Featuring: Agnes “Anna Nicole” Bruckner ; Jonathan “‘Nashville’” Jackson ; Bijou “It’s Alive (2009)” Phillips
Director: John “I Know What You Did Last Summer” Gillespie
Writers: Flint “An American Tale: Fievel Goes West” Dille ; John “Fear Effect” Platten ; Brandon “Apt Pupil” Boyce
Intro: Since last week was spent by many celebrating a religious resurrection, what better time to revisit a movie about religion and resurrection? Only this time the religion is voodoo and the resurrection is that of a bumpkin mechanic into a ritualistic slasher movie killing machine archetype! Without further adieu, let’s get this rampage started!
Venom is no longer just a projectile poison ejaculated by pissed off reptiles, nor is it “simply” the sentient alien lifeform that once acted as Spider-Man’s black and white costume (only to bond with a guy with a vendetta against the wall crawler to create his brain-eating nemesis). It’s also a 2005 slasher flick that tries to be a little different from your everyday “hot teens die violent deaths” brand of ‘90s waste by-product. Sure, the kids are a cookie-cutter cast of small town southern high school seniors working at burger joints, engaging in not-so-legal activities, trying to keep up their car payments, dreaming of a successful stint at NYU in the fall, and “hooking up” with each other while stumbling through romance, but their lazy summer is about to be ruined thanks to a redneck tow truck driver whose act of good will comes back to bite him.
Trust me, that was a bad pun that will just seem worse when it’s explained. Speaking of, allow me now to explain!
Most slashers these days are basic, run-of-the-mill psychos with an axe (or machete/cleaver/hook) to grind or they just plain hate a specific group of people, more often than not the young MTV group… for which I don’t think any of us can really blame them, right? Whether they’re out for revenge or just projecting their personal issues, we as a viewership get shafted by these stab happy, uninspired doppelgangers 4 or 5 times a year if not more. Sure, there are the occasional exceptions that make these “it could happen (and sometimes does)” madmen work (Wolf Creek anyone?), but for the most part they’re disposable and/or interchangeable.
Well, what do you do when you want something a little more interesting than a guy in dirty overalls with a chainsaw for the umpteenth time? If you’re Flint Dille and John Platten, the first thing you do is…change your names. The second thing you do though is…stop writing movies and stick to writing video games…But, if you can’t do either of those right, the third thing you do is give your killer a mystical twist! Yes, give your murderer(s) a supernatural enema, whether it be based on legends, mythology, theology, voodoo or just something taken straight out of the public domain of doom that are the collected works of HP Lovecraft. Dille and Platten opted for the fourth, and wound up with Venom.
Ray is the aforementioned small southern town’s local mechanic, gas station attendant/owner and tow truck driver. He’s got a bastard son who’s ashamed of him (and not just because he’s a deadbeat dad), the local teens mock him openly or piss themselves in terror when he’s around, and nobody treats him with the respect a gas-pumping redneck deserves. One night, while crossing one of the only two bridges in town, Ray accidentally wrecks an old voodoo lady and sends her car teetering precariously over the side. He pulls her to safety, but when she mumbles something about her trunk, Ray tries to retrieve it from the backseat of the auto before it goes crashing into the river. While wrestling with granny’s luggage, the box pops open and Ray is attacked repeatedly by a number of computer generated snakes none too happy to be so damn computer generated. The car goes over the side, and a couple of teens that had a small part in causing the accident call the authorities. Ray is found dead, half drowned and half embalmed in snake venom. His body is taken to the city morgue to be slabbed, along with the old voodoo lady whose heart gave out amid the commotion.
Naturally, this isn’t the end of our movie, as the coroner on duty and the two cops who originally pulled Ray’s deformed corpse out of the river (one of which is played by Method Man of the “under appreciated” television art project known as “Method & Red”) are all discovered dead and the hick’s body is no longer in the taxpayers’ meat locker. The rest of the movie is spent with Ray (being referred to by his new evil voodoo killer name of “Mr. Jangles”) killing off the pretty young things of this backwoods Louisiana town in ritual sacrifices. It seems the snakes that bit Ray were part of a voodoo ritual done by the old priestess lady that redeems the spirits of evil men after their deaths. When murderers, rapists and corporate executives are laid to rest, their souls cannot go on until the evil is leeched from their aura. This is the duty of the snakes, which are placed into the ne’er-do-well’s grave and retrieved from the ground following the extraction. The serpents of repent are then placed in a suitcase until they can be disposed of properly. As you can guess, these snakes didn’t get the proper disposal treatment and instead barfed all that evil juice into the otherwise mild-mannered and non-violent Ray, transforming him into an undead juggernaut whose very nature now consists of pissing on flowers, kicking puppies and sacrificing peoples’ souls to avenge all the mistreated evil now inside him. Got it? Good.
