½*/**** Image A- Sound C Extras B
starring Treat Williams, Mary Page Keller, Hannes Jaenicke, Geoff Pierson
screenplay by Dan Golden
directed by Ed Raymond
by Walter Chaw I have a theory about Treat Williams: I believe that he, after being passed over for an Oscar for his magnificent performance in the 1981 Sidney Lumet film Prince of the City, has been on a vicious retributive rampage against the American viewing public. There can be no other explanation for an obviously gifted actor to have starred in three Substitute sequels and in films alongside Joe Piscopo and Michelle Pfeiffer. After watching the direct-to-video shocker Venomous, directed and commented upon by one of the keepers of Ed Wood's flame, Ed Raymond (a.k.a. Fred Olen Ray, Nicholas Medina), I officially concede victory to Williams. You win this round, Mr. Williams--no más...no más.
Dr. David Henning (Williams) works at the main hospital in sleepy Santa Mira, home to a whole mess of rednecks and a den of Army-engineered rattlesnakes that carry a deadly virus. When a series of earthquakes make the snakes itchy, they start biting the hicks who, in turn, get (somehow) paler and die. It looks like Tremors (in its setting, but especially when a bunch of rubber snakes are shoved sideways out of holes), proceeds like Outbreak, and stops in Slither territory, with all the tissue rejection such a union predicts. Longtime television familiar face Mary Page Keller is David's ex-wife and a Department of Defense virologist, which naturally does little to prevent her from accidentally infecting herself. Venomous also takes pains to point out that you should check the briefcases of Arab-looking people and that the military is evil.
Venomous opens with a terrorist attack (at what is easily the most porous military testing laboratory in history) that results in the release of a bunch of mutant snakes. Between a building blowing up because of Middle-Eastern wackos and tons of stock footage of the Pentagon, Venomous inherits a little contemporary unpleasantness to go along with its timeless banality. From what I could gather with the commentary track, the only purpose for this prologue was to use stock footage of a high-rise exploding of which director Raymond was fond. I suspected as much.
Venomous, like a backwoods serial killer, starts with animals (a dog and a kitten get the fang) before escalating up to a garage mechanic, a short order cook and his usual victims, and a nurse or something before finally daring to imperil our toothy heroine. The gore effects are non-existent, there's absolutely no hint of nudity (unless you frame-advance Nurse Grimace falling down in a skirt), and the tension is nonexistent, though probably magnified if you're afraid of snakes. B-roll of such things as helicopters exploding and a stealth bomber in flight are hastily written into the plot (if you're having trouble seeing how a peckerwood snake-opera justifies a stealth bomber attack, you're not going to find any answers in Venomous), and the acting aside from ever-solid Williams ranges from embarrassing to "it's in my beautiful eyes."
Do watch for a surreal moment where the lyrics to Traffic's "Feelin' Alright" are used in an emergency room scene. The strangest thing about it is that the screenplay is so painfully awful that Dave Mason's rant against Steve Winwood reads distractingly like high poetry.
Fox DVD's release of Venomous presents the film in a crisp, non-anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. Colours are sharp, black levels black, and not a hint of grain or artifacting. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix tries a little too hard to make full use of all channels, resulting in level drop-offs and weird shifts in volume from right to left that have nothing to do with the action onscreen. It reminds a little of the quadraphonic experiments of early Pink Floyd at their stoned-est. Chemical impairment may be a good excuse for Venomous.
A feature-length yakker provided by "Raymond" is low-key and informative. Ed's been a veteran of the B-movie wars for decades now and his matter-of-fact approach is a welcome balm for the ails of Venomous. His experience and clear-eyed perspective on the poorness of his work makes his talk track the preferable audio option. A bad trailer, sparse cast & crew filmographies, and a totally useless 12-image photo gallery round out the disc. Originally published: February 24, 2002.