DVD Release Date: July
= Highest Rating
thriller, Venom chronicles what
happens when an improbable series of random events coincide
to cause a kidnap-for-ransom scheme to go very, very wrong.
Philip Hopkins (Lance Holcomb), the sickly 10-year old son of
a wealthy American hotel magnate living in London, is the target.
It's an "inside" job. A professional German criminal
named Müller (Klaus Kinski) plans to snatch the boy with
the assistance of the household maid (Straw
Dogs' Susan George) and chauffeur (Oliver Reed - Revolver,
The Three Musketeers). The deed
will be done when Philip's parents are away in Rome; only his
crusty old grandfather (Sterling Hayden), a retired adventurer
and safari bwana, will be home with him at the time. The boy
happens to have a hobby of collecting exotic animals,
a fact which normally wouldn't concern the kidnappers... until
on the day their plan is to go into action, a delivery mix-up
means that instead of a harmless African house snake, Philip
takes home with him the deadliest viper in the world —
a black mamba, which can leap 10 feet at its prey and whose
bite is 100% fatal if not treated within minutes.
The kidnapping is
botched when the toxicologist (Sarah Miles) who was supposed
to receive the mamba phones the police to retrieve the snake
before it can do harm. The unlucky copper arrives at the Hopkins
townhouse just as Müller and his cohorts have young Philip
in their clutches and are about to make their getaway. The high-strung
chauffeur shoots the policeman dead; the crooks are forced to
hole up inside as more cops swoop in to surround the place.
Meanwhile, the deadly mamba has gotten loose and is slithering
around the house, silent and unseen...
While not terribly original and somewhat predictable, Venom
works as an enjoyable thriller.
This is mainly due to the topnotch cast and some solid (if unremarkable)
direction by Piers Haggard (The Blood
on Satan's Claw). Kinski (Grand
de Sade's Justine) doesn't live up to his reputation
as an out-of-control, scenery chewing wild man here, instead
delivering a subdued (and effective) performance as the cold
and calculating mastermind. Reed's chauffeur is the wild card
in the story, a working class brute whom Müller knows he'll
need to keep on a tight rein if his plan is to succeed. The
two actors apparently did not get along on the set and this
actually helps lend credibility to the onscreen tension between
their respective characters. Susan George, as the third conspirator,
gets the shortest screen time since her scheming maid is quickly
bitten by the mamba. (Her agonized death scene, as the snake
venom begins to shut down her body's systems, is quite well-performed.)
Also on hand are Nicol Williamson (Merlin in John Boorman's
Excalibur) as the tough, no-nonsense
police commander in charge of the siege and, in a welcome cameo,
Michael Gough (Horrors of
the Black Museum, Konga) as a snake
expert from the London Zoo called in to assist the cops.
Personally, I would've
preferred the film to contain more snake action —
or at least more potential victims and a higher body count —
because the scenes involving the lethal mamba are quite effective.
This is due to the fact that, for the most part, a real
mamba was used on set rather than a snake puppet. (The film's
snake handler even gets a special onscreen credit before the
cast listing rolls; Gough's character is named after him in
tribute.) Basically this is a standard hostage crisis/crime
drama with the viper providing an unpredictable element for
generating suspense. You'll likely know how things will be resolved
long before the climax plays out, but the pacing is brisk and
the cast fun to watch.
looks and sounds absolutely marvelous via the new Blue Underground
disc. The anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is completely
blemish free and in many scenes appears as if it was filmed yesterday,
not over 20 years ago. Three different audio modes are available
to choose from to best suit your playback equipment: 6.1 DTS,
5.1 Surround EX and 2.0 Dolby Surround.
Extras include a poster/still gallery, the theatrical trailer,
four U.S. TV spots, and talent bios of Klaus Kinski and Oliver
Reed. Director Piers Haggard provides an audio commentary for
the film, moderated by Jonathan Southcott, detailing how he came
to replace Tobe Hooper (The
Texas Chain Saw Massacre) as director (after production had
already gotten under way) and his experiences working with the
notoriously volatile Kinski and Reed. 7/20/03