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Watch out: Venom is box office poison

by Glen Baity

Every so often, writing film reviews can feel uncomfortably like bullying. I know I’m duty-bound to make my four readers aware of what their best bets are in this bleak cinematic climate, and I do enjoy it. But sometimes, a film floats ‘— or is purged ‘— into the cultural landscape that seems so obviously bad, it’s almost redundant to even address it. One look at the trailer for Venom will give you a fairly accurate idea of exactly why it sucks, and in criticizing it I keep getting visions of large fish swimming around a particularly small barrel. But in fairness, it should be recognized that fate dealt the film ‘— which, incidentally, does suck ‘— a pretty bad hand.

Due to a reported split with Disney, Bob and Harvey Weinstein were required to put the film out prior to Sept. 30, so while it might seem like a terrible idea to release Venom, set in the Louisiana bayou, three weeks after that region fell victim to Hurricane Katrina, rest assured there’s no conspiracy at work here. Inevitably, people will consider this film in poor taste only because of its setting, but that thought is patently ridiculous: the tragedy that befell the Gulf Coast resonates with everyone in this country, but maligning a movie for taking place there doesn’t make much sense. I felt the same way when the World Trade Center was photo-shopped out of Spider-Man ‘— I understand not wanting to pour salt on fresh wounds, but I fail to understand how pretending New Orleans never existed ameliorates our national pain.

Still, it’s impossible not to think of the hurricane going into this film, and I concede that Venom is no loving tribute to New Orleans. That doesn’t make the film tasteless ‘— at least not for that reason ‘— but it doesn’t make it good, either.

The upshot is that Venom is an insipid, uninspired film, the second in the past two months to use exaggerated Creole religious practices as props instead of treating them with any real interest, curiosity, or respect (The Skeleton Key being the first). In the aftermath of Katrina, it’s tempting to cast this shortcoming as morally repugnant, but the simple truth is that, like The Skeleton Key, it’s only a result of mediocre talent at work. All this should go without saying, but for some reason I feel compelled, before I trash this movie, to defend it a little bit. Its mediocrity doesn’t point to anything of greater significance than a lack of imagination coupled with exceptionally bad timing.

That said, my opinion of the film is relatively straightforward: Venom is just another bad horror movie that probably would’ve been much better suited for a straight-to-video release, and I don’t recommend anyone, even aficionados of cheeseball horror, watch it on purpose. As humdrum as monster-on-the-loose films get, Venom’s plot revolves around the death, resurrection, and ensuing reign of terror of Ray (Rick Cramer), a simple tow truck driver in a small Louisiana town. Ray dies after being attacked by a pit of extremely poisonous snakes. What the authorities fail to realize is that a voodoo priestess, for reasons too silly to go into, has imbued the snakes with what one character calls ‘“the evil of countless souls.’”

Reinvigorated with this unfathomable evil, Ray comes snarling back to life ‘— when else? ‘— immediately before his autopsy, which leads to the completely predictable death of the town coroner in a scene previously employed in about 500 films. This sets off a killing spree in which Ray picks off the cast of fresh-faced unknowns (well, unknown except for Method Man) one by one, usually with a crowbar, always in a more gruesome fashion than is strictly necessary.

The plot is as prosaic as you can expect to find, mainly comprised of a series of ‘boo’ scares and several gratuitous, gaping head wounds. Many of the plot points from The Skeleton Key make appearances, and they seem just as cheap here as they did in that film.

A million movies like Venom have come before (such as director Jim Gillespie’s last well-known, and only slightly better work, I Know What You Did Last Summer), and a million like it will come after. The ending leaves room for a possible sequel, which seems unthinkable, but from a movie industry that will soon give us Saw 2, I’d almost be more surprised if we didn’t find Crazy Ray and his Creole Crowbar hacking through Laguna Beach by January 2007.

Are you also possessed by the evil of countless souls? Tell Glen Baity your story via e-mail at egothelivingplanet@excite.com

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