Horror Review: Venom (1981)

Terrorists in the process of kidnapping a child get trapped in a house with an extremely deadly snake.

I just love that synopsis, I can imagine reading it in a video rental store and immediately renting it.

Before I go on I have to say that this film is more Thriller than Horror, not that that’s a problem, I just want you to know before you may watch it. But what a Thriller it is, I mean just look at the casting we have. The great Oliver Stone and the mad Klaus Kinski starring in the same film, it’s certainly going to create tension.

Apparently, according to some reports the two actors did not get along at all, but that tension does make for great viewing and gives their on screen characters a certain edge to them. The rest of the cast do a brilliant job in their roles but it’s certainly both Stone and Kinski who both steal the limelight by hamming it up as they’re both known for.

Legendary director Tobe Hooper was initially hired to direct this feature but was very quickly replaced by the films cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond, who then also quit after ten days of shooting. Hooper and Richmond both cited ‘creative differences’ and apparently none of the footage either shot was used.

Despite the backstage troubles the film it doesn’t seem to have had an effect on the finished product and we are given a fun yet suspenseful film that moves along at a nice pace and has an attention grabbing story that keeps you interested. It’s a shame the film seems to have faded into obscurity over the years.

“Venom” is a film that makes for a good Sunday afternoon viewing, something I highly recommend.

If you want to see the “Venom” trailer then just click on the video below:

Miscellaneous facts about the film:

Director Piers Haggard said in a 2003 interview for ‘Fangoria’ magazine, “I took over that at very short notice. Tobe Hooper had been directing it and they had stopped for whatever reason. It hadn’t been working. I did see some of his stuff and it didn’t look particularly good plus he also had some sort of nervous breakdown or something. So anyway they stopped shooting and offered it to me. Unfortunately I had commitments, I had some commercials to shoot. But anyway I took it over with barely ten days of preparation – which shows. It doesn’t become my picture, it’s a bit inbetween . . . [actor Oliver Reed was] scary at first because he was always testing you all the time. Difficult but not as difficult as Klaus Kinski. Because Oliver [Reed] actually had a sense of humour. I was rather fond of him; he could be tricky but he was quite warm really. He just played games and was rather macho and so on. Klaus Kinski was very cold. The main problem with the film was that the two didn’t get on and they fought like cats. Kinski of course is a fabulous film actor and he’s good in the part, the part suits him very well. They were both well cast but it was a very unhappy film. I think Klaus was the problem but then Oliver spent half the movie just trying to rub him up, pulling his leg all the way. There were shouting matches because Oliver just wouldn’t let up. None of this is about art. All the things that you’re trying to concentrate on tend to slip. So it was not a happy period.”

In the home release commentary director Piers Haggard states that stars Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski hated each other during production. Reed constantly provoked and pranked Kinski until he would lose his temper.

Klaus Kinski chose this movie over an offer to appear in Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) because he was offered more money. Kinski said in his autobiography “All I Need Is Love: A Memoir” aka “Kinski Uncut: The Autobiography of Klaus Kinski” (1988, 1996) that he thought the screenplay for Raiders was “moronically shitty”.

Replacement director Piers Haggard thought the Black Mamba snake was the nicest person on set.

Piers Haggard replaced Tobe Hooper as director. At a party at Elaine’s Restaurant in Manhattan celebrating the film’s release, Klaus Kinski boasted how he and other members of the cast and crew had ganged up on Hooper a couple of weeks into the shoot to get him replaced.

Director Piers Haggard says that none of the original footage Tobe Hooper shot is still in the film.

Michael Gough’s character, David Ball, is named for real London zookeeper David Ball, who also served as the film’s snake handler and reptile expert.

The first posters printed for the film were made before director Tobe Hooper left the production, and still feature his name.

Publicity materials claimed that anti-venom serum used to treat a black mamba bite would only be effective in fifty percent of victims.

Klaus Kinski proved to be decidedly difficult during production. He was reputed to have walked off the set for little or no reason and on more than one occasion.

Leading lady Sarah Miles began to lose patience with leading man Klaus Kinski during filming. She tried to encourage both Oliver Reed and Nicol Williamson to put Kinski in his place and make the atmosphere more relaxed. However, both of them refused. Finally, Sarah Miles confronted Klaus Kinski as they passed each other on a flight of stairs. She gave the actor a piece of her mind by telling him what she thought of him. For the rest of the shoot, Kinski always greeted Miles with a “good morning” every day.

