Hey folks, Harry here with that Massawyrm fella. He's got the unenviable task of suffering through current releases while Quint, Mori and I are on QT vacation. Poor guy. VENOM sounds like the bomb, yo! Here ya go...
Hola all. Massawyrm here. You know, somewhere in the world there is a room - a room where evil drips off the very walls and a vile, creeping wickedness hangs in the air. A place where souls are sucked free of their hosts and gnawed upon - cannibalized until they are virtually unrecognizable. It is a place, buried within the murky depths of Dimension studios, where producers and writers ingest sacred herbs and discuss how they could possibly make another horror film despite the fact that almost all of the good ideas have been done. It is a place that no good ever comes out of and real ideas never escape. It was in this very room, on a dark and languid night, that Venom was given birth and set in motion to do it’s worst to the world.
There are times when you watch a film, scratch your head and wonder – ‘what the hell were they thinking?’ But then, once in a blue moon, there comes that rare, special occasion when you can peer through the ether into the minds of the creators and see exactly what they were thinking. Venom is just such a film. I envision the scene something like this –
“Dude, you know the briefcase from Pulp Fiction?” “Yeah.” “Well, you know how the combination was 666 and it was all glowy and shit inside and Ving Rhames had a band-aid on the back of his neck?” “Yeah.” “So, what those guys were carrying around was the soul of this really evil, hardcore mother fucker.” “Dude, Quentin said that was made up fanboy bullshit.” “I know. I know. So it wouldn’t actually be stealing if we made a movie about that, now would it? Hey, pass that thing man, don’t bogart it.” “Okay, I’m with you. Evil Breifcase.” “No way, we’d have to be a little more clever than that – don’t want to catch any fanboy shit. We’ll make it a suitcase.” “Okay, so how did the soul get into the suitcase?” “I don’t know, some voodoo shit or something.” “It’d have to be a creepy fucking suitcase – but if it’s voodoo, we’ll have to have some snakes or something.” “Yeah! Snakes in a suitcase with the souls of really evil guys! Hell if snakes on a plane is some scary shit, snakes in a suitcase has to be like twice as scary. Nobodies afraid of suitcases!” “So like the snakes bite you and you get possessed by the souls in the snakes?” “Yeah!” “So who do the snakes bite?” “An escaped convict.” “Naw, been done.” “An escaped mental patient?” “PassÃ©.” “Fisherman?” “Nope.” “I don’t know…um…a creepy tow truck driver.” “Now we’re talking.” “Yeah, and he can kill people with tire chains and a crowbar.” “Sweet! I’ll bet that’s never been done.” “Dude, lets take it to Harvey and Bob.” “Definitely. Hey, I wonder if we could Get Kevin Williamson on this – he loves this sort of shit.”
Venom is the perfect example of how modern horror is done wrong. Not bad – but wrong. It’s not a terrible movie, really it’s not. It’s certainly total crap – but far from being absolutely terrible. It’s just done wrong. The movie kicks off with this total 80’s movie vibe, like you’re watching some lost Friday the 13th movie. This is exactly the type of movie Quint and I used to stay up till all hours of the night devouring, drinking in both the ingenuity and the terribleness inherent in many of the films. But what is forgivable in the films of twenty to thirty years ago is far from forgivable now. Back then the sub-genre of the slasher film was just cutting its teeth, and many of the things we were seeing were being done for the first time. But here, now, everything is simply being borrowed – Nay – stolen outright.
Venom’s worst crime is that it borrows incessantly from the genre but gives nothing back. Not a damned thing. It offers nothing inventive, nothing ingenious, nothing remotely worthy of even mentioning to your buddies once the final credits begin to roll. Even though the Friday the 13th movies were telling the same story over and over and over again, the filmmakers knew what audiences wanted and gave it to them. Jason Voorhees didn’t kill people in the same manner every time – he shook it up. Sometimes it was hedge clippers through the eyes (which he then closed shut) and sometimes it was a pitchfork through the chest. It wasn’t always original but it was always bloody and each film offered at least one new demented kill for us gore hounds to savor and argue over as we discussed which was our favorite. Even many of the modern, highly derivative films like Wrong Turn and House of Wax put this to good use. The idea of sadistic, even mutant, rednecks killing in the woods has been around in fiction for over 70 years - back when H.P. Lovecraft first gave us the classic “The Picture in the House.’ – but each of these films puts their focus not on the fact that the death was scary, but rather, how terrifying that manner of death is. Neither of these films will live on as classics, but each entertained, giving us film buffs plenty of material for our late night, caffeine induced rants on the genre. They entertained, gave us new manners of death to fear and made us giggle at their inventiveness. Venom does not.
