Venom (1981)

The object of man's most ancient fear.

Year of Release: 1981
Genre: Thriller/Horror
Rated: R
Running Time: 92 minutes (1:32)
Director: Piers Haggard, Tobe Hooper


Klaus Kinski ... Jacques Muller
Oliver Reed ... Dave Averconnelly
Nicol Williamson ... Cmdr. William Bulloch
Sarah Miles ... Dr. Marion Stowe
Lance Holcomb ... Philip Hopkins
Sterling Hayden ... Howard Anderson
Cornelia Sharpe ... Ruth Hopkins
Susan George ... Louise Andrews
Michael Gough ... David Ball

Venom is the twelfth in a series of reviews I've chosen to write as a tribute to Joe Bob Briggs for his lifetime of dedication to B, Drive-In and Exploitation movies. It was his Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In column and host segments on Joe Bob's Drive-In Theater and Monstervision that inspired me to write with what limited ability I have. Thanks for everything Joe Bob, we all 'preciate what you do.

Regarding the ordering of these 12 tribute reviews, I'll be counting down the first 12 horror movies that Joe Bob reviewed back in '82 and '83. Less the titles I've already done up to this point. By the time I decided to do this, I'd already done some of those first 12 titles, so call that a blunder on my part. Venom, technically speaking, was the 2nd horror movie Joe Bob reviewed in his Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In column, and the 3rd overall.

For anyone that might be curious, the non horror titles (or titles that I may have done previously) Joe Bob reviewed before Venom were: Mad Monkey Kung Fu (#2) and Anthropophagus: The Grim Reaper (#1).


It was supposed to be the perfect crime: the sexy maid, a psychotic chauffeur, and an international terrorist kidnap a wealthy ten-year old boy from his elegant London townhouse. But they didn't count on a murdered cop, a desperate hostage siege and one very unexpected house guest: a furious Black Mamba, the most lethal and aggressive snake known in nature. It can attack from 10 feet away. Its bite brings excruciating death, and it is on the loose. Now, terror knows no antidote... and the ultimate slithering mayhem is VENOM.


1981's Venom, bringin' whole new meanin' to the term "trouser snake." I'm not sure how many people've had this happen but for the ones that haven't let me just say it's real dang uncomfortable havin' a black mamba navigatin' your Dockers. Specially when there ain't a zoo for 200 miles an you were a little suspicious about the structural integrity of that stall door to begin with. Somebody really needs to post the rules to these kinda things someplace, I thought that guy in the stall next door was just askin' for more toilet paper. But anyway, it might seem odd to recommend total avoidance of this movie to anybody considerin' how much it flirts with havin' to be identified as a Thriller, but I think that for the sake of the world's children, an our future, I might add, helicopter parents need to stay away from this one. The last thing we need is anything that'll reinforce that kinda insanity an ensure their kid grows up dateless an voted most likely to be laughed outta every job interview they ever have. This overprotective parentin' garbage is really gettin' outta hand, I mean, when we were kids it was embarrassin' enough that our parents insisted on crankin' The Who while we had friends over playin' Asteroids, but modern parents make ours seem like a collective Fonzerelli-esque unit of unmitigated coolness. Parents these days go through life with the ever present goal of convincin' all other life forms on this planet that their child is gonna be the next Bo Jackson, Albert Einstein, Dolly Parton, or whatever leaning their snowflake demonstrates interest and average proficiency at. Now granted, without these people we'd never get the season premieres of American Idol where delusional twenty somethings that were never able to get a job come out on stage an make noises like pregnant mules tryin' to birth twin offspring that're both turned the wrong direction, but there're more important things in life than reveling in the nationally televised destruction of people's dreams. And naturally, if you have the gall to disagree, ignore, or scoot away from these people it just triggers their insecurity red alert an causes their spiel to ramp up by a factor of about 10 til the situation ultimately ends in jail time, a lawsuit, or both. So if you're one of these people that thinks your child's just about the best finger painter, state capital memorizer, or destroyer of small nerdy children on the dodge ball court, please don't watch this movie. Besides, if you let your guard down for 90 minutes the kid might end up gettin' oppressed by somebody an you'd be completely incapable of shieldin' 'em from reality.

