Venom (2005)

Starring Agnes Bruckner, Jonathan Jackson, Laura Ramsey, D.J. Cotrona

Directed by Jim Gillespie

WARNING: Minor spoilers within…

I should preface this review with this bit of trivia; I Know What You Did Last Summer is among my top-ten worst slasher movies of all time list. I know that may seem harsh, but sometimes the way you emotionally react to a movie sticks with you, and I can never get over how much I hated it the first time I saw it, and that was before I became the somewhat jaded horror website editor I am today.

So when director Gillespie’s second venture into our genre, Venom, was announced (initially titled Backwater, the name of the fictional Louisiana town the film takes place it, then The Reaper, which I can only assume was supposed to be the killer’s nickname), I was less than thrilled. A quick look at how many screenwriters had their hands in it (I believe the final number, credited, was four) didn’t help much either. So going in I had very, very low expectations for it.

So when it turned out to actually be a pretty decent slasher movie, I was quite pleased.

The story opens with an old woman digging up what appears to be a grave. Out of it she pulls a suitcase, mutters some odd voodoo stuff over it, the proceeds to load it in her car. Meanwhile we’re introduced to our leads: Eden (Bruckner) is pretty town girl who’s fighting with her boyfriend Eric (Jackson) because she got accepted at a school in New York without telling him and their gaggle of friends including Cece (Meagen Good), the granddaughter of the aforementioned old woman. We also meet the town freak Ray (Rick Cramer) and his son (Cotrona), whom he’s never spoken to despite the fact that they both live in the same town. No one likes him cause he’s surly and has a scar, too.

On their way home Eric and Eden get into an argument on a bridge, and Ray stops to see what’s going on. Along comes the old woman in her car who gets into an accident, but Ray pulls her out before her car falls off the bridge. He goes back into the car to get the suitcase, which the old woman is raving about, just as the car goes over the edge and takes him with it. What’s in the suitcase? Venomous serpents, filled with the bad souls of hundreds and hundreds of men that Cece’s grandmother helped cure before they passed over. Now all those bad souls are inside of Ray, and Ray has just got killin’ on his mind.

The plot and characterizations are pretty much paper thin, which in this case actually helps the movie along. Venom wastes no time getting to the brutality and pretty much doesn’t let up for the length of the running time. There aren’t exceedingly long stretches of exposition explaining what’s going on, just enough for the audience and characters to know what they’re up against and the fact that there’s pretty much nothing they can do without a powerful voodoo priestess that will stop him.

You know what the best part was for me? A powerful voodoo priestess doesn’t come along at the last second to save anyone! The killer just goes and goes until the final reel, and of course the potential for a sequel is left open. I don’t think I’d object to that either, as long as they could keep the quick pace and brutal killings in place.

Ah, yes, the killings. This film is rated R and sure as hell knows it. There are very few killings that aren’t shown on-camera, and said camera isn’t flinching away at the last second to cheapen the effect. Characters die that you’re pretty sure won’t, and in exceptionally nasty ways, and I know if there had been more than 4 people in the theater with me (sad, eh?), there would’ve been some cheering going on. Ray’s got zero mercy for anyone, and it makes for the kind of inhuman killing machine we haven’t seen onscreen in a while.

Gillespie utilizes the bayou locations very effectively, giving it a mysterious and somewhat dirty feel that only adds to the atmosphere. The score is kept simple and driving, and I really can only think of one or two musically timed jump scares throughout. Their absence is quite a breath of fresh air, let me tell you.

Things I didn’t like: Some of the acting was over the top, all of the actors save for Jackson were way too pretty to be residents in a backwater Louisiana town, the CG snakes were used far too often (my GOD I hate CG snakes), and the killer was dispatched a little too easily, even though it was quite messy.

It’s too bad Dimension didn’t give Venom more of a chance; I think they could’ve gotten a good bit of dime from those of us horror fans that are sick to death of pansy serial killer movies and just want to see some good old fashioned ultra violence for 80 plus minutes. Hopefully it’ll find its audience on DVD, as I’m sure is Dimension’s plan anyway; but if you get a chance to see it in theaters, give it a go. Don’t go in with high expectations, and you might enjoy yourself!

3 out of 5

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Johnny Butane

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