Undemanding fans of teen-centric horror films should get a kick out of “Venom”, a movie clearly made with video/DVD distribution in mind, but somehow managed a brief, blink-and-you’ll-miss theatrical run courtesy of Miramax’s genre arm, Dimension Films. Although predictably devoid of originality or grand ambitions, “Venom” nevertheless makes for a good, fun 80 minutes, offering up the kind of cheap thrills fans of the genre will enjoy the most, while leaving mainstream moviegoers in the dark. Just how formulaic is Jim Gillespie’s “Venom”? In short, if you’re black, you’re dead. The film’s one major black character lasts until the hour mark, just long enough to impart the film’s exposition onto the white heroine so that she may save the day.
“Venom” is set in a small Louisiana town, one of those backwater venues that prompt High School teens to dream of escaping. Eden (Agnes Bruckner) is one such teen, although her plan to attend Columbia meets with disagreement from boyfriend Eric (Jonathan Jackson). Trouble ensues on a bridge late one night when the quarreling lovers are interrupted by tow truck guy Ray (Rick Cramer), who is also the town’s designated weirdo. Before the night is over, a car accident on the bridge involving Ray’s tow truck and a car being driven by a voodoo priestess sends Ray into the water below.
Here’s the kicker: the voodoo priestess was on her way back from a late-night digging session, and was transporting a box full of the souls of evil men she had excised in the past. The box soon unleashes its content on Ray, and eventually resurrects the now-undead tow truck driver. It’s up to Eden, boyfriend Eric, and their buds Rachel (Laura Ramsey) and Sean (D.J. Cotrona) to escape town before Ray catches up to them. And oh yeah, Sean just happens to also be Ray’s illegitimate son, although the film seems curiously confused about what to make of this odd relationship, having neither the will nor (as is most probably the case) the necessary running time to cover the angles.
What’s left is a quick, fast paced horror film, and if pathos is something you’re after, you should never have rented a movie called “Venom” from the video store in the first place. “Venom” was clearly created to be enjoyed while watching, and forgotten immediately afterwards. To that end, it does a fine job. The short running time will keep anyone from being completely bored, and the film certainly doesn’t spend any amount of time on set-up. By the 20-minute mark Ray has returned from the grave infused with voodoo immortality and bent on — Well, I’m not entirely sure what Ray is trying to accomplish, but he does end up killing a lot of people and making voodoo markings here and there.
“Voodoo’s” heavy expository second act occurs when Eden and friends take a trip out to see their buddy Cece (Meagan Good), whose grandmother was the voodoo priestess killed in the car accident. There’s a big chunk of exposition that I’m afraid I must have missed, because I still can’t figure out what it is Ray is trying to accomplish by killing people. Perhaps he’s killing just for the sake of killing, but that doesn’t quite explain all the rituals. In any case, the film could have certainly used a more fearsome villain, as Ray is little more than a tow truck driver caked in heavy “burnt” makeup, going about town killing teens with a crowbar. And yes, he has keys that jingle. A lot.
Directed by Jim Gillespie, who last helmed the Sylvester Stallone serial killer film “D-Tox” (known in some parts as “Eye See You”), “Venom” has a brisk pace that will make it viewer friendly for most. Even if you don’t find a whole lot about “Venom” to like, at least it’ll be over quick. For genre fans, there are plenty of goodies to enjoy, because “Venom” rarely takes a moment to breathe. The killings start almost immediately, and continue straight to the very end. And while the kills themselves aren’t entirely inventive, there are some inspired moments, such as when Ray, unable to reach the kids because the house they are hiding in is protected from evil by magic, puts his tow truck to very creative uses in order to get around that whole “protected from evil” problem.
“Venom” is a good, solid horror film that delivers on the entertainment front. It really should have been released directly to video, as a film like this, with no stars in any of the roles, is not designed for movie theaters full of vacuous teens on dates. The R-rating and heavy bloodletting is best for a direct-to-video release, where it can be fully enjoyed by fans of the genre that knows what they are getting. The film also gets high marks for a decent cast of actors, as well as Gillespie’s able direction. One gets the feeling the original script was longer, with more nuance, but of course in this day and age, “nuance” belongs in movies about gay cowboys, not one about an undead tow truck driver.
Jim Gillespie (director) / John Zuur Platten, Flint Dille, Brandon Boyce (screenplay)
CAST: Agnes Bruckner …. Eden
Jonathan Jackson …. Eric
Laura Ramsey …. Rachel
D.J. Cotrona …. Sean
Rick Cramer …. Ray
Meagan Good …. Cece
Bijou Phillips …. Tammy
Method Man …. Deputy Turner