Now, you might be thinkin' to yourself that this one's prolly just another waste of time killer snake movie, but what is a "waste of time" exactly anyway? Besides, the casting director brought in Klaus Kinski to dribble out partially incomprehensible dialog an to try an slap the porn-stache offa Oliver Reed an if that's not entertainment enough for you then, well, don't let me keep you from your Jersey Shore marathon. An it's not one of those groady CGI biggest snake EVAR crap fests like they make now. These days it's all Glory Hole Theatre where you're sittin' around waitin' to see who gets swallowed first. Not this one, this is from the tried an true classic venomous snake movie subgenre, in the proud tradition of Fangs, Rattlers, Sssssss, an Fair Game; so at least hear me out. Strangely, despite bein' one of the deadliest, surliest, most aggressive paranoid creatures on Earth aside from people that engage in internet dating, the black mamba hasn't gotten much cinematic love over the years, so I've picked out a few useful zoological footnotes that may be of use should you ever become trapped in a house with one. First, your average pet stores sell these, so the first thing you'll wanna do is never go in one of those ever again, an while we're on the subject, never ask what happens to the pets that're too ugly to be adopted. Second, when the mamba gets in the liquor cabinet, the party's over. An third, if you're ever bitten by a mamba, you can expect to die frothin' at the mouth while tryin' to reenact the crab walk scene from The Exorcist.

But the real story here is something I think we've all encountered at least once this week an the thing that started the whole problem in this movie. I'm talkin' about sick days. Yeah, I realize that people get sick, an that's fine. What ain't fine is when that person has a monopoly on all the knowledge for their particular department. When the one person that knows anything about a subject is sick, just fuggin' shut their department down until they return. Oh, but that's impractical, both monetarily and for the people that need things, we can't do that, can we? Higher ups are the only people that believe this, an that's cause they're the only people on Earth that've never had to deal with the poor sap tryin' to handle the expert's duties while drownin' in a sea of ignorance. These people dunno P. Diddy from Diddy Kong, an everybody that comes in realizes it within seconds which generally ends in gettin' the run around, the wrong item, or put in jail for chokin' 'em til their eyes bulge out like a Chinese Pug. Now admittedly, some mistakes caused by surrogate incompetence is less dangerous than others. For instance, if you send Elroy the wrong alternator for his 1973 Oldsmobile Delta, he'll prolly just come over with a tire iron an pound you into steak an kidney pie, but if you were to cater pork chops for some brat's Bar Mitzva you're gonna get sued so hard that you'll be sewin' yarmulkes in the back room of the local synagogue for the rest of your natural life. So lets just end this whole charade an admit that none of us know half as much as Bill in hardware, or what Debbie in sales does all day an quit jerkin' people off. The person with the answers'll be back tomorrow, if the trauma of havin' to wait is worse than what's gonna happen when you install your new radiator fan backwards then by all means, take the 2nd string advise. An by the way, it's perfectly safe to unscrew the radiator cap when you've overheated, nevermind what those Midas weenies tell you.

