Release Date(s)1982 (May 31, 2016)
Studio(s)HandMade Films/Paramount Pictures (Blue Underground)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B-
Venom, released in 1981, features a plot about a wealthy young boy and his grandfather being taken hostage by international terrorists and held for ransom. The only problem is that a deadly black mamba snake is accidentally set loose in the building, and it’s out to strike at anyone and anything that it comes into contact with. As the police try to find a way into the building to take out the terrorists and save the hostages, the snake makes its way through the ventilation work, on its way towards its next victim - whomever it may be.
Venom is one of those movies that comes with a lot of baggage attached to it. Its sordid behind the scenes history could easily fill a paperback and be quite the page turner. It was a production that was plagued with problems; oddly enough, none of them caused by the snake itself. According to director Piers Haggard, no one really got along during production, going so far as to say that the snake was the nicest person on the entire set. The oddball cast also made things interesting, which included Sterling Hayden, Oliver Reed, Sara Miles, Susan George, and Klaus Kinski. According to Haggard, Kinski and Reed disliked each other so much that Kinski was constantly provoking Reed into fits of anger. Unfortunately, all of that negative atmosphere behind the scenes made its way onto the film itself, as most of the scenes seem to be pervasive with it.
Piers Haggard, who also helmed the classic The Blood on Satan’s Claw, was brought on to direct the project at the last minute when Tobe Hooper quit during the movie’s production early on, citing “creative differences”. Klaus Kinski also reportedly chose this acting job over Raiders of the Lost Ark. There’s also a minor appearance by Michael Gough in the film, and a score by the great Michael Kamen. The movie wound up making a little over five million dollars when it was released, but due to the semi-popularity of snake-related horror movies throughout the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, it managed to stick around as a cult movie.
Even though I don’t consider Venom to be overly good, it has its moments, and I do give them credit for getting a live black mamba into the movie. That had to have been a headache for the film’s financiers, much less the cast and crew. Personally, I would have preferred there being a rubber snake from time to time, just to get some unintentional fun out of the movie. It’s downbeat most of the time with little to no levity, so a little humor could have helped. The best moment in the movie is actually in one of the final scenes, and it almost makes it worth sitting through the whole movie to get to. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yes, it involves the snake.
The Blu-ray presentation for Venom is a good one. Transferred at 2K resolution from the original camera negative, it features a very unobtrusive and almost unnoticeable grain field, but with a surprising amount of depth and detail with some nice texturing, especially in close-ups. The color palette isn’t over the moon, but it’s strong for what’s presented. Blacks seem a bit too deep, losing some of the detail in the shadows at times, but it may have been a part of the original cinematography. Contrast and brightness are at acceptable levels, as well. There are no signs of digital enhancement to be found, nor is there much in the way of dirt, debris, or other film artifacts leftover. It’s a very clean-looking presentation. For the audio, there are three selections to choose from: English 7.1 & 2.0 DTS-HD and English 5.1 Dolby Digital. Both the 7.1 and 2.0 tracks feature very strong and well-placed scores. Dialogue is mostly clean and clear throughout, but sound effects often sound a little dated, despite having some nice boost from time to time. Spatial activity is spotty, but it’s there occasionally. There’s also some nice ambience and atmospheric activity in the surrounding speakers, particularly when the snake is involved. I personally felt that the 2.0 track was slightly better balanced, but the 7.1 track did provide some breathing room during some of the more chaotic moments in the film, as well as good use of LFE. It all boils down to preference in the end, as they’re both very solid tracks. There are also subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish for those who might need them.
The extras that have been included are a little sparse, but all carry over from Blue Underground’s original 2003 DVD release. There’s an audio commentary with director Piers Haggard, the original theatrical trailer, the teaser trailer, 3 TV spots, a poster & still gallery, a DVD copy of the movie, and an 18-page insert booklet with an essay on the film by “Fangoria” editor Michael Gingold. Considering all of the dramatic behind the scenes goings-on on the movie, a documentary, or at the very least, a featurette, would have been a great addition to these extras.
Venom has a lot of name recognition within its cast, but all of them tossed into a very odd project together. How a movie like this got made with such an eclectic group of people is odd enough, but throw in using a very deadly live snake, switching directors, and the constant behind-the-scenes battles, and you have yourself a full-fledged curiosity piece. It has some good moments, but overall, the anguish that it took to make it infected it and it’s difficult to separate it from the final film, at least to me. If you’re into curiosities like this, then Blue Underground’s Blu-ray is the release for you.
- Tim Salmons