The film was released about five years after its source novel of the same name by Alan Scholefield.

Oliver Reed also appeared in another killer snake film Spasms (1983) which was shot the same year as Venom but didn’t come out for another two years due to a very troubled production and a bankrupt effects studio. Coincidently, Spasms co-starred Miguel Fernandes, who played this film’s child star, Lance Holcomb’s elder brother in the film Ghost Story (1981).

Final theatrical feature film of actress Rita Webb and actors Arnold Diamond and Sterling Hayden and Sally Lahee,

Though director Tobe Hooper was replaced early in production, three of this film’s cast members would go on to work with him a few years later on the film Lifeforce (1985): John Forbes-Robertson, Peter Porteous and Nicholas Donnelly.

One of two 1981 suspense-horror movies featuring child actor Lance Holcomb. The other was Ghost Story (1981).

Actress Cornelia Sharpe and producer Martin Bregman were married in the same 1981 year that this movie was first released.

After US Against the World (1977) and Tomorrow Never Comes (1978), this was third and final collaboration between Oliver Reed and Susan George.

Final film screenplay produced of writer Robert Carrington.

The second of three filmed collaborations of Oliver Reed and Sarah Miles in three consecutive decades: The Big Sleep (1978), Venom (1981) and A Ghost in Monte Carlo (1990).

This was originally set up by Paramount around 1977 with Sean Connery lined up to star. David Sherwin wrote the first script treatment.

“All in all, it was a nest of vipers, not just one Black Mamba.” Piers Haggard, director.

Some of the key cast have played iconic characters in the horror film genre. Oliver Reed was a werewolf in The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), Nicol Williamson was an exorcist in The Exorcist III (1990) and Klaus Kinski was Dracula in Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

The reptile species of dangerous venomous snake in the movie was a “Black Mamba”. It’s zoological genus name is a “Dendroaspis polylepis”. Website Wikipedia states that the Black Mamba “…is a highly venomous snake of the genus Dendroaspis, and is endemic to sub-Saharan Africa. It was first described in 1864 by Albert Günther. Despite its common name, the black mamba takes its name not from the colour of its scales, but from the interior of its mouth, which is inky-black. It is the longest species of venomous snake in Africa, and the second-longest venomous snake in the world after the king cobra. The adult snake’s length typically ranges from 2 meters (6.6 ft) to 3 meters (9.8 ft), although larger examples have been recorded. It is also the fastest moving snake in Africa, and one of the fastest moving snakes in the world, capable of moving at 11 km/h (6.8 mph) over short distances. Black mambas breed annually and mating occurs in the early spring.”

A year after the publication of Alan Scholefield’s book, another book about a black mamba, “The Snake” by John Godey (the pen name of Morton Freedgood, who also wrote “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three”) was released. In that book, a black mamba smuggled into New York escapes when the smuggler is mugged in Central Park. That book was nominated for an Edgar Award for best novel by the Mystery Writers of America.

This film was first released in Japan, followed by the UK and later the US.

This was one of several Paramount projects rushed through production so they wouldn’t be delayed by an impending writers’ strike in Hollywood. Paramount’s then-president of production, future A-list producer Don Simpson, hated many of these films, including “Venom.” He told studio chairman Michael Eisner that the movies were all “dogs” and that none of them would become hits, a prediction that proved 100% accurate. Simpson only stayed on his job and completed “Venom” and the other films on the condition that Eisner immediately greenlight a film Simpson had big plans for, “An Officer and a Gentleman,” which went on to become the third-highest grossing film of 1982.

Actually more of a Crime Thriller about an attempted kidnapping for ransom than a Creature Feature/Horror film since the snake becomes a threat within the main plot that’s already in motion.

Actress Cornelia Sharpe wouldn’t perform in another film until Table One (2000), almost twenty years later.

The name of the scientific facility where Dr Marion Stowe (Sarah Miles) worked was “The London Institute of Toxicology”.

The original script title of the later blockbuster movie Snakes on a Plane (2006) was “Venom”.

Cornelia Sharpe and Klaus Kinski share the same birthday.

The amount of the ransom demand for the release of the kidnapped boy Philip (Lance Holcomb) was UK £1 million in mixed currencies.

Young star Lance Holcomb, who played Philip, was given an introducing credit in this film, but the gothic horror film Ghost Story (1981), in which Holcomb played the mentally disturbed child Fenny Bate, actually came out first in most of the world.

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