The movie begins with a mother preparin' 'er kid (Philip) for about a half decade of havin' his head stuck in lockers, trash cans, an toilets as she fusses over 'im on the front steps of the local elementary school for not wearin' his Kurt Russell signature Antarctic research station fatigues til 'er chauffeur (Oliver Reed) shows up an takes 'em to their tastefully decorated London town house. Once they arrive, the kid goes upstairs to check on his hamster mill while Mom goes downstairs to ask 'er elderly father if he's absolutely sure that he can handle watchin' the kid while she's gone, on account of 'im bein' a total feeb an all. Meanwhile, Oliver an the maid're upstairs cryptically schemin' about somethin' an the maid (Louise) ends up havin' to drop 'er knickers cause Oliver's more nervous than the residents of the lobster tank at the Rusty Barnacle. That night, Mom instructs Gramps to call if the kid has an attack, sneezes, farts, gets rug burn, scratches 'imself too hard with his comb, or doesn't pinch off a loaf at least once every 12 hours an finally gets the hell outta the movie. Then Gramps an the kid go upstairs so he can regale 'im with stories about his days on safari in Africa when he used to wait til everybody was asleep an fire roman candles into trees full of howler monkeys an swipe the Sears Roebuck catalog from the communal potty shrub til Louise comes in an calls for lights out. Meanwhile, after Oliver drops Mom off at the airport, he picks up Klaus Kinski an takes 'im to his rented space an once Oliver leaves Louise shows up an puts the Greco Roman liplock on Klaus. Klaus tells 'er he don't like Oliver, or anybody else who ain't blonde for that matter, but she tells 'im not to worry about it cause she showed 'im 'er hoo-ha earlier an now he's completely obedient. Meanwhile the kid's havin' one of those asthma attacks that's so bad he can still scream louder'n your mother after she finds the bondage porno under your mattress til Gramps comes up an threatens to finish the safari story if the kid don't knock it off an breath right. The next mornin', Gramps stuffs the kid in a taxi so he can go pick up his new snake from the pet store while the maid does everything she can to stop 'im cause he ain't allowed to do anything that might give 'im the idea that he don't need his Mom around wipin' his butt 'round the clock. Then Klaus calls Gramps an pretends to be a movie producer/Nigerian Prince that needs a safari guide in Africa so Gramps'll clear outta the house. So while Gramps heads over to meet Klaus, the kid goes into the pet shop where this old battle axe comes outta the back room an starts screamin' at 'im cause nobody told 'er the Revolutionary War was over til he can explain that he's just there to pick up an order.

Eventually she snaps back to reality an apologizes. She doesn't mean to be that way, it's just that her husband (the shop owner) has been sick an generally the only reason boys come in is to teach the parrots dirty words an put the Bettas in the same tank an watch 'em go all Battle Royale on each other. Elsewhere, the assistant at a local toxicology lab comes in an tells the senior tech (Dr. Stowe) that they've been bamboozled an that this black mamba they ordered is nothin' more than a harmless garter snake an that Jake Roberts is gonna have somebody cut off their thumbs if they don't get the genuine article like right now. Stowe ain't real worried about it, at least not til she actually starts thinkin' a little bit an realizes that if she got the wrong snake, maybe somebody else did too an then she gets this look on 'er face like she just sat down in a wet theater seat an scrambles to call the pet shop. Meanwhile, Klaus pulls up at the kid's house just about the time he's gettin' back an Louise tries to herd 'im into Klaus' car but the kid darts past 'er an heads for his room so he can get the new snake all set up in its new one bedroom apartment. About that time the phone rings an when Oliver picks it up he listens long enough to realize it's the cops an hangs up before they can warn 'im about the snake, at which point the kid opens up the box an the mamba pops out an gives Louise more facial piercins than the audience at a Green Day concert. About that time Gramps returns after gettin' tired of waitin' for Klaus to show up an Oliver starts yellin' at 'im for lettin' the kid keep a snake like that in the house. Give it up Oliver, that snake was the only one associated with this residence that was ever gonna get anywhere near Louise anyway. Then Gramps goes for the phone but Oliver socks 'im right in the gut bucket an then shoves the kid to the ground after he tries punchin' 'im in the crown jewels. Klaus is P.O.'d, cause he wants to kidnap the kid for ransom an after he gets in Oliver's face an reminds 'im who has the glorious head of blonde hair he makes Oliver put Gramps in the cellar. So now Klaus goes to get Louise so they can get outta there, only she's pantin' an sweatin' like a Biggest Loser contestant tryin' to do an abdominal crunch an he has to help 'er down to the front door where Oliver's now grabbed one of Gramps' elephant guns an right about that time the door bell rings. It's the fuzz. But Oliver mistakes 'im for a Jahova's Witness an after whippin' the door open, blows 'im clean off the steps an onto the curb near his police cruiser. The cop tries to CB for help but the dispatch has Benny Hill blarin' in the background an can't hear what he's sayin' an pretty quick he expires like the dairy products in a Mom 'n Pop gas station.