The kids’ only hope is Cece, the granddaughter of the voodoo priestess who herself happens to be fairly well practiced in the Creole ways of juju and hoodoo and may have an idea of how to stop this killer super zombie before he can kill off all of her friends. However, will her grandmother’s house (blessed with good magic, protected from evil, etc.), a necklace made of chicken bones and a bit of full-sized voodoo doll action be enough to stand up to Mr. J’s various implements of automotive repair, now perverted for the more evil purposes of evisceration and death dealing? I don’t know, if you put me in a fight and gave me the choice of a chicken bone necklace and some “magic” powder or a crowbar and a tow hook, I’d probably go with the pointy metal things…
There are two things that save this movie from dissipating into a cloud of generic vapor: violence and originality. I can’t say I’ve seen this “killer injected with the violent souls of criminals thanks to voodoo snakes” angle before, and that appeals to me over that basic “loser kills the girl who spurned him at the junior prom” bullshit any and every day of this or any other week. Yay for voodoo! It’s not used enough.
Venom is no Zombies of Sugar Hill, but what is, right? The gore is slippery and painful to watch, also good. Beyond that, everything else was, to use my favorite cliche, cookie-cutter. Stupid teenagers with the same law breaking, premarital sex, high school romance crap that’s been shoveled into our clamp-held maws for years. Barf. Watch it for the double ‘v’ (‘voodoo’ and ‘violence’) and give the rest away to charity, because there are starving kids in Ethiopia who don’t have crappy movies to watch when they can’t get a date on a Saturday night.
Xtro: Well, that could’ve gone better… When I first reviewed Venom, I remember it being a very middling, fairly formulaic slasher flick. In the time since, my overall opinion hasn’t changed much, but my reasons for it have.
It’s unfortunate, given that I think Super Voodoo Zombie Demon Ray (Rick Cramer) is a decently crafted antagonist. Basically not a bad guy overall, the only actual exception is his being a deadbeat dad to Sean (D.J. Cotrona), but the kid was ashamed of sharing chromosomes with a grease monkey anyway, so who’s to say he wouldn’t have been a case for Dr. Phil had things gone differently. Add to that how little we know about why Ray left and it’s barely a character flaw. It could’ve been that Sean’s mom wanted nothing to do with him. Maybe she considered Ray a one-off and didn’t want to be stuck with a tinkerer for the rest of her life just because they made a baby together. My brother-in-lawish didn’t contribute to his son’s upbringing, but it was at the behest of the other half and they came to a legally binding agreement that he would have nothing to do with the child. I’d rather slit my throat than identify as an MRA, but you get where I’m going with this: it’s not always the father’s fault.
From everything else we’d seen of him, Ray was a hard worker and an honest gent whom the local high school shitheads mocked both secretly and openly just because he had a mysterious scar on his face and was a “low class” mechanic/tow trucker. Not the most glamorous of lives to some, for sure, but he’s a skilled tradesman responsible for helping otherwise stranded people and who owns his own fucking business! He’s his own boss! He’s not an ugly man, either. Look past his scar (which he could’ve gotten doing something incredibly noble like saving a puppy from a rabid wolf for all anyone knows), give him a shower, splash some Hai Karate on him and deck him out in date night attire and you may just have a rather handsome looking tough guy here begging to make that special someone happy! Shit, he never bothered anyone, he was looking out for protagonista Eden (Agnes Bruckner)’s safety during a heated exchange with ex-boyfriend Eric (Jonathan Jackson), and he wasted no time putting his life in danger to save the local mambo, whom I’m sure most people in town also shunned because of her family traditional role as a practitioner of purportedly peccable practices!
All that and how does karma favor Ray? With an agonizing death at the fangs of black magic snakes spewing sin venom into his face and veins, only to resurrect him as the vessel for a hate happy Houngan, engorged by evil and compelled to sacrifice his neighbors to the dark gods. A ritualistic Jason Voorhees with a penchant for crawdad gumbo and Friday night gator wrasslin’ shows at the ol’ Holland shack down on Wrightson Swamp. And you know what doesn’t help me empathize with (most of) his victims? They’re primarily barely-legal douche bags!
With the exception of Eden, who wants to move away so she can go to college for something other than alligator dentistry, and Cece (Meagan Good), who’s just trying to mend the mayhem her grandma’s irresponsible sorcery has caused, the rest of the cast’s swamp gas inflated subhumans SUCK! Sean’s a junior alcoholic crybaby (and probably would’ve been even if he’d had a father figure in his life) who should be fronting a nu-metal group and drowning his sorrows in whiskey and starfuckers. Tammy (Bijou Phillips) and Patty (Davetta Sherwood) are a pair of sticky finger mallrats who proudly brag about their five-finger discount-ing and purge the barely-cold corpse’s cash register while, and I can’t believe this never came up in my original review, Tammy’s voice alone is enough for me to Way of the Gun my anti-violence protocol. She’s got one of those “adult woman talks like a squealing little girl during age-play” porn voices that manage to both nauseate and infuriate me. UGGH!
On the plus side, Pat ends up eviscerated and strung up on chains Pinhead style right before Tam gets pinned under a car before having her face sandblasted off! Satisfying, yes, but no amount of mutilation can make up for having to hear that gods damned nails-on-chalkboard tone for HALF OF THE FUCKING RUNTIME. And even when our ears aren’t being tortured by Tammy’s tonsils, we’re stuck listening to the almost-as-awful vocal whines of Eric. I fucking hate having my murder boner blistered by the sandpaper handjob of wretched voice acting!
