Released by: Blue Underground
Released on: May 24th, 2016.
Director: Piers Haggard
Cast: Oliver Reed, Klaus Kinski, Susan George, Sterling Hayden
Year: 1982 Purchase From Amazon
Based on the book by Alan Scholefield and directed in 1982 by Piers Haggard, Venom begins when an asthmatic kid named Philip Hopkins (Lance Holcomb) waits for his mother Ruth (Cornelia Sharpe) to leave London for Rome to visit her husband working abroad. When she leaves, Philip decides to get himself a new pet –an African house snake – provided to him by his grandfather, Howard Anderson (Sterling Hayden).
What neither Philip nor Howard realize, however, is that the maid, Louise Andrews (Susan George), and the chauffer, Dave Averconnelly (Oliver Reed), have been in contact with Jacques Muller (Klaus Kinski), a notorious international criminal type. Together they plan to kidnap Philip and hold him for a sizeable ransom, knowing full well that his parents are wealthy enough to pay it. Muller makes it to London from the continent to set the plan in motion, but of course, there’s a catch: the pet shop gave Philip the wrong snake. That harmless house snake he was supposed to receive was accidently swapped out for a deadly and very poisonous black mamba. As the story progresses, Dave turns into a cop killer while top bobby William Bulloch (Nicol Williamson) arrives on the scene in hopes of getting the hostages out and taking the bad guys down before all involved fall victim to the deadliest serpent in the world!
A notorious box office flop upon its theatrical release, Venom has rightly earned itself a decent cult following thanks to frequent TV showings and the fact that it’s had a decent history of home video releases. The movie has its problems to be sure (listen to Haggard’s commentary for plenty of dirt dishing), not the least of which was the fact that Kinski and Reed really didn’t get along at all during the shoot, but it’s a fun watch. The two notorious hotheads really go off at times, with Reed using his boisterous persona quite well and quite often and Kinski sleazing it up in that special way of his. Subtly isn’t a strong point here, but fans of scenery chewing will easily get their money’s worth. As to the rest of the cast? Susan George looks good here, and hey, she sports some foxy black lingerie in one particular scene, so there’s that too. Her character is kind of underwritten and she doesn’t really stretch much as an actress (she’s been legitimately great when given the right material – this isn’t it!) but she’s fun to watch and if she’s little more than eye-candy, well at least she does eye-candy well. Sterling Hayden probably just wanted a paycheck but he classes up the scenes he’s in. Lance Holcomb is fine as far as dorky child actors go while Nicol Williamson manages to not embarrass himself as the top in charge of the case once it all hits the fan.
But what of the snakes? The snakes are pretty bad ass. The black mamba in particular is well shot in a few scenes and any time that it’s on screen, there’s some decent tension. Granted, the snake doesn’t get enough screen time, but we’ve got Kinski and Reed to fill in the blanks. The movie is reasonably well shot and the score works well enough. How exactly someone could mix up two completely different snakes is a good question that’s never sufficiently answered and there are plenty of other gaffs and plot holes here if you’re into things like that. The movie also plays off like a series of clichés strung together –outside of the snake in the house angle, there’s nothing new here in terms of storytelling or execution. But the fact remains that Venom offers viewers the chance to see Kinki and Reed at their rowdiest dealing with some bad ass snakes (and at one point Reed gets bitten on his nuts, which is kind of great even if it’s puzzlingly underplayed here). If that’s not enough to pique your curiosity, you should probably leave and never come back.
Blue Underground presents Venom on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 newly restored in 2k from the original negative on a 25GB disc. It looks quite a bit better than the DVD release did, but it also looks like some light noise reduction might have been applied here and there as skin tones are a bit smooth. Aside from that, this is a nice transfer. Detail is better in close up shots than wider compositions but those are also improved. Color reproduction looks very good as do black levels and the image is clean, free of any major print damage.
English audio options are presented in DTS-HD 7.1, DTS-HD 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 with optional subtitles provided in English, French and Spanish. The 7.1 track has more range then the 2.0 mix does when it comes to the score and the effects and it’s also got more power behind it. The 2.0 track sounds more true to form – both feature nicely balanced levels and are free of any hiss or distortion. Dialogue stays clean, clear and easily discernable regardless of which option you go for.
Carried over from the DVD release is an audio commentary with Director Piers Haggard. As you’d probably imagine, there’s some talk of what it was like working with Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski that proves to be pretty entertaining stuff. There’s also discussion of the script, how he wound up directing this film in the first place, who bankrolled the thing (which is a whole different story in and of itself), the locations, working with the other cast and crew members including Susan George and dealing with snakes. If you haven’t heard this track before, it’s worth checking out.
Outside of that, we get a theatrical trailer, a teaser, a few TV spots, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection. Included inside the keepcase with the Blu-ray disc is a DVD version of the movie as well as an insert booklet containing an essay on the film from former Fangoria Editor Michael Gingold.
The Final Word:
Blue Underground’s Blu-ray debut for Venom doesn’t offer much in the way of new extras but it does carry over everything from the previous DVD release and offer the film up in a considerably better presentation than we’ve seen before. The movie itself holds up well, a fun and trashy piece of early eighties entertainment with a great cast and plenty of entertainment value.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!