Back inside the house, Louise's gotten purpler than Grimace from those old McDonalds ads an starts floppin' around on the floor like a fat kid tryin' to do a kip up til she finally craps out. Oliver's madder'n hell after havin' to watch what he thought was his girlfriend doin' Mamba No. 5 all over the hardwood floor, but that's the least of his problems cause by now more cops've shown up an after the ambulance hauls the corpse off this hardass no-nonsense officer (Commander William Bulloch) walks up to the sidewalk like he's about to kick the door in an kung fu everybody inside into sweet 'n sour pork. Klaus, havin' realized he's been spotted, opens the window a crack an tells 'im he's got the kid an that he wants a car, money, an a lifetime supply of mousse from Vidal Sassoon or they'll make the kid eat the British leftovers in the fridge. So while Iron Bullochs walks away like he couldn't give a shit less what they do, the mamba's slitherin' around in the kid's room makin' beans an hamsterhocks outta the kid's pettin' zoo an once that wears thin it starts crawlin' around in the air ducts like James Bond. Then Klaus has Oliver let Gramps outta the cellar so he can tell 'em that Louise's corpse is fulla mamba bites an Klaus takes 'im upstairs armed with only a reading light saber an a throw pillow shield to dispatch the mamba which ultimately leads to little more than serious damage to an extension cord. An as if this whole scheme hadn't already gone to pot quicker'n undercooked poultry, now the SWAT team's assembled outside an set up shop in every window in the neighborhood for a three block radius. So now Bulloch has Klaus's car towed away for parkin' in a no kidnappin' zone an saunters back on over to the window to see if Klaus an Oliver need some fresh underpants before the negotiatin' goes any further. But Klaus is cooler than the other side of the pillow an starts restatin' his demands til one of Bulloch's flunkies calls 'im over to tell 'im about the mamba in the house an that the tech from the toxicology lab'll be there shortly to let 'em all know just exactly how fucked they are. Turns out the black mamba's about the most dangerous snake in the world cause they're more paranoid than the core collective of the NRA, quicker'n a hiccup, can strike from 10 feet away an have a 100% mortality rate if the wounds aren't treated real quick like. So they're basically like Bruce Lee on a bad acid trip.

So Bulloch an Dr. Stowe head up to the window to warn Klaus about the snake an Klaus tells 'em that information woulda been a helluva lot more useful about an hour ago cause the maid's already been bitten more times than a night nurse workin' the bath salt ward. Then Klaus gets an idea, a wonderful, awful idea. Send in the doc, he tells Bulloch, who more or less responds with "sure, an when I'm done doin' that I'll just come find that mamba myself an ask it for a knobber." So Klaus compromises an has Gramps bring the maid to the steps, only once the doc gets ready to stick 'er with the anti venom Klaus whips the blanket back, grabs the doc an hauls 'er inside at gunpoint while Bulloch stands there lookin' like Charlie Brown after havin' the football pulled away for the 947th time. So Bulloch gets his guys workin' on findin' some blueprints for the house an figurin' out who the servants that work there are, all the while the kid's inside the house makin' noises like a bound up vacuum cleaner cause he can't get any air until Klaus remembers that children need air an lets Gramps get the kid's inhaler. By now, Oliver's bloody well had it with Klaus tellin' 'im what to do all the time an decides he's gonna be his own man an get too hammered to be of any use an goes to grab a few nips of courage outta the liquor cabinet. Unfortunately, the mamba's inside an it's a real mean drunk that won't quit strikin' at Oliver any time he reaches for a bottle. The mamba ain't stupid, you do not wanna run this man a tab. So Klaus has to slam the cabinet door shut an watch impotently as it crawls back into the air duct behind the cabinet. By now, Klaus is startin' to realize he's in way over his blonde locks an while Gramps an the doc try to get the kid's asthma under control, we see Klaus hand Oliver somethin', only it's darker than America's future in the house an we can't see what it is. Back outside, Bulloch's flunkies have found a way to get into the house, only before they can utilize it they hear the doc screamin' from the balcony of the house an when they get there Klaus tosses out a little box an tells 'im there's gonna be another every half an hour if they don't get with the program. Inside the box, is a dainty, severed finger. So Bulloch, bein' British an all, immediately caves to the demands an brings Klaus' car back an tells 'im they're still workin' on the cash cause it's 4pm an there aren't any banks that're still open. But now that things're finally startin' to go the way Klaus intended he starts gettin' more paranoid than the mamba an sends Oliver an Gramps to check all the locks in the house. Unfortunately, about the time they're checkin' out the cellar, Bulloch an his flunkies utilize the walled off door while the mamba simultaneously drops outta the air ducts in the background. Will cut it here to preserve the ending.

