Susan George acts with a few slimy and slithery snakes of characters…
A kidnapping goes wrong after an asthmatic 10 year old kid brings home his new pet snake.
VENOM (1981) Theatrical Trailer, FulciLives
I’m not going to bore you with that tedious superhero origin story, with fights against a CGI background from lycra wearing good guys vs bad guys, then the good guys win the day… yawn… Or the 1971 Nazi and “spider goddess” develop serum Horror.
But this review is on the similarly titled Venom (1981) which will get your undivided attention with the sterling cast and plot instead. This is a silly but fun seventies British horror movie which includes Sterling Hayden, Susan George, Klaus Kinski, Nichol Williamson and Oliver Reed. And the intuitive performance of a Black Mamba snake.
After an opening score more befitting a royal biopic, the plot tells of 10-year-old Philip Hopkins (Lance Holcomb), who is snake mad. He gets picked up from school by his mother Ruth (Cornelia Sharpe) and he raves on and on about snakes to her. Luckily she’s not distracted from her driving as they are given a lift home, by the family chauffeur, Dave (Oliver Reed). As the chauffeur is played by Ollie Reed, you instinctively know that Reed is in the film for a reason, and not just to doff his hat and then drive other cast members past significant London landmarks.
The Hopkins palatial London home is a bit chaotic at the time, as their heating is being mended. It turns out that mummy is meeting daddy somewhere exotic and has to go to catch a plane. (Which is fine with me she’s really irritating as a character). This over the top overprotective mother – Philip has asthma and needs oxygen at night – is going away and leaving Philip in the hands of her father Howard (Sterling Hayden) and the trusted maid and Philip’s carer, Louise (Susan George).
As Howard reassures Ruth, that Philip will be fine… Philip goes to feed his menagerie of animals of all sorts, all of which could easily repopulate the small animals park in London Zoo. He’s superexcited in a wee kid kind of way after he spots that he has got a new vivarium. This is a tank where he can house a reptile of some sort… but that’s just a wee clue of what’s to come.
Meanwhile, Louise reassures a tense looking Dave, that all is going to their plan. She distracts him from his anxiety by unbuttoning her frock and taking her panties off. Dave is reassured… as Philip gets a bedtime story from his grandfather’s true life tales of jungle life. Both these pairs appear to be in cahoots about something…
Philip is superexcited as his grandfather has bought him a treat of some sort… and that he can pick it up alone. But we never find out what right away, as Louise then pops in to see them. She shoos Howard away and she pops on Philip’s overnight oxygen. The kid goes to sleep, and she then goes on her night off.
Dave drops Ruth at the airport, and she swans off for her flight. Dave picks up the enigmatic Jacques Müller (Klaus Kinski). Ominous music plays and shadows appear at all angles, as Jacques takes the back seat rather than the offered front seat. He then gets a gun from Dave. Dave drops Jacques off at an isolated house, with a room set up like Philip’s bedroom… and it’s clear that the men and Louise are planning to kidnap the superrich Hopkins kid. Someone enters the house after Dave leaves, as Jacques is met by Louise, and they snog.
At home, Philip is having difficulty breathing, but he recovers after his grandfather helps him and gets him some oxygen. The next day – as mummy’s away – Howard and Philip carry out their plan. After breakfast and then grappling with Louise, this six foot four and a half inch grandfather bundles his grandson in a taxi. Louise is not a happy bunny.
As Philip leaves in a taxi, Jacques phones the house and pretends to be a film casting agent. He offers Howard a film gig in Africa. Howard goes to meet him to discuss it, but the “casting agent” is “delayed”. Meanwhile, Philip arrives at an exotic animal shop and excitedly picks up his present from his grandfather… it’s a new pet snake. And yay, he doesn’t yahoo like that annoying Emile in The Wild Geese (1978). Philip then returns home with the unopened box in a taxi.
A similar box to Philip’s one is delivered to the London Institute of Toxicology. Dr Marion Stowe (Sarah Miles) discovers after opening her box, that it’s only a harmless snake and not the poisonous Black Mamba that she ordered. Cue Philip’s little excited face as he clutches his box in the taxi, as Stowe’s voiceover tells us of the dangers and personality of the poisonous Black Mamba.
After Philip arrives home, Louise tries to get Philip to leave with Jacques in his car to “meet his grandfather”. But Philip wants to unpack his present, and after breaking free from her clutches he runs up the stairs clutching onto this gift.
Meanwhile, Stowe has informed the police about the snake mix up, and a policeman is dispatched to tell the Hopkins about the mix up (as it seems mobile phones haven’t been invented yet). Also, Stowe’s on her way to the house with the antidotes, just in case. And so is the snake handler from London Zoo, with someone in a natty wee cameo. It’s all go, as this snake is one mean motherfucker in the words of Samuel L Jackson (probably).