There is another “depends how you read into it” problem with Ray’s victims list though. His first two targets are police officers… black police officers… When you’re a white Southern serial killer starting your spree with a couple of black dudes, the “RACIST” word is gonna come up quicker than a horror movie shark on skinny dipping teens. Ray didn’t show any signs of racial bias, and he ends up killing a fairly equal number of white people as he does black people, but if you wanted to make a legitimate argument for Ray being a genuine piece of shit villain, that could be your jumping off point.
Speaking of the fodder, as much as their eventual offings are all therapeutic, it’s the violence involved that makes the movie worthwhile. Whether it be via crowbar or hook or truck, the Satanic Mechanic utilizes the tools of his trade to great effect. Disappointingly, some of the slaughter goes unseen, wasting the movie’s ‘R’ rating in a flick where not a single bared breast or peek-a-boo pelvic area is to be seen. I’m not calling for “Eli Roth froth” torture porn stuff, but at least gives us a short salacious shot of Tammy’s face being sandblasted into fine particulates!
The other thing Venom has going for it is the voodoo theme. Between Ray’s sacrificial kills and Cece’s enchanted efforts to keep him at bay, once again, I have to hail its attempts at standing out from the typical “large man with a larger knife” basic bitch butchers out there in stabby movie land. The 14 year old computer generated effects have aged about as bad as any would, but it’s overall a valiant effort, thus making it even sadder to say it pretty much halted director Jim Gillespie and writer Brandon Boyce’s careers, and sent Boyce’s co-writers John Platten and Flint Dille back to penning video games, never to mess with the movie business again… as of this writing, at least. It’s not on my short list of “3 wishes” contenders, but I’d like to see what the trio could summon up given another attempt. It wouldn’t be hard to excuse either, given the movie’s Night of the Creeps type finale. But, until then, Venom is good enough not to hate!
Oh, and if you’ve ever wondered what Rob Zombie would sound like singing on a hit of helium, check out his contribution to the movie’s soundtrack, “Two Lane Blacktop”!
(and yes, like 98% of his songs, this one too takes its name from an obscure movie)
For years I’ve worn the obvious influence of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” proudly in The Tomb via the screenshots for my reviews. In honor of the first (and hopefully not last) season of “The Last Drive-In”, I’ve decided to add an homage to Joe Bob Briggs to my reviews too, in the form of my own version of his classic “Drive-In Totals” gimmick, called “The Wrap-Up Totals”, and will feature at the finish of all feature reviews going forward. As such, star/heart ratings will now be listed at the finish of the reviews, not unlike they are in the Quickies. Enjoy, girls and boys!
11 Dead bodies
1 Undead body
1 Car chase (complete with chain lynching and tree branch impalement)
Computer generated snake attack
Ominous Wall Art
Gratuitous use of the term “milking”
Drive-thru Teen Melodrama
Gratuitous Gas Station Bell Ringing
Bone wind chimes
Bayou Hide ‘n Seek
Extreme home remodeling
Tow Truck-Fu (with full body lateral bi-section)
Awwww, how cute. Reminds me of something Lil’ Leatherface would’ve made in arts & crafts at summer camp!
Showing everybody where you’re gonna get your “Itty Bitty Titty Committee” tattoo? Or maybe one that says, “If you can see this, I haven’t crowdfunded my falsies yet”?
Jake’s PTSD all ties back to that time he went to the Drive-In with his parents, only to come back from the concession stand too soon because he forgot the money and catch them “making the sign of the two backed beast”. The rest is mentally traumatizing history.
“First it was ‘scarfing’, followed by ‘butt chugging’, then the whole Tide Pods thing, now this ‘jelly-fisting’ bullshit! When does the ‘try NOT to maim or kill yourselves’ viral craze start?!”
Geez! They’ve already moved on to the “Whitewalker-ing” fad, where they drink and bathe in industrial strength bleach! Damn you, “Game of Thrones” !
“Huh. He’s got a perfect set of teeth. Must be from India.”
And that’s why you always let the laundromat dryers come to a complete stop before opening the door. Shame.
Agent, as much as I appreciate the compliment, you don’t need to come in here every day and tell me how ‘damn fine’ the coffee and pie are!”
Punch bug! *WHACK* Owww! Damn it, this is one time where playing with myself is a bad idea, but in a different way than that time in the Epcot Center bathroom…
Oh man, I really hope that’s not a realistic interpretation of his penis, otherwise this dude’s got a SERIOUS case of Peyronie’s that he really needs to see a doctor about.
Uh-oh. Looks like someone stumbled upon one of Swamp Thing and Man-Thing’s secret “date nights”. Back to therapy for them!
Yeah, I did the same to myself after seeing the trailer for the Child’s Play reboot too. The thing should be classified as a hate crime toward horror movie fans.
Anubis will return next time in
“Crazy Eldritch Asians”
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