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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Venom Jim Gillespie 2005

A Whiter Shade of Trash

An amazingly muddled, utterly pointless slasher-cum-monster-movie, Venom’s major mistake is that its main characters are essentially poor white trash. People – if there’s anything we’ve learned from teens-in-the-woods movies over the years, it’s that those teens must drive fancy cars, wear the hottest jeans, and be moisturized within an inch of their lush little lives. Would anyone have given Scream a second thought if Sydney had wheeled into school in a 1974 AMC Concord wearing a pair of hand-me down gauchos and a bad case of forehead acne? Were Halloween not situated squarely in comfy middle-America (via California) and boasted respectable authority figures like cops and psychiatrists, would anyone have blinked when Michael started slashing up the teens? Even Texas Chainsaw Massacre – which presents the all-around grubbiest cast and scenery of the genre – makes the point that the kids in the van are just passing through rednecksville. Had both the cannibal killers and the victims both shopped at the same Piggly Wiggly, no one would have given two shits about the carnage.

And then there’s Venom, a tale so squarely rooted in the backroads of Monster Truck country that – well, it actually boasts a Monster Truck as one of its main setpieces. These disposable teens are even more disposable than most: Sean (D.J. Cotrona) is a bastard (literally) and a drunk; Ricky (Pawel Szajda – no, he’s not one of the Bel Ami gang) is goofy and, well, kinda gay; Tammy (Bijou Phillips) and Patty (Davetta Sherwood) are trashy, thieving slags (and are named Tammy and Patty, to boot); Rachel (Laura Ramsey) is a diner waitress who’s way too permissive about her whiny-ass boyfriend; Eric (Jonathan Jackson) is – well, what is he, exactly? He’s broken up with his girlfriend, and that’s about all we know about him; and Final Girl Eden (Agnes Bruckner, tarted up like a French whore but still kind of weird-looking) has already all but kicked everyone else to the curb as she readies herself for school in the Big City. Oh – and God forbid any of these born-and-raised Louisianians actually have a Southern accent.

City Mouse/Country Mouse is a common theme in horror flicks (Chainsaw, Wrong Turn, The Hills Have Eyes, Savage Weekend). But here the mice are all country mice, and as the narrative constantly craps on the country that they’re in and doesn’t make any suggestion that any of them are going anywhere bigger and better, they’re the walking dead. Actually, from the looks of it, they’d be better off getting impaled on a murderer’s crowbar than working up in a diner or gas station in decaying Backwater, LA for the rest of their lives (the actual name of the town, mind you – and at one point the title of the movie).

Speaking of the murderer (since I’m going to have to, at some point): I can appreciate the attempt to use the local voodoo spiritualism to concoct a potent slasher out of a beefy truck driver and a suitcase full of evil-filled snakes, I really can. But unfortunately, instead of a kickass villain, we really just get a walking corpse with a bunch of tire irons. He’s dumb, he’s not particularly interesting to look at (he kind of looks like Mr. Clean after a rough night at the Hellfire Club), and he’s utterly unmotivated. I mean utterly. The reasoning of the film seems to be that as he’s been resurrected from 13 evil spirits, his only purpose is to harvest souls. Okay, but why? Is he feeding on them? Using them for power? Maybe he’s forming an undead volleyball league. No, it just seems that he’s stacking the bodies in a crypt. No idea why. He’s also apparently quite vulnerable (given that he’s just rapidly decaying tissue), and all it takes is a good smack to make him start falling apart.

Now, aside from having a pretty losery group of victims and making no sense whatsoever, there are a few things that save Venom from being a complete shitheap. It’s at least gory, although the balance between disturbing, invasive violence and “Wheeee! Look at that chick get gored on a tree!” camp fun is quite an uneasy one – Venom tries to have its cake and eat it a la mode in terms of being genuine horror or jokey splatter fun; the result is uneven and a bit off-putting (I liken it to the amped sick humor of Final Destination 2, one of the most mean-spirited movies I’ve ever seen – which may be right up some peoples’ alleys – although at least FD2 also managed to make audiences legitimately uneasy in the process). But taken apart from the whole, a few moments shine: the deaths of Tammy and Patty are quite a nasty little scene, for what they’re worth, mining the run-down gas station setting for all it’s worth; using a dead kid as a voodoo doll is an interesting idea, however poorly executed; and Ray’s literally ripping the house apart to get to the kids was a nice over-the-top touch.

But there’s just too much wrong with this one to let the copious gore and few clever moments shine. Several suspense scenes simply don’t make any sense (the moment where Eden hides under a pile of bodies and then squeals and moves as someone is killed inches away from her is ludicrous, as her face is clearly in the direct sightline of the killer at the time), and the multiple logical chasms rend the story into ribbons. Besides, is the concept of a reanimated body that houses seven cursed vipers even a good one? Where do they all fit? At the very least, they missed out on some prime trousersnake jokes. It's beyond tragic that the distributor that kicked off its legacy with Scream has coughed up hairballs like Venom, Cursed, and the various Dracula movies with its last, gasping breaths. In the end, this is one plodding, swampy mess that’s better left to the alligators.

Rating (out of 5):