Alrighty, well, this one's pretty mainstream friendly. I really don't understand what the MPAA was thinking when they assigned an R to this movie, as it fits into the Thriller genre more closely than into the Horror category. The only reason I even tacked on the /horror in the genre section is due to the Susan George scenes. It does strike her a few times in the face with decent special effects, and the convulsion scene that follows a little while after is alright, but realistically, this is a Thriller. The mamba is really only an interesting twist to your average police stand off/ransom/kidnapping movie. It probably would have been a lot better if Tobe Hooper hadn't dropped out almost immediately due to creative differences, and it's very easy to see why he did. The remaining director, Piers Haggard, has stated that all the footage Hooper had done was cut out of the final product, so basically after watching it, it's pretty clear why Hooper left. This isn't the kind of movie he makes, other than the claustrophobia plot device employed. I really don't understand why, if the movie turned out the way the producers intended, they would even consider Tobe Hooper for a movie like this. This is the man who made the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Even Poltergeist, which is nowhere near on the level of Chainsaw, is unquestionably a horror movie, featuring many memorable scenes and gross effects, although to be fair that hadn't been released yet. But did they bother to check out Eaten Alive or The Funhouse before hiring him for this? Yeah, the man is probably gonna want to push the envelope a little bit, who knew? Naturally, they left his name on much of the promotional material, which requires an amusing level of cognitive dissonance to realize that his work has value, but deny him a reasonable amount of creative control necessary to do his thing. Apparently Tobe wasn't the only one that had trouble getting along with people on the set, cause Oliver Reed was apparently prone to trolling Klaus Kinski until he'd freak out. Petty to be sure, although you can certainly see the tension in the scenes with just Oliver and Klaus. It's probably not a good sign when the more interesting tidbits stem from on set drama, but lets give it a chance at least.

Okay then, lets gnaw on this thing's face an see if it tastes like chicken. The plot is acceptable. I use the term acceptable in the sense that it's one that's been done a great many times, and doesn't translate all that well when trying to be molded into a horror movie, though it does warrant some points for infusing a rather tired idea with an interesting twist. I think the weak-kneed writing is really more to blame for the way everything comes together than the plot, to be fair. The acting is great, and easily the most entertaining aspect of the movie. Which is probably not a good sign when you're trying to produce a horror film, but it is what it is. Klaus Kinski is fantastic, as always, though I think the writing limits his ability to be the tough as nails character the movie really needed. Oliver Reed is actually the more entertaining of the two, as his character is a bit more unhinged, which at least gives you the idea that he's crazy enough to do something interesting. They definitely worked well together when you consider that they disliked each other intensely. Nicol Williamson isn't bad as the police commander either, and if they'd written Kinski's character more like his the movie probably would have been a lot more interesting, because the cop strikes the viewer as the tougher of the two, which is not exactly something you want. None of the other characters are all that engaging, but the villains are the ones that really need to be, and for that reason you'd have to say they did a good job with the casting. And because the movie takes place in England they were a bit limited on who they had to pick from for the primary actors, despite making the besieged family American to help appeal to the American market.

