Not so scary ‘Venom’ imitates old horror films

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Venom,” the latest scare film for the “Dawson’s Creek” generation, remains all too familiar in content to the parent films it is “loosely” based on – the film imitates rather than intimidates.

There is no derivative from these past films; instead of pushing the genre’s envelope, director Jim Gillespie chooses instead, to put the genre’s elements into a large pot, add some voodoo gibberish and call it a Louisiana gumbo slasher.

The bright side to this Louisiana gumbo is that the film will be remembered in critical scholarly history as one of the last films to openly embrace the traditional Louisiana landscape before Hurricane Katrina.

In the world of “Venom,” the swamplands are mossy, the grass is green, and the century old graveyards are still intact. If one is too focused on the landscape versus the story, there could be a problem.

Gillespie instinctually (or perhaps reluctantly) photographs these locations to play more of a central role within the story instead of a simple background settings found in most films.

Certainly, though, this is nothing new for the horror genre – “Friday the 13th” relied heavily on the woods and cabin setting to provide as much horror as Jaws did for the oceans and beaches of the United States. In this film, graves are used as hiding places, swamps are catalysts for death sequences, and a traditional wooden bridge spawns the beginnings of a killer.

Interestingly, the plot’s origins come from a video game that BFG Games has in development. Knowing that, the rest of the story is easy to understand: Ray Jangles, the local “grease man,” at the “Happy Time Gas Station,” attempts to save the life of an older woman who, carrying a mysterious package, crashes her car on an old wooden bridge.

He pulls the woman to safety and dives back into the car to attempt to retrieve the mysterious case before the car falls into the river. As expected, it is too late. The car falls unleashing the most hideous form of a snake, with poisonous venom that carries the souls of the dead criminals and scoundrels who walked the Louisiana landscape many years ago.

Then, in classic horror film fashion, Ray comes back from the dead in a “Freddy v. Jason”-style morgue (one that is required to be in the basement and contain only minimal working lights), killing a worker and leaving his bloodied “S” tag. From there, he begins picking off other town members, specifically teens, in the classic repressed sexual energy that Jason Voorhees embodied in the “Friday the 13th” series.

The bright part of the film falls on Eden, played by Agnes Bruckner. There is a reluctant subtle charm to her performance that provides her easy comparison to a young Jamie Lee Curtis running scared from her crazed brother, Michael Meyers, in the “Halloween” series.

This teenage girl wasteland that slasher films embody, supports what seems like an unsaid hazing ritual within Hollywood filmmaking – Agnes’ true horror is not surviving Ray Sawyer, but surviving the potential career pitfalls of horror filmmaking (see Neve Campbell and Jennifer Love Hewitt for examples).

For “Venom,” she is a pleasure to watch on the screen: her long stares into the camera recall the reluctant charisma of Janet Leigh in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”

Further complicating the film are the social misnomers that are represented through the deputy character. Played by rapper-turned-actor Method Man, Deputy Turner has the same simple man stupidity found in the early works of Shirley Temple.

Clearly these comparisons are still apparent and nowhere near the filmic extension many scholars are claiming in film study classes.

Unashamedly, Deputy Turner furthers this uneducated southern mentality through his performance, which advocates the racial inequality expressed in filmmaking since the initial screenings of “Birth of a Nation.”

The film’s fallouts are apparently clear. Blatant disregard for efficient computer effects leave the film’s fire-laden climax to the videogame imagination – everything simply looks cheap.

Blood squirts and gushes are frequent, from crowbars in the face to knives through the head, leaving the viewer to assume this is something straight out of the “Resident Evil” generation. There are a few decent scares, but if one knows where to look, they simply remain conventional.

The film’s script is so vastly laden with numerous references to films of the past (“Joy Ride,” “Jeepers Creepers,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Friday the 13th,” and “Halloween,” among others), that one could question whether they wrote an original film or simply cut and pasted from other scripts.

Overall, the film plays like the video game it will eventually be based on – a videogame that certainly won’t make it out of the $19.99 bargain bin.

Drew Pletcher can be reached at ane@sundial.csun.edu.