This Piers Haggard thriller represents a shoot I’d loved to have witnessed as a fly on the wall. Better still, a snake coiled up in the corner. Seriously who wouldn’t have wanted to see Klaus Kinski fencing with Oliver Reed trading verbal jabs for a few weeks in a claustrophobic setting? I’d pay to see the outtakes alone. Did I mention it also has Sterling Hayden scoring top billing and Susan George as one of the sexiest nanny’s you can possibly dream up?
Admittedly this isn’t an Alfred Hitchcock production but like the Master’s films this plot is clearly laid out for us in the opening minutes. Ollie is a chauffeur and Susan the nanny to young Lance Holcomb. A fragile youngster who suffers from a severe case of asthma. His mother (Cornelia Sharpe) is set to leave on a business trip and leave the boy in the care of his one time big game hunter grandfather played energetically by Hayden. Something deadly serious is about to begin when Susan uses her girlish charms to keep a nervous Ollie in line.
Two key additions to the plot are to be unveiled. Little Lance collects small pets and reptiles and goes to pick up his new snake. Seems there is a mix up at the pet store and he’s handed a box containing a Black Mamba. Billed as the fastest and most deadliest snake in the world. Speaking of deadly, while the kid is picking up the snake, Ollie, is at the airport picking up Kinski.
Time for our kidnapping plot to begin with some unexpected turns for our trio of kidnappers.
Plot points will converge when little Lance arrives at home with his new snake. The venom flows freely when the snake strikes poor Susan numerous times. Kinski and Reed’s plans to remove the boy from his downtown London home come to an end when a policeman arrives at the home to ask about the snake. It was originally intended to be sent to Miss Sarah Miles at the Institute of Toxicology for studies. She received the harmless pet snake intended for the boy. As for the policeman knocking on the door? Ollie answers it in a panic holding a shotgun. Let’s just say it doesn’t end well for the officer unaware of what he has just walked into.
Trivia hounds take note, that police officer was played by John Forbes-Robertson. Hammer Film fans will know him as the last actor to wear the Dracula cape for the studio in 1974’s The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires. May as well add the fact that horror favorite Michael Gough will also be making a minor appearance as a snake handler at the midway point of the film.
Now that everything is set in place, we have Hayden and the boy captive at the hands of the icy cold Kinski and the nervous Ollie who fancies a drink in his employer’s bar. Surely you saw that coming if you love your Ollie Reed stories. Somewhere in the home slithering about and adding tension to the kidnapping is the Black Mamba. With a dead officer laying on the street, it’s time to call in the detective who is going to have to negotiate with Kinski and Reed to save the boy’s life.
Enter Nicol Williamson who will spend a good portion of the film verbally sparring with Klaus while trying to discover the identities of those within the home. All the while trying to maintain a calmness which doesn’t come easy considering Ollie’s rage. The astute Williamson will also bring in Miss Miles to learn more about the presence of the snake and just how deadly it can be.
Meanwhile in the home, Hayden, is trying to keep the boy safe while at the same time being forced to hunt for the reptile. Leads to a tension filled scene with Hayden attempting to flush out the venomous predator in an upstairs room. Not wanting to give away too much I will say that Miss Miles ends up in the home as well under the pretense that she is to save the life of Susan with an antidote to the snake venom.
For Klaus it just adds up to another hostage to bargain with. The snake of course has other ideas.
Back to Klaus and Ollie. I’ve heard some stories about the shoot which mainly involved an inebriated Ollie tormenting Klaus. I can see that but I can also see a quick tempered Klaus blowing his stack and giving it right back to the barrel chested Reed. Again, I’d loved to have been on set. Reed would be back to face off against another demon snake the following year alongside Peter Fonda in Spasms. Of the two films if given a choice I prefer Venom. I think it’s a better crafted film and hard not to love the cast assembled for this thriller that I wouldn’t classify as an outright horror film.
This was another of those titles we youngsters discovered on our weekly visits to the local video stores. It had a cool looking box cover and yes, even then I was looking for the films of Reed and Kinksi. Their legendary status as hellraisers had already caught my attention as a young teen. While doing a bit of research for this write up I came across the Siskel and Ebert segment where they review the film. Siskel got it right with a thumbs up. Ebert missed the fun in it and didn’t seem to have any appreciation for the superior cast involved.
Sterling Hayden was not yet in my world of discovery when it came to films and looking back from this vantage point, Venom, may be one of the earliest films I had seen him in. That would have been altered greatly had he played Quint in Jaws as was originally intended according to Hollywood legend. Now I go out of my way to see anything he appeared in from obvious classics like The Killing, Dr. Strangelove and The Godfather to little known gems such as Manhandled, Crime Wave and Suddenly.
Miss Susan George? Hey when your a young teen discovering films of the 60’s and 70’s during the days when you could rent a VHS machine and movies for the weekend, she quickly caught this young man’s eye thanks to appearances in like including Lola, Straw Dogs, A Small Town in Texas and perhaps best of all, Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry, which played network Television repeatedly in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
One could do a whole lot worse than visiting this little gem with a larger than life cast. If you haven’t seen it and snakes make you nervous be careful you don’t spill the popcorn when those fangs start flying at you. Then again maybe it’s Klaus and Ollie who might draw you in as they did me years ago. Both are regular focal points here at Mike’s Take and here’s a look at some previous spotlights on the pair that I’ve featured in the past. For Klaus click here and for Ollie try here.
Venom shouldn’t be too hard to locate as it’s out on both DVD and blu ray via Blue Underground or if you’ve still got a VHS machine then maybe you can locate a copy down at the video retailer at the local fleamarket next to the pet store that houses reptiles and ……….. snakes?