Monday, February 12, 2018

VENOM [1981]

This movie has NO business being as good as it is!  One would be forgiven thinking this is just one more "deadly snake on the loose" movie -- until, that is, you get a look at that cast!  Sterling Hayden, Klaus Kinski and Oliver Reed:  three of the biggest hellraisers in movie history all together in one film.  Mix together the superb Nicol Williamson, Susan George, Sarah Miles and a genuinely vicious-looking black mamba snake and this is my kind of party!  

Directed by Piers Haggard (who brought us BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW), VENOM is the story of an English Peter Billingsley clone with asthma left alone by his twitchy mother with his grandfather and a couple of servants.  The boy loves animals and has his own menagerie/zoo in the house.  Ex-gamehunter grandpa (Sterling Hayden) soon discovers the faithful maid (Susan George) and chauffer (Oliver Reed) are in league with an international criminal (Klaus Kinski) to kidnap the boy and hold him for ransom.  Naturally as these things go, the boy has just been to the pet shop to pick up the pet snake he's ordered; however, he is accidentally given the most poisonous snake in the world that had been ordered by the local toxicology laboratory.  Nobody knows this, of course, until the box is opened and the truly vicious-looking black mamba leaps out and bites Susan George.  After Oliver Reed impetuously blows away a police constable who's come by to inquire about the snake, the local cops show up led by Nicol Williamson.  The street is cordoned off an toxicologist Sarah Miles is sent for to bring anti-venom in case something nasty happens with the snake.  From here on out, you've just gotta watch the movie.
Merlin wants his cup of coffee!

This is the second time I've watched VENOM and I enjoyed it even more this time around.  The cast is just so darn good and watchable and the film moves along at a nice clip.  The shots (many in close-up) of the beautiful but frightening black mamba snake are exemplary and the cinematography is top notch throughout. 
With all the acting fireworks going on inside the house with Kinski, Reed & Hayden, it's easy to forget how wonderful Nicol Williamson's performance is; with his tetchy acidity and Scots burr commanding the street outside.  Oh yes, and good ole Michael Gough also has a small role as another snake expert/toxicologist who is called to the scene when . . . . ah, that would be telling!  Truthfully, the only interest I had in this film is that Sterling Hayden stars in it (I try to see every movie of his and he's even top-billed) as well as the presence of Kinski and Reed --something that doesn't happen every day.  Imagine my surprise at how great the film turned out to be!  VENOM is just so much fun to watch and it's one I'll revisit again and again.  Oh yeah, terrific poster too!   I seriously can't recommend this one highly enough.  A great popcorn-muncher!



Must admit to being totally perplexed at the consistently high ratings this derivative, cliched and rather dull film is getting.  The battle scenes are like watching a video game with no sense of danger or suspense attempted.  The film's internal logic doesn't make any sense.  For one example: during the first 5 or 10 minutes of the film, it's endlessly established that Tom Cruise's character has been appearing on apparently every television news program as the face of the war's propaganda initiative selling the war to the public.  Cruise's character has been the go-to interviewee for the previous several years.  But when the General dumps Cruise's character into the frontline troops with the cooked-up story of being a deserter -- NO ONE RECOGNIZES HIM.  This guy who has been the public face of the war's propaganda initiative is not recognized by anyone.  

Then we get to the endless cliches and outright steals from any number of better movies.  The cliches are running almost non-stop; from the ridiculous "finding the car keys in the visor" scene to the "explosion lands the heroine face-to-face on top of the hero" scene, it seemed to me like every scene in EDGE OF TOMORROW is taken from another (and better) film.  From J Squad wanting soooo much to be like the platoon from ALIENS (even going so far as casting Bill Paxton) to placing the secret maguffin underneath the Louvre's I.M. Pei pyramid (THE DA VINCI CODE, anyone???) to the boldface lifting of the alien mimics directly from the MATRIX movies, this film is like an arcade claw game; plucking scenes from movie after movie in a vain attempt to make something of itself.  This is one dopey, lazy, ingenuous excuse for a film.

