjoyed Venom which ended up being a crime/nature gone awry genre mash-up. The film has an excellent cast, and solid director from Piers Haggard. The Blu-ray looks quite decent, but the extras are limited. RECOMMENDED.