Blu-ray Review: VENOM (1982)

2016/06/24 16:00:15 +00:00 | Patrick Bromley

If you’re looking for a great killer snake movie, you may find 1982’s Venom to be a disappointment. If you’re looking for a showcase of competitive overacting, Venom is your huckleberry.

Imagine the 1955 Humphrey Bogart/Fredric March movie The Desperate Hours if it were invaded by a killer black mamba. That’s Venom, only instead of Bogart and March, it’s Klaus Kinski and Oliver Reed, two incredibly talented but famously difficult actors, attempting to devour both the scenery and one another. Though it went into production with Tobe Hooper as director, he left the film fairly early on (with vague reports of “it just wasn’t working” as an explanation) and was replaced by Piers Haggard, the British filmmaker responsible for Blood on Satan’s Claw. He found himself in a difficult and unhappy situation, guiding a movie that wasn’t his and run roughshod over by his actors. Though he did the best he could, the finished film is a strange animal—a crime drama that keeps getting interrupted by a horror movie.

A wealthy American businesswoman (Cornelia Sharpe) has to go out of town and leaves her son Philip (Lance Holcomb) in the care of her father (Sterling Hayden). Once she’s gone, her maid (Susan George) and chauffeur (Oliver Reed) reveal themselves to be involved with a criminal (Klaus Kinski) in a plot to kidnap the boy and hold him for ransom. Once inside, though, the three find themselves surrounded by police outside… and trapped inside with a deadly black mamba delivered to the house by mistake.

For as scary as so many Americans find snakes—they’ve been named as the single greatest fear in a Gallup poll, ahead of public speaking and death—there are surprisingly few good killer snake movies. Because of this, Venom lands somewhere in the upper half of the genre, not because it’s great as a killer snake film, but because it mostly works just as a movie. The kidnapping plot is engaging enough and the main actors so broadly entertaining that I’m on board for Venom even before a black mamba jumps out and bites someone in the face. Sometimes, a killer snake is just a bonus.

I assume the cast was assembled while Tobe Hooper was still attached to direct, and I can understand why—he’s a filmmaker who loves big, theatrical actors who eschew nuance and subtlety in favor of manic expressionism. Just look at Neville Brand in Eaten Alive or anyone in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2. I suspect, though, that even Hooper would have been unable to contain Kinski, Reed, and Susan George, because no movie can. One of them, maybe. Two of them, not likely. All three in one scene? Forget it. But that’s the real joy of Venom: watching the performers try to outdo one another in a constant give and take of chewing the scenery. Even Sterling Hayden, in his last theatrical feature, gets in on the act. All things considered, Klaus Kinski (who supposedly turned down appearing in Raiders of the Lost Ark to star in Venom) gives one of the more subdued performances in the movie—at least, until he doesn’t.

Venom makes its high-def debut thanks to Bill Lustig’s great Blue Underground label. The film gets a 1080p upgrade and a new 7.1 lossless sound mix, both of which improve the experience while still not offering the best of the format’s capabilities. The high-def transfer looks great for the most part, with only occasional softness and signs of age creeping in.

The supplemental section of the disc is somewhat limited: director Piers Haggard’s commentary has been carried over from the DVD release and contains a lot of behind-the-scenes information (including stories of just what a difficult shoot it was for the filmmaker). The only other bonus features are a gallery of marketing stills, two trailers, and a TV spot. The booklet packaged with the film contains an essay from Michael Gingold, formerly of Fangoria and now of Delirium. A standard definition DVD copy of the movie is also included.

An unusual hybrid of 1950s potboiler crime drama and 1970s killer animal movies, Venom is just competently made and goofily entertaining enough to work. Sure, I wish Tobe Hooper had stuck it out and directed the entire movie if only because he definitely would have upped the crazy factor; as it is, director Piers Haggard plays the material more or less completely straight. The real joy of the movie is watching Oliver Reed, Susan George and Klaus Kinski desperately try to outdo one another in the acting department, ever oblivious to the fact that a snake is going to steal the movie from them all.

Movie score: 3/5,  Disc score: 3/5

  • Patrick Bromley
    About the Author - Patrick Bromley

    Patrick lives in Chicago, where he has been writing about film since 2004. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society, Patrick's writing also appears on, and, the site he runs and hosts a weekly podcast.

    He has been an obsessive fan of horror and genre films his entire life, watching, re-watching and studying everything from the Universal Monsters of the '30s and '40s to the modern explosion of indie horror. Some of his favorites include Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1931), Dawn of the Dead (1978), John Carpenter's The Thing and The Funhouse. He is a lover of Tobe Hooper and his favorite Halloween film is part 4. He knows how you feel about that. He has a great wife and two cool kids, who he hopes to raise as horror nerds.