Wednesday, May 18, 2016

VENOM (1981) (Blue Underground Blu-ray Review)

VENOM (1981) 

Label: Blue Underground 
Release Date: May 31st 2016 
Region Code: region FREE
Duration: 92 Minutes 
Rating: R
Audio: English DTS-HD 7.1 Surround, DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo, Dolby Digital Surround EX 5.1 with Optional English SDH, French, Spanish Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Director: Piers Haggard
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Klaus Kinski, Sarah Miles, Nicol Williamson, Susan George, Oliver Reed 

This was a first time watch of the hybrid serpentine-siege movie Venom (1981) starring two of cinema's most notorious madmen, the equally strong-willed Klaus Kinski and Oliver Reed. As the story goes we an asmthmatic 10-year boy named Phillip (Lance Holcomb) who is left alone for the weekend with his grandfather by his overly protective motherRuth (Cornelia Sharpe) at their posh London townhouse. It seems Ruth is off to Rome to join her husband who is away there on work. She leaves Phillip with her father Howard (Sterling Hayden, Dr. Strangelove) who was some sort of African big game hunter back in his prime. Ruth has some reservations about leaving her son alone with her elderly dad, but she is somewhat comforted by the fact that she has the chauffeur Dave (Oliver Reed, Burnt Offerings) and a nanny named Louise (Susan George, Crazy Mary Dirty Larry) to help keep the boy safe while she is away. 

What she does not know is that Louise and Dave are not good people, in fact they have partnered with an international criminal named Jacmel (madman Klaus Kinski) to kidnap her son and hold him ransom. However, before the trio can enact their kidnap plan the boy's grandfather throws a wrench into the works by allowing young Philip to take a taxi by himself to a pet shop to purchase a snake ...only the inept shop keepers send Philip away with not a harmless snake, but the deadliest snake ion the damned planet, a venemous black mamba! 

Philip arrives back at the home with his deadly new pet safely locked away in a wooden box, he runs to his room but not before an odd staircase encounter with Reed's character who confronts the boy by repeatedly calling him a "cheeky bastard". Just as Jacmel arrives on scene to kidnap the kid poor Louise is viciously bitten in the face by the snake in one of the movies more fun and thrilling scenes. Unfortunately Susan George is down for the count and out of the picture at this point which was awful for me, just a few moments earlier she was stripping off her maid outfit... which makes the cover art for the Blu-ray which teases a scantly clad Susan George versus the snake sort of funny, you just gotta love the exploitation movie marketing machine, they sure know how to tease us into watching a movie with a certain expectation. 

With Susan George's Louise writhing in pain and dying an awful suffocating death the kidnap plot is revealed to Howard, who is now held against his will at gun point along with his grandson. Right then a copper comes knocking on the front door, unbeknownst to the kidnappers he is there to make an inquiry about the unfortunate mix-up at the pet shop, before this is known trigger happy Dave blasts the cop right off the front door step with a shotgun, which incites a near instant stand-off with the authorities who arrive within minutes. Now the kidnappers and victims are trapped in the house with a deadly black mamba on the loose while the coppers surround the townhouse making escape difficult. 

This one is a claustrophobic bit of siege fun, we begin with a very simple kidnapping gone wrong scenario that turns into a oddball siege movie with a killer snake on the loose, which makes for good movie watching if not a great slice of cinema. Susan George is gone a bit too soon for my tastes, but turns is fine performance for her part. Surprisingluy Reed and Kinski are mighty restrained in their roles but they're bursting at the seems with tension, probably because they actually hated each other, and the always watchable Sterling Hayden turns in a wiley performance as the aging white hunter trying to protect his son. Young Lance Holcomb manages to not be too annoying for a kid actor, but doesn't get a lot to do, he's suffering from his asthma most of the movie. 