As Philip legs it up the stairs, Philip answers back to Dave’s sarcasm, and Dave gets mad. He snarls “He’s a cheeky little bastard” in the way only Oliver Reed can and then says it at least once more establishing Dave as a bit of a git. Then Louise opens the box and we see the snake’s point of view and a chomping sound as she is bitten by the black mamba. Howard returns home, and then Jacques joins them all and it’s chaos. Howard claims he ordered a harmless snake for his grandson.
Dave gets nasty and swears a lot, tries to comfort the now hysterical Louise and grabs a loaded (?WTF) rifle from Howard’s room. Cue some wonderfully credible acting from Susan George who is more than peeley walley (pale), wheezing and convinced she’s dying. She’s no weel (not well). This cumulates with Louise’s death after a scene mimicking Linda Blair in The Exorcist (1973) in a scene that I believe inspired Tarantino.
And then the wee family is then held hostage by the men in the Hopkins’ home. Dave shoots the cop who has come to the house to warn them about the snake thinking he’s after them. So the cop doesn’t have time to tell them that the snake is poisonous. But as he’s dying, he tells the cops of the hostage situation he’s observed.
Meanwhile, the snake has slithered away through a duct… and then Howard sees the bite mark on Louise. He reckons it’s a black mamba bite. So there’s a poisonous snake loose aboot the hoose… and a siege and a hostage situation. Then dour Scottish cop, Commander. William Bulloch (Nicol Williamson) arrives on the scene with the cops in tow…
This film is a real thrill and also a laugh a minute. After the cut off from my gittering about the film, there are both tense and fun scenes. Thrills include those when wee Philip has difficulty in breathing (this was amplified for me as Holcomb is the spitting image of my sister’s kid). Also when Howard – at gunpoint – has to look for the snake with a stick in one hand and a lamp in the other and Dave follows him with a gun to shoot Howard.
And the best scene with Oliver Reed is when the snake crawls up Dave’s trouser leg. The other death scenes – in a wee spoiler – are hilariously bad yet mesmerising with this snake with a canny ability to be able to differentiate between the good and bad guys. As Klaus Kinski finds out in slow motion…
However, the screenwriting, casting and performances couldn’t be better. My favourite performance must go to Nichol Williamson and his portrayal of his Scottish cop, Bulloch. Williamson is a Scottish actor and it shows as he was more than fantastically credible in this well written Scottish role.
His script sounded convincing and used more appropriate use of Scottish sayings – than in that show with the Sassenach and the Highlander – and it easily captured the Scottish way of talking. His well-timed delivery, Scottish patter and sheer grumpiness were heard – and felt – in all Bulloch’s scenes.
Bulloch’s dress style reminded me of similar Scottish cops such as Mark McManus in the Scottish TV series, Taggart (1985-2010). Williamson was at his best when his character asks for a tall cop to come on the scene, then gets him to undress and takes all his clothes Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) style.
After he dresses in them he looks (comically) more like Rikki Fulton’s “Supercop” than Arnie. The former is a character from another Scottish show, Scotch and Wry (1978-92) which starred Fulton. And if you haven’t heard of Rikki Fulton, check out the Scottish bloke in Gorky Park (1983) who plays a Russian for that is he.
Bulloch’s constant exasperation and deadpan joy at learning of the developments in the siege were perfectly conveyed by this jaded Scottish police commander. And yes, there is a wee appearance at the crime scene by his boss, naturally in full tuxedo and after being dragged away from a dinner party.
Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski’s on-screen animosity is fantastic to watch, as they snarl and attack each other constantly. Dave and Jacques clearly hated each other on sight and their joint dislike of each other spills into all their scenes as they deal with each other’s quirks and the hostages.
And their venom between each other is indicated in the film title, as well as the more obvious snake reference. This venom is seen and felt even though it appears they have no apparent reason for this as it seems they never learn about their shared love interest.
But this film, it’s now an undeniable favourite from those 70s British horror movies. The cast, the credible writing and those spot-on performances can’t be equalled. And had a sequel been made, this is would have been the Venom follow up film I’d watch… rather than another bloody superhero film. But, just know that if you ever find yourself back in the early 1980s and Ollie Reed offers to show you his trouser snake movie, he may well be referring to this box of delights…
Weeper Rating: 😦😦 😦😦😦/10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
8th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon 2021, No 27
For A Shroud of Thought’s 8th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon. Other films with this cast include Oliver Reed in The Lady and the Highwayman, Oliver and Burnt Offerings. Sterling Hayden stars in Deadly Strangers. Susan George in Jack the Ripper, Eastenders, Hotel and Hammer House of Mystery. Nichol Williamson stars in Robin and Marian. Michael Gough stars in Top Secret, The Fourth Protocol, Batman and Henry VIII and His Six Wives.