Its one moderately original idea is a possessed fucking Samsonite with snakes. That’s it. And it’s not like they couldn’t have done anything original with the idea – it just got bungled by bad writing, mediocre directing and a knowledge of the genre that belies no understanding of it. I mean, here we have a killer, the afore mentioned tow truck driver, possessed by the evil souls ‘milked’ out of dozens of sick, sadistic, evil bastards. There’s a lot you could do with that – really there is. First of all, you could have at least made the tow truck driver likable, endearing. He’s already set up in the script as one of the main character’s estranged father. Would it have been too much to make him tragic – maybe adding a bit of pathos to the film? Nope. He’s gotta be a piece of shit to begin with – it’s not enough that he gets possessed by truckloads of evil – we gotta hate and ‘fear’ him from the start. With the tow truck driver’s son running around, playing with the idea of him wanting to save his father rather than destroy him could have created an interesting conflict between the characters. Has it been done? Sure. But it would have been more interesting than what we’re given here.
But more importantly, we’re told that this guy is possessed by the evil of ‘Countless evil souls.’ You with me? The idea is that some twisted, sick bastards had their sins and wicked thoughts ‘milked’ out with a voodoo ritual and all that fucked up shit is coalesced into these snakes kept in a suitcase. One could imagine the idea that all this ‘evil’ might manifest itself into some pretty disturbed manners of death. One would assume from the way it’s presented that these are not just guys who like killing, but rather are also rapists, pedophiles, sadists, and masochists – deranged mother fuckers of all shape and kind. And these souls might be in conflict with one another, each vying for control to live out their maddened fantasies that have been lying in wait for decades for their chance once again share their pain with the world. But nope – they just want Ray, our tow truck driver, to keep impaling people with a crowbar and choke them with tire chains. Oh, and then dump the bodies in a pile.
This was a real chance to get creative, to unleash some seriously sick shit on the audience – to let our minds try to wrap around just how evil this monstrosity could be. It was a chance to give us scant pieces of the souls histories to make us fear just who might take control next. It was a chance to give us a villain that didn’t just kill, but really, honestly got off to it – to not just scare us with how he was going to kill, but to scare us even more with the idea of what happened after that. True horror is psychological, not physical. What scares us most is what might happen, not what actually happens – and the great films of the genre execute that idea with extreme prejudice. Great films of this genre get under our skin and keep us from sleeping at night.
And Venom is not even a passable film in this genre.
First of all, despite being set in the town of Backwater, Louisiana (I shit you not), the entire cast looks and sounds like they just walked off the set of Mtv’s ‘Laguna Beach’ – there’s nary a southern accent nor an authentic character to be found. It’s the usual assemblage of up and coming pretty faces given their readily identifiable personality traits that clearly denote them as victim #1 and Victim #2, ect. Now, with a movie like the classic ‘Pumpkinhead’ this works because they’re all visiting backwoods, bumfuck nowhere – here they’re all supposed to be locals. Locals who don’t know anything about where they live like, with nuggets of knowledge like oh say, don’t go running into the swamp. And while they do give us the granddaughter of a voodoo priestess, better known as Little Miss Exposition, they can’t even give us something remotely interesting like maybe the redneck son of a local trapper who knows the bayou like the back of his hand and can fashion rudimentary traps from stuff he finds lying around? I mean if you’re going to do things that have been done before, go whole hog and redo some of the interesting stuff (One 80’s style weapon making montage would have killed them?) Instead these are more like the kids who broke down in the swamp – not the kind who live there.
And while they set the film in the swamp, they never do anything interesting with the setting either. This could just have easily been set in the woods anywhere. Only the Voodoo of the deep south warrants it being set there. It’s all for look – not effect. If you’re going to have teens running through a swamp, how about making the swamp just as scary as the deranged psycho killer? Force the characters to really have to make a tough decision about what’s scarier – a crowbar wielding zombie or potentially getting snapped in half by an alligator. Speaking of which, you’ve got a rotting madman running through the swamp and you can’t give us a single psycho killer/gator fight? I mean come on – zombie vs. shark was a classic kind of awesome and if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. Think about it, this movie was one gator fight away from being memorable.
But no – despite the genre, despite the lack of ingenuity in the deaths, despite the utter lack of detail to the area in question, this movie wants to take itself seriously every single moment. Which is another of Venom’s many problems. Some of you may be rolling your eyes and thinking “Gator fights and montages? That’s retarded.” It sure is – but it’s fun. Venom never wants to be fun – and these days, derivative Slasher films HAVE to be. Slasher films just aren’t scary anymore. Mindless killers have been run into the ground and if you’re not playing around with genuinely scary ideas, when you’re not presenting a film that just drips with mood and nuance, you have to at least make it fun. Not necessarily with satire or cornball jokes, but let us know we don’t have to take it seriously. Let us laugh and enjoy the deaths for what they are – mindless entertainment. Because mindless is all Venom really is.
