Directed by Jim Gillespie
It’s dangerous. It’s fast. And it’s spreading pandemonium in the swamps of Louisiana…but on the silver screen, not the weather channel.
The “it” in question is the possessed, satanic monster of “Venom,” the latest R-rated, horror flick to crawl onto screens on the blood-soaked coattails of “The Grudge” and “Saw.” Director Jim Gillespie (“I Know What You Did Last Summer”) and producer Kevin Williamson (“Scream” and “Dawson’s Creek”) teamed up to make “Venom”; however, the movie fails to recreates the titillating, heart-attack inducing feelings of their past work.
The film begins in a small town deep in the Louisiana bayou, where an old voodoo priestess uses two live snakes to exorcise criminals and other wicked men of the satanic spirits that push them to commit horrific deeds. But when the mambo priestess dies in a car accident, the snakes escape and kill the local mechanic, whose corpse is then possessed by all the malignant souls previously trapped in the vipers. And, of course, only a small group of beer-guzzling, emotionally-troubled high school seniors is there to stop the demonic creature from further spreading evil.
The simplistic plotline sticks to the structure that allowed “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” to focus so successfully on the ol’ blood n’ guts scenes that both electrified and nauseated audiences. And “Venom” does recreate the gore of yore with as much frequency, if not more.
Special effects are used more often than in their previous movies, although not necessarily in more creative ways. The voodoo premise allows the film to “gorify” black magic; however, the scenes are more about splashing blood around than actually getting the audience’s blood pumping.
The makers of the film, for instance, do not limit themselves to showing the possessed mechanic simply killing his victims with the wondrous toys of his trade as in “Last Summer.” Death is definitely not the end of the horror. The bad guy can now use the mutilated corpses of his victims to perform diabolical rituals.
But although the expected buckets of bodily fluids are there, “Venom” lacks suspense and tension. The killer’s identity is known from the beginning, eliminating the whodunit element so crucial to keeping most slasher flicks watchable. And when the fiend is not killing people during the day, he’s driving around town as if his tow truck were an ice-cream truck.
The makers of “Venom” also resort to the oldest scare tricks in the book, making most of the movie predictable. The ever-present blanket of fog, the constant rustling of wind in the trees, and the malfunctioning, blinking halogen lights are in no way innovative elements in horror films.
The movie also includes too many banal subplots that fail to humanize the stereotypical characters (who no one wants to see as profoundly human, anyway). The awkward moments of teenage self-discovery only further highlight the fact that, yes, the blonde ditz and muscular stud characters have the emotional depth of a Petri dish.
With unoriginal lines of sentimental mush popping up unexpectedly, it becomes impossible for the movie to create any sort of eerie or suspenseful mood, making the entire script somewhat comical.
In one scene that epitomizes the faults of the film, the teenagers are trapped in the dead priestess’s blessed house and are hiding from the monster roaming outside. In desperate need of help and with no way to call the police, one of the teenagers exclaims that instead of protecting the house with charms and spells the old priestess “should have been busy installing a phone.”
Although subtle, such an allusion to “Scream”’s thrilling scenes of incessantly ringing phones further emphasizes the difference between “Venom” and Gillespie and Williamson’s past work. Let’s just hope that Gillespie and Williamson are not as cursed as their possessed mechanic and will soon make better films.
—Staff writer Michaela N. de Lacaze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org