Tuesday, September 20, 2005

VENOM

From the fine folks at Blue Underground comes the 1982 British suspense thriller, VENOM, an underrated little gem from director Piers Haggard (BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW).

Three criminals – Oliver Reed (CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF), Susan George (STRAW DOGS) and Klaus Kinski (NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE) – plot to kidnap the ten-year-old son of a rich hotelier. Reed and George take jobs as the family's chauffeur and maid and work their way into the confidence of the animal-loving kid and his family. The plan's perfect.

Unfortunately, the day they plan to execute their scheme, the kid returns from the pet shop with the wrong box, his grandfather (Sterling Hayden, THE ASPHALT JUNGLE) comes home early, and a cop is accidentally shot on the sidewalk. Now it's a siege situation with desperate, sweaty kidnappers, terrified hostages and a street full of armed police (led by EXCALIBUR's Nicol Williamson). Oh, and that "wrong box" the kid brought home? It held a poisonous Black Mamba, "the deadliest snake in the world," and it's loose in the house's heating vents.

Director Haggard does a good job of ramping up and sustaining the tension, and it doesn't hurt having a couple of veteran scenery-eaters like Reed and Kinski around to keep things interesting, either. The snake doesn't show its scaly head too often, but when it does, it's always effective – you're so caught up in the whole hostage story, you kinda forget about the snake until it leaps out at the camera and sinks its fangs into a hapless cast member.

Great performances by a wide array of familiar British actors help keep the film grounded in something resembling reality, and the snakes (they used real venomous Black Mambas – no CGI or puppets here) are scary as hell.

Blue Underground's DVD is a solid presentation, with a crystal sharp 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks, and a handful of extras. There's a commentary track by director Haggard, a theatrical trailer, some TV spots and a poster & still gallery. The disc also includes brief text bios of Reed and Kinski.

I don't know if it's worth buying; I can't see anyone watching this over and over again, but it's definitely a solid thriller, well worth renting.

BUY: Venom