Monday, September 19, 2005

REVIEW: Venom

"Venom" isn't a good film by any means, which is the BIG reason why you haven't seen it advertised or promoted hardly at all. The other reasons are more due to bad luck than bad filmmaking: It has the misfortune of being an R-rated slasher opening against the PG-13 rated "Cry_Wolf," of being distributed by the soon-to-be-no-more Dimension Films and of being set in the swamps of Louisiana which, you may have heard, are "sensitive material" right now. A run of lousy luck like that would be a lot for a good movie to overcome, and it's certainly too much for "Venom."

And yet, bad luck and all, I'm surprised to find I can't really give this a wholly bad review. Taken entirely on it's own merits, which is to say as a B-grade slasher with a voodoo/zombie tweaking, it's largely functional. It's principal cast is inoffensive and earnest, it's "monster" is amusing, it's gore is well used and it puts just enough novel spin on the undead-stalker-of-rural-teens formula to qualify as a genre-entry of note in it's own right.

The victims-in-waiting here are a gaggle of Louisiana teenagers (played, in a pleasant surprise, by actors who actually look like teenagers.) The "main heroes" are a nice guy who's content to live out his small town life and his girlfriend who pines for the big city. The evil MacGuffin is a suitcase housing a pair of magical snakes that had been used to suck out and contain the evil energy of countless murderers, criminals and sadists in voodoo last-rites ceremonies. Through various complications, the local Redneck Meanie (a garage mechanic) drowns in the swamp, gets nibbled by said snakes and transformed into a super-powered killer zombie who takes off on a killing spree, using tow-truck chains and his trusty crowbar as weapons of choice.

As setups for "Friday the 13th" lifts go, thats not bad. The only "duty" left to the film after that is to provide good death scenes (it's largely successful) for engaging characters (it's less successful.) The Bayou provides a nice change of scenery from the usual suburban schools and campgrounds in these movies, and as an honest-to-god slasher film it's much better than the bloodless (in every sense) "Cry_Wolf," while as a voodoo-tinged shocker it's got more real suspense than the classy but never-ever-scary "Skeleton Key."

It's the little things that make the difference in these movies: I like the use of a crowbar in place of the usual machete or hunting knife. I like that the characters (for the most part) don't meet their ends in the order I was expecting. A pair of kills involving a forked-road and a sandblasting machine are inventive. The baddie (named Ray) is clever and more resourceful than usual. A section in the middle, involving a makeshift voodoo ritual, is about the most creative "stop the monster" weapon since the paper-folding in "Tales From The Hood."

It ain't "good," but if you need to see a new slasher movie this is the one to see.

FINAL RATING: 6/10