Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media
Venom (1982)
Blue Underground | Review by Dan Taylor

What 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 Herzog’s 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, it’s surprising that it took till the early 1980s for the pair to appear together in 1982’s VENOM. After seeing them act together, it’s 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 black mamba.

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 shots.)

With that kind of behind-the-scenes shenanigans, it’s 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, it’s 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 Dave’s 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 trio’s plan begins to unravel. A cop investigating the reptilian switcheroo gets splattered on the sidewalk by a trigger-happy Dave – much to Jacmel’s 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 boy’s 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 doesn’t like “this Dave... his hands sweat,” you get the feeling he’s really talking about Reed.

Pity poor Piers Haggard for being thrown into this “nest of vipers,” as he calls it. The director’s 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.


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