Just over a month after Kate Hudson unlocked ominous doors in Louisiana’s creepy plantation country in Skeleton Key, Andrew Rona and the folks at Dimension release another lifeless (but peculiarly racist) Deep South horror movie charting the myriad frights of costumed black people performing defense rituals. (Don’t worry, guys, it’s “just a movie.”) In a swampy, rural town in Louisiana, a normally harmless trucker named Mr. Jangles (Rick Cramer) is possessed by the titular poison of a couple of voodoo “milking” snakes and goes on a murderous rampage, targeting a group of hot local teenagers. I’ll spare you the details—basically, Mr. Jangles is the deadbeat dad of one of the moodier kids, and the main character Eden (Agnes Bruckner) is splitting from her clingy boyfriend to attend Columbia University—but needless to say Venom starves for depth. Save for a sinuous river in the shape of a hook and a painful murder by electric paint remover (ouch!), the set pieces and killings are mostly unimaginative. Once Mr. Jangles wastes the most disposable characters, the rest hole themselves up in the semi-protected house of the woman who originally unleashed the snakes on the killer, currently occupied by a no-nonsense granddaughter who carries on the multifaceted traditions of voodoo culture, like throwing beads around and putting curses on whites. When she offers using Mr. Jangles’s son as a voodoo doll to ward off the killer, the group responds in Protestant disgust, echoing the filmmakers’ knee-jerk desire to smother a religion they know nothing about and with it any fears of otherness. In the end all is buried away and life returns to normal. To quote Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, “This house is clean.”
Save for some combing I noticed around a fluorescent ceiling fixture early in the film, this is a stunning image, especially the first shot of the menacing Louisiana bayou-so stunning is the transfer it makes the locale look positively unreal. Audio is almost as good; the score is on the subdued side, but dialogue is clear and the surrounds are put to good use whenever the film's boogeyman goes hunting for fresh teen meat.
A making-of featurette that's reverential of the legit New Orleans locale, four storyboard-to-film comparisons, cast auditions (why does Bijou Phillips continue to get work?), and a bunch of previews.
Venom begins as a promising vision of small-town discontent only to succumb to the worst tendencies of the slasher teen genre.