Venom has a reputation as having not enough siege nor enough snake for the most part, and I agree with the latter of the considerations, there is definitely not enough of the black mamba in the movie for my tastes, though there's plenty of siege, to that end we have Commander William Bulloch (Nicol Williamson) heading the siege against the kidnappers. He comes across as a smart and shrewd lawman during is negotions with Kinski but somehow allows the kidnappers to snatch away a snake expert who arrives on scene to consult about the deadly black mamba. She becomes a bargaining chip for the kidnappers who threaten to cut off her fingers if their ransom demands are not met. 

This is a good watch, it moves along at a fast pace, along the way the script seems to jettison a fair amount of logic to maintain that pace, but it was not anything I couldn't forgive. For myself the thrill of this one is the great cast and fun premise, a somewhat aloof siege movie married to a serpentine survival movie, starring Kalus Kinksi, Susan Geoge, Oliver Reed and Hollywood veteran Sterling Hayden cannot be that all that bad, in fact it's quite good. The biggest drawback for me would be the need for more snake onscreen, it is glimpsed only fleetingly, which works for some movies but not this one, especially when the few scenes we do get are so effcective, that snake was scary and  a few of the scenes made my skin crawl, while others made me laugh, such as the venemous serpent crawling up Reed's pant leg to bite the brute right on the schlong, this was a rare ustance of Reed underplaying a situation. Definitey check out Venom if you have not done so yet, it's not great cinema but it is a good watch, this new Blu-ray from Blue Underground is a great excuse to finally check it out or give it a rewatch.

Audio/Video: Venom (1981) arrives on Blu-ray from Blue Underground framed in the original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio with a new 2K transfer straight from the original camera negative looking very nice. The image is clean and crisp with a nice clarity and a modest amount of depth. Colors are strong and vibrant, the black levels and shadow detail are very strong all the way around.  Audio choices are plentiful with choice of English DTS-HD MA 7.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo, plus Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 Surround with Optional English SDH subtitles. The audio is clean and free of hiss, except for that of the deadly black mamba... drum roll please! The Michael Kamen score, sound effects and dialogue are nicely balanced and come through clean and with a sense of urgency, the surround options offers bit of discreet channel fun, but us unecassary, for me the original stereo mix sounded just fine. 

Special features on the disc are on the slim side, the Blu-ray and DVD discs come housed in a clear Criterion style keep case with a reversible sleeve of artwork and a 20-page collector's booklet with writing about the movie from Michael Gingold, the booklet also includes promotional images and artwork for the movie. Extras on the discs include a commentary with Director Piers Haggard moderated by Jonathan Sothcott, offering some solid insight about the making of this troubled movie production, with Haggard commenting on taking over the movie after the original director Tobe Hooper was fired, following what has often been reported to be a nervous breakdown on set. He also speaks volumes about the tumultuous on-set chemistry between stars Klaus Kinski and Oliver Reed who apparently loathed each other from day one, with Reed taunting Kinski by calling him a "nazi bastard" while for his part Kinski threatening to kill Reed. In a lot of ways the making of anecdotes are more interesting the movie to a degree. There's also a selection of trailers and TV spots for the movie, plus an image gallery of behind-the-scenes, and advertising and promotional images.  

Special Features: 

- Audio Commentary with Director Piers Haggard moderated by Jonathan Sothcott
- Theatrical Trailer (1 Min) 
- TeaserTrailer (1 Mins) 
- TV Spots (1 Min) 
- Poster and Still Gallery (78 Images) 
- BONUS Collectible Booklet featuring new writing by Fangoria Editor Michael Gingold

Venom (1981) is a movie I have known about for a long time but just never got around to seeking out, I think I first read about it about it on a list of movies that Tobe Hooper was booted from and/or quit, a list which also included werewold with laser-eyes movie The Dark, which is another strange one. This serpentine siege thriller is a good watch, the story has some huge holes in it but the cast do a fine job of bringing it home, and knowing the on-set acidity between Kalus Kinski and Oliver Reed only makes it that much more fun when they share scenes together, knowing the friction was real adds some depth to it. Blue Underground have done a great job bringing Venom to Blu-ray with a solid A/V presentation and an attractive package, highly recommended, another geat release from BU!