Underground | Review by Dan Taylor
happens when two unique and distinctly
different personalities get together
to make cinematic magic?
Oliver Reed and Klaus
Kinski. Two of the most charismatic,
talented and larger-than-life actors of
the late 20th century. Reed, the fun-loving,
joke-playing lush friend to many,
beloved for performances in films like OLIVER!,
TOMMY, THE BROOD and GLADIATOR. Kinski,
the cold, humorless German Olivier
who became famous for his roles in Werner
Herzogs arthouse epics and
equally infamous for his controversial autobiography
and legendary rep for being difficult.
Given the fact that Reed and
Kinski worked so often, its surprising
that it took till the early 1980s for the
pair to appear together in 1982s VENOM.
After seeing them act together, its
no wonder they never acted opposite each
other again. Started by director Tobe Hooper
as his follow-up to THE FUNHOUSE, VENOM
tells the tale of a kidnapping gone wrong
thanks to the presence of a pissed and poisonous
Apparently, the atmosphere
on the set was as poisonous as the lead
reptile. Hooper was replaced after about
ten days of shooting. Rumors abound that
the TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE director suffered
a nervous breakdown, eventually resulting
in Piers Haggard taking over behind the
camera. (Hooper would recover to helm POLTERGESIT,
which was plagued by rumors that Hooper
merely acted as a glorified cameraman while
producer Steven Spielberg called the creative
With that kind of behind-the-scenes
shenanigans, its remarkable, even
mystifying, that VENOM is an entertaining
thriller with top-notch (if unchallenging)
performances from both Reed and Kinski.
Maybe contempt breeds creativity?
Young Phillip (Lance Holcomb)
is the son of a British mother and American
hotel tycoon father. With dad away on business
and mom jetting to Rome, its the perfect
time for Dave the chauffeur (Reed), Louise
the maid (Susan Day George), and Jacmel
the terrorist (Kinski) to kidnap the kid
and hold him at a remote location until
they collect the ransom.
Oh, if it were only that easy.
Phillip a cheeky little bastard
by Daves account happens to
have quite the menagerie in his room. When
a mix-up at the pet store lands a deadly,
venomous black mamba in his collection,
the trios plan begins to unravel.
A cop investigating the reptilian switcheroo
gets splattered on the sidewalk by a trigger-happy
Dave much to Jacmels chagrin
and the flick becomes a tense stand-off
between the police (led by Nicol Williamson
of EXCALIBUR) and the kidnappers.
Other hostages include Sterling
Hayden as the boys John Huston-esque
grandfather and Sarah Miles as the doctor
who raises the alarm about the deadly snake.
Will the kidnappers get their
money? Will sharp-shooters take out the
impeccably-dressed Kinski? Will Reed drink
all the booze in the liquor cabinet? Will
the black mamba get em all?
You can almost see the tension
in the air between Reed and Kinski, especially
on the sharp-looking new DVD from Blue Underground.
Kinski fixes his co-star with a perpetual
sneer and when he tells George that he doesnt
like this Dave... his hands sweat,
you get the feeling hes really talking
Pity poor Piers Haggard for
being thrown into this nest of vipers,
as he calls it. The directors brutally
honest DVD audio commentary describes the
strange psychological ballet
between Kinski (a handful) and
Reed (a naughty boy), which
makes the terrific, fun-to-watch performances
from the two stars even more amazing.