Klaus Kinski is pretty much a horror legend so I don't think a resume is needed there. Otherwise, here's who matters and why: Oliver Reed (The Pit and the Pendulum 1991, The House of Usher 1989, Gor, Venom, Dr. Heckyl and Mr. Hype, The Brood, Burnt Offerings, Z.P.G., Paranoiac, Night Creatures, The Curse of the Werewolf, The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll), Nicol Williamson (Spawn, The Exorcist III, Excalibur), Sterling Hayden (Dr. Strangelove), Michael Gough (Sleepy Hollow, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Arthur the King, The Boys from Brazil, Evil Heritage, The Legend of Hell House, Computer Killers, The Corpse, Trog, Curse of the Crimson Alter, Berserk, They Came from Beyond Space, The Skull, Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, Black Zoo, Phantom of the Opera 1962, Konga, Horrors of the Black Museum, Horror of Dracula), John Forbes-Robertson (Lifeforce, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, The Vault of Horror, The Vampire Lovers, First Men in the Moon), Peter Porteous (Lifeforce), Maurice Colbourne (Hawk the Slayer), Nicholas Donnelly (Lifeforce), Sally Lahee (The Flesh and Blood Show), David Sterne (The Wolfman 2010, Slaughter 2009, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Superstition 2001, Tale of the Mummy), Alan Ford (Cockneys vs. Zombies, Strippers vs. Werewolves, The Exorcist: The Beginning, An American Werewolf in London), Norman Mann (The Plague of the Zombies), Eric Richard (The Omen III), Arnold Diamond (The Omen III, Frankenstein: The True Story, The Vulture, Maniac 1963, Paranoiac, Masters of Venus, The Hands of Orlac, The Revenge of Frankenstein, Nineteen Eighty-Four 1954), Pat Gorman (Batman 1989, Trog, The Mummy's Shroud, The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb), Eric Kent (The Terrornauts). Oliver Reed is a bit of a judgment call regarding whether or not his fame makes the resume necessary or not, as is Michael Gough whom most will recognize as Alfred from the first four Warner Batman movies. Pat Gorman may be recognized by normal people for having played a variety of different characters in 88 episodes of Dr. Who between 1964 and 1988.

The special effects, infrequent as they are, are pretty good. Most critical among them would be the fact that the snake really was a black mamba the majority of the time, being expertly handled by the real life version of the character Michael Gough was portraying in the movie. He (David Ball) even has a special thanks credit at the end of the movie. So that guy is probably more responsible for the success of the movie than anyone. That said there are a few scenes where a fake snake had to be used, but it's not all that often. It's also one of the better looking fake snakes ever put to film and the editor did a good job of knowing where to cut before anything began looking silly. Even the climax, which is in slow motion, doesn't look silly, so it's pretty impressive. But besides the snake, you've essentially got a severed finger and a few bite marks. The movie just isn't really a horror film, and thus, doesn't have many gross-out effects, which is disappointing. The shooting locations are adequate, but not particularly interesting. Movies shot entirely, or almost entirely, within a house are really hit and miss for me, and this one isn't all that good and doesn't add much to the atmosphere. The exterior shots with the police are a bit better, although that's mostly due to the British architecture which gives us a breather from the standard American fare we're used to. The soundtrack for the most part is pretty good. It adds tension where needed and effectively uses differing levels of panic depending on whether the suspense is occurring due to conflict between Klaus and Oliver, or due to the presence of the snake. So in general it's pretty good, although the score used for the opening and closing credits seems a bit too cheerful and somewhat out of place. But at least those are the two least relevant moments in terms of musical importance. Overall, Venom isn't really my kind of movie, but I think the average person that enjoys Thrillers would probably appreciate it more than I. It's a bit weak for me personally, but it really isn't a bad movie. I'd only recommend it to people who enjoy stand-off style movies, and those that're into the killer snake genre on an unhealthy level.

Rating: 62%