Venom (1981)

Director: Piers Haggard (& Tobe Hooper?)

I put the question mark next to Hooper’s name, cos he was actually the original director of this film, and stayed attached long enough to feature in the initial advertising for it. But a bit over a week into the shoot he was gone from the production, replaced by Piers Haggard making one of his relatively rare forays away from television; Haggard claims none of Hooper’s footage is in the film, which may be the case, or it may not. At any rate, it seems to have been a not terribly happy shoot; Haggard apparently said the black mamba was the most pleasant “actor” on the set, and the antipathy between the characters played by Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski (who seems to have been instrumental in driving Hooper from the production) was matched by their off-screen mutual loathing, which I suppose carried over into their performances. Venom is essentially a hostage thriller, in which Kinski’s European terrorist colludes with Reed’s chauffeur to kidnap the young son of the family Reed works for; needless to say things don’t go to plan—because this is a film and they never do—but there’s a particularly special complication this time… the boy is an animal nut who’s just collected a new snake for his menagerie, but he doesn’t realise the shop he’s got it from has fucked up and, instead of the nice harmless house snake he requested, they’ve given him a black mamba, which is only one of the most dangerous reptiles on Earth. Perfectly understandable mistake, I’m sure. Can police inspector Nicol Williamson’s Scottish accent and bad attitude prevent things getting any worse? Venom, it may be said, is built on a somewhat ludicrous premise, but Haggard mostly plays it reasonably straight; the snake’s-eye view shots are pretty much the only time the film goes for knowing silliness. Whether this was the best approach to the material I don’t know, maybe it should’ve been played more for preposterousness. The whole thing does culminate in a genuinely amazing death scene for Kinski which is kind of worth watching the whole film just for that moment; maybe if the whole film had been on that level we’d be talking about a classic of some kind rather than an admittedly generally effective thriller.


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