Echo Bridge Home Entertainment // 2005 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // August 9th, 2011
He never hurt a soul until the day he died.
Fate can be a cruel mistress, especially when she involves poisonous reptiles filled with the souls of evil men! Such is the case for Ray Sawyer (Rick Cramer, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen), a local rough and tumble truck driver who has the unfortunate luck of helping an elderly woman whose car has careened off the side of a bridge into a swamp. Ray attempts to save the woman but finds her car filled with a suitcase of deadly, magical snakes that attack and eventually kill Ray. But Ray's story doesn't end there; Ray is soon brought back from the dead with merciless revenge on his mind! The old voodoo woman's granddaughter CeCe (Meagan Good, Friday), her best friend Eden (Agnes Bruckner, Vacancy 2: The First Cut) and an assortment of other teenage fodder find themselves running for their lives as Ray attempts to pick them off one by one in the swamplands and bayous of Louisiana. Only some backwoods mysticism and a lot of good luck will help stop Ray before he turns everyone he meets into human etouffee!
There is something about Venom that just works for me. I don't think it should -- by all accounts it's a very derivative slasher movie that harkens back to the 1980s with a killer brought back from the grave, a group of partying teenagers and a dark, creepy campsite (substituted here with the Louisiana swamplands). It has all the ingredients needed to make a solid, paint by numbers creep show and nothing more. It's a shame more horror fans haven't seen it because a) it's got a lot going for it, and b) by "a lot going for it" I mean it's not rated PG-13.
Venom's initial 2005 theatrical release tanked faster than you could say "Battlefield Earth," raking in less than a million dollars before it left theaters with its tail between its legs. Why? Because Venom had the terrible, horrible, no good very bad luck to be released only a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the south, including Louisiana. Movie goers most likely saw the film as too topical and decided a horror movie set in an a part of America that was just devastated by a natural disaster wasn't something worth sitting through. Now that the dust has settled almost seven years later, hopefully some horror fans will seek out and find Venom because I think that while it's not a great film, it is a fun little B-movie that offers up some fun shocks, adheres to the genre rules and feels like a throwback to the slasher movies of yore.
Venom is the kind of flick that starts off silly and decides early on to wallow in absurdity for the rest of its 87 minute run time. It's clear the filmmakers (including Scream creator Kevin Williamson, who produced Venom) hoped that this would be the next Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise -- Ray Sawyer's weird, mystical beginnings (and grotesque end) would have allowed the filmmakers to bring him back from whatever eventual grave he ended up in for more sequels. Alas, it's now clear that Venom will end up as a stand alone movie, which is okay -- what horror buffs get should make them happy if they're able to go along with the preposterous storyline and cookie cutter characters.
I like any movie that uses Voodoo and magical snakes to create its main villain. It's just plain old goofy fun. Ray Sawyer (sporting a nice amount of menace by Rick Cramer) makes a fine movie monster, covered in weird snake bites while sporting what appears to be a gas station uniform and fangs. He's basically what would happen if a rattlesnake and Mr. Clean decided to have a kid. Ray's ways of dispatching various characters is often creative and amusing, including using a car and a tree in a manner that makes me never want to hang myself out a pickup truck window again. The movie doesn't skimp on the needed gore and grizzle (natch), even though it's nothing compared to some of today's horror movies (The Final Destination, I'm looking at you). Yet that's the joy of something like Venom; it knows where its roots lie and doesn't try to hard to be hip or cool. In a way it feels like a precursor to Adam Green's love letter to the '80s, Hatchet.
Agnes Bruckner shows pluck as the main heroine (it often feels like she deserves a more prestigious picture), even though her character -- and everyone else on screen -- shows little in the way of depth or pathos. Keeping in the spirit of the genre, everyone you see is around to either show off their boobs or become meat for the grinder. Fans of rap music will be happy to see Method Man (How High) show up in a role designed...err, well, to show off an up and coming rap star. Rick Cramer is the one who steals the movie as the serpentine killer; Ray makes for a menacing and scary bad guy. The swamplands become a character in the film, especially a sprawling cemetery that comes into play near the end of the film. Director Jim Gillespie (who also helmed the Sylvester Stallone director-to-DVD D-Tox and the terrible I Know What You Did Last Summer) does a good job of keeping the film's pace up without utilizing Michael Bay's quick MTV style editing techniques.
I realize it sounds like I'm lavishing Venom with high praise and making it seem like the Gone with the Wind of horror films. It's not. What it is, though, is a very fun and amusing scary movie that doesn't take itself too seriously and clips by at a thankfully brisk pace. In this day and age, it's hard to ask for anything more out of a movie about a man made out of venomous snakes.
Venom is an Echo Bridge release, so I braced for the worst. While this picture is far from a travesty, it's also not half as good as most other Blu-ray transfers out there. The 1.78:1 widescreen image is presented in 1080p, though it's not going to be as impressive as fans might hope. The movie itself is often bathed in dominant blues and blacks, so the color scheme here isn't anything to write home about. The black levels are fine if a bit flat and the whole transfer just sort of sits there without any real 'pop.' I really wish that Echo Bridge would get their $#!t together and releases movies the way they should be for a high definition format. Until then, we're stuck with transfers like Venom -- better than their DVD counterpart but not nearly as good as they could be.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. I can safely report that this sound mix is at least a slight step up from the video transfer. There are some aggressive moments in Venom, though they aren't nearly as good as they could be (especially if Echo Bridge would have taken the time to add a DTS mix to this package). As it stands the soundtrack works well with the film with the dialogue, music and effects clearly recorded and heard. No alternate soundtracks or subtitles are included on this Blu-ray disc.
Most of the extra features from the original DVD version of Venom have been ported over to this hi-def release, so thank the good Lord for small favors. Fans get some videotaped cast auditions, a making-of featurette titled "Voodoo Nightmare" (which is a very typical behind-the-scenes short with cast and crew interviews) and some storyboard-to-film comparisons.
Venom is an above average horror movie that is surprisingly well done. It's recommended to those of you who used to revel in watching Friday the 13th Part 3 in your parent's basement when you were thirteen.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Echo Bridge Home Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audition Footage
* Storyboard Comparisons