Movie Information

Genre: Horror
Director: Jim Gillespie
Starring: Agnes Bruckner, Jonathan Jackson, Laura Ramsey, Rick Cramer, Meagan Good
Rated: R

I’m baffled by both the critics who’ve hated this movie and the few who’ve defended it. OK, perhaps not so much by the former, who, by and large, seem to feel that an overall distaste for horror pictures is a badge of cultural superiority. But the defenders of Venom are another matter. They seem to be operating in an alternate universe where the movie is actually good in any reasonable sense of the term.

OK, so there are a few points earned in the “creative deaths” realm — even if the death-by-sandblaster is cribbed from Dr. Phibes Rises Again, and another character’s demise is lifted right out of Sleepy Hollow.

Nor will I deny that the movie is occasionally educational in a cautionary sense. For example, should you find yourself performing an autopsy on a corpse that then wanders off down a dark corridor with flickering lights, it is perhaps not in your best interest to go looking for it. Similarly, should you find that something has turned your Volkswagen upside down while you were checking out the local voodoo temple, waiting around to swap insurance information with the culprit is ill-advised. Along the same lines, the movie clearly comes down against continuing to look for your missing friend after finding her bloody shoe and playing slip-‘n’-slide in her blood. Knowledge like this may one day save your life.

However, this is exactly the stuff — along with a cheeky nastiness that is blessedly devoid of the pretension and depressing sadism of a movie like High Tension — that makes Venom a lot of fun on the so-bad-it’s-good level of unintentional hilarity. And, no, I don’t think it’s possible that the filmmakers intended this, though I do doubt that anyone involved took the project very seriously — even if the silly thing has more than its fair share of trite teen angst (realized by 20-odd-year-old actors) in a misguided effort to make us care about their fates.

But in a way, this is also part of the fun. You know you’re swimming on the shallow side of deep when more-or-less hero Eric (Jonathan Jackson, Insomnia) is sketched in as something other than your typical backwater yahoo from the town of Backwater (Backwater was the film’s original title before it became The Reaper before it became Venom) by his being given an upscale Jeep to drive. When his character is expanded by having him listen to alt-rock (that blandly peppy type of music that sounded fresh 20 years ago), you know the film is trading in purest stereotypes in a way that’s more funny than annoying.

The opening with aging voodoo priestess Miss Emmie (Deborah Duke) retrieving a suitcase from a graveyard sets the loopy tone for the proceedings. She not only digs the thing up, she performs an incantation that sounds like it includes the words “Fay Wray” and “rattan,” but since neither Miss Wray nor wickerwork ever shows up, I might be in error there. Doesn’t matter. All of this is just setup so that the voodoo snakes in the suitcase can transform merely anti-social tow-truck driver Ray (Rick Cramer, Showtime) into a really ugly, crowbar-wielding, tow-truck-driving zombie with a penchant for sacrificing as many folks as possible (none-too-bright teenagers are preferred) to “the dark side.”

Venom is pretty much a no-frills affair that wisely wastes little time on talk. This is especially in its favor since the explanation that the snakes contain all the evil that Miss Emmie “milked” out of otherwise damned folks, and this evil has been transmitted to Ray, leads to the classically bad line, “Can’t you just de-milk him?” Movies with that kind of writing should be seen and not heard.

No, this film is really all about Ray in his “Happy Time Towing” truck (that looks like he bought it second-hand from Victor Salva’s Creeper) offing people, who continue to do the sort of classically dumb things that make it easy for him to do so.

The acting is charmingly bad and, strangely, despite the film’s Louisiana swamp setting, almost no one attempts an accent. Well, rapper-actor Method Man takes a stab at a kind of “Son of a gun, gonna have big time on the bayou” sound, but can’t seem to remember to stick with it between takes. But, hey, it’s that kind of movie.

Rated R for strong horror violence/gore, and language.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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