Which I have a strong feeling stems from the third and most vital problem with Venom – the ‘talent’ behind it (and I use that word in the loosest of all possible terms.) First off, it’s produced by Kevin Williamson, a man who’s never met an idea of someone else’s that he didn’t like - for his own films. While many will defend Williamson for his one decent film, Scream (which merely riffed on the rules of horror films and began the self-referential freight train of wink-at-the-camera-and-reference-other-better-horror-films films we’ve been enduring on and off for the last 9 years), they often neglect that the man hasn’t touched another single movie that didn’t rip off from everything else in the genre and simply make it slicker and post-modern. But if his hand in this film isn’t enough, Venom reunites Williamson with director Jim Gillespie, best known for directing Williamson’s ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer.’ For those of you who’ve watched Venom’s trailer and noticed the killer wielding something hook-like and oddly familiar, know now that this is no accident. Gillespie not only rips off from the genre, but cannibalizes his only other theatrically distributed, and also highly derivative, film. Switching from a fisherman to a tow truck driver, the only thing he does different here is presenting the villain as edgier by shooting him with a 45 degree shutter (making the camera seem shaky and sporadic) while inserting over exposed pieces of film, ultimately giving it that Se7en/Nine Inch Nails music video effect. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help.
And if the idea of a suitcase full of souls possessing someone and turning him into an unstoppable killer that chases kids through the swamp feels more like something out of the current crop of video games then anything that should be shot as a film, it should. The two guys behind it (credited with the story and no doubt the first draft of the script) are two seasoned video game writers, who while having written for some cool freaking video games (like Dead to Rights and Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay) don’t make the transition to film that one could hope for. But swooping in to save the day to get the coveted screenplay credit is none other than the writer of Wicker Park. Yeah, not exactly the guy I’d go to for an inning of relief pitching from a fresh arm.
But the final nail in the coffin lies in the production values. While certainly this movie looks like some money went into it (complete with CG snakes) – it completely fails to go into the places it should go for an 80’s slasher film knock-off. While we’re given alluring girls to look at, there’s zero T&A. Fine by me, but a staple of the genre demanded by many who love it. And the gore? The most vitally important part of a slasher film? Fairly minimal. There is one decent shot of the tattered flesh of an arm torn out of it’s socket (done off camera), but the bulk of the kills are all prosthetic neck and chest wounds – almost all done with a crowbar. The films one moderately inventive death is completely wasted – and a sheer sign of where the money went – as a girl pinned under a car is about to be hit with a sandblaster (which Ray shows off by removing the paint of a car door.) As he brings the sandblaster down, rather than showing us a scant second of the effect or ever really showing us the aftermath of the flesh having been peeled off the bone, we’re treated to the sandblaster being turned on the camera and digital sand flying at the screen before we cut away. Ooooh! Scary! The idea was kinda neat, but the execution is amazingly lame. The only thing that doesn’t entirely disappoint in this film is the look of Ray, who seems to decay more and more as the film goes on, and does look kind of cool. However, while his body becomes more and more rotten, the make up effects people seem to forget to tear off chunks of flesh or add gaping holes from the couple of times he gets hit from a shotgun at close range. I mean, if they’d done something like that, maybe this film would get a cool point or two. Alas, he suffers from Voorhees/Myers syndrome – the inability to show serious structural damage despite the tremendous amount of damage he takes.
Not to mention that Ray not only borrows, but steals every convention laid down by the Voorhees/Myers model. With such hits including ‘Slow, stumbling, methodical walk’, ‘The ability to catch up to you no matter how fast you go or how far ahead you are’, ‘The inability to speak’, ‘The Brooding stare’ and who could forget the classic ‘The necessity to strike a menacing pose after each kill or every time those pesky kids get away.’ The only thing missing is the mask.
Ultimately, this film is everything you’d expect from the talent involved. Tired, repetitive, and lacking a single scrap of imagination. Neither goofy, campy fun, nor remotely frightening, Venom proves only to exist for that special breed of movie-goer who rents everything and anything horror related – from scythe wielding scarecrow movies to anything with ‘zombie’ in the title, no matter what the budget – in hopes of finding a single scrap of cool and enjoying it no matter how bad it is. For the rest of us, it’s laughably bad only in whole, not in parts. Like I said, it’s not terrible – just entirely uninspired. Although knowing Dimension’s love of sequels, those two guys are probably back in that dank, cyclopean tomb of evil, musing to themselves: “Dude, what if that suitcase were part of a whole matched set of luggage?” “Dude, that’s genius. Call Harvey and Bob.”
Until next time, friends, Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. I know I will.
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