EFFECTS [1980]

The fictional filmmakers in "EFFECTS" make a film called "DUPED"; and that's what must've happened to everyone giving this film a good rating!!!  The entire first hour (of this hour and 24 minute film) consists of a handful of -- I hesitate to call them actors -- meandering aimlessly about reciting inane, bland dialogue.  Apparently, the script to this film WAS actually written but it sounds improvised (NOT a compliment).  It's the misapprehension usually held by filmmakers who have seen too many Cassavettes films that improv is better than a well-crafted script; it's almost never true.  The unbelievably dopey and boring dialogue is spoken by a cast with absolutely no screen presence inhabiting the roles of non-characters who are less developed than your average 30 seconds TV commercial.  Sitting through scene after scene of the dumbest, dullest and most-unrealistic dialogue I've ever heard is seat-squirmingly embarrassing for all involved.  

I've seen "EFFECTS" described as a "slow burn" film; now, I love slow burn films but this is not one of them.  This is a damp squib floating in a pan of used dishwater.  Another comment about this film is that the characters are
meant to be deliberately unlikable.  This is also not true.  In order to dislike a character, one must at least a mile interest in them; none of the characters evoke even the mildest interest on the viewer's part and, even when a character does something which is supposed to be unlikable, they have registered on the viewer's consciousness so little as to only evoke a suppressed yawn.

The greatest sin a movie can commit is to be dull and "EFFECTS" is a film which is mind-numbingly dull for the entire first HOUR of it's short running time.  There is a difference between slow-moving deliberation and a film devoid of all interest.  "EFFECTS" is in the latter category. 
When something finally does happen after the one hour mark, the viewer is long past caring.  The interesting premise of the "twist" in the final reel has been so ineptly set-up that the supposedly anticipated shock effect just isn't there.  For a movie called "EFFECTS" with Tom Savini hanging around, the film has zero effects; except for one where the fictional filmmakers demonstrate a prop razor effect on a prop leg sitting on a table.  And after all is said and done, the final event of the film is just downright silly -- not shocking or disturbing in any way.  I actually laughed out loud (NOT a compliment); my laugh was only a  disdainful scoff at a pretty good film premise so ineptly mishandled.



I enjoyed this quite a bit more than I did when I originally saw it over 15 years ago.  This is just a fun, fun movie.  

From 2000 to 2006, I worked at Borders and in the break room we had one of those combo TV/VCRs on which to watch the silly employee training videos.  Of course, when no trainee was imminent, we used to play video tapes on an endless loop.   A retired high school teacher and bad horror movie fan named Stephen worked there for a couple years and brought in his favourite craptacular bad horror movie triple feature consisting of STUFF STEPHANIE IN THE INCINERATOR, NEON MANIACS and BLOODSUCKING PHARAOHS FROM PITTSBURGH.  I must admit NEON MANIACS didn't make a huge inpression on me but I did enjoy it.  Watching it all these years later (and on a crystal clear dvd print instead of the muddy VHS tape) made all the difference.  

These . . . zombies or whatever they're supposed to be . . . live inside a tower of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and venture forth to murderlize everybody . . . unless it's raining then they go back inside because their kryptonite is water.  At no point are we meant to take this seriously; it's meant to be fun and it is.  The Neon Maniacs all have their little personae/costumes:  one's a samurai, one's a Native American warrior, one looks like an escapee from Dr. Moreau's House of Pain, etc.    There's a little bit of a WARRIORS vibe in this respect a la the themed gangs like The Lizzies, the Baseball Furies, etc.  Only they're zombies instead of gang members.  The Neon Maniacs are just adorable and are just screaming out for an action figure line!  Our monster friends cause quite a few fun kills before our heroes (two high schoolers and a geeky underclassman) learn their water weakness.  As the Neon Maniacs infiltrate the eighties-est school dance ever filmed, our heroes have passed out water pistols to all the kids and the final melee ensues.  The ending of the film sort of peters out in some respects and leaves me hungry for a sequel that never came.  Too bad.  NEON MANIACS is an entertaining hoot.