Venom aka Die schwarze Mamba (Dir Piers Haggard, 1981)
Basic plot: Two crooks team up with a nanny to kidnap the child she cares for with the hope of getting a ransom from his wealthy parents, but the plan goes wrong when the child’s pet snake escapes from its cage. Unbeknownst to them all the snake is in fact a deadly poisonous black mamba…
Did they forget to colour in Sterling Hayden?
Cast: Jacques Müller – Klaus Kinski; Dave Averconnelly – Oliver Reed; Cmdr William Bulloch – Nicol Williamson; Dr Marion Stowe – Sarah Miles; Howard Anderson – Sterling Hayden; Ruth Hopkins – Cornelia Sharpe; Philip Hopkins – Lance Holcomb; Louise Andrews – Susan George
Filming location: Elstree Studios, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire and location shots in London
Release date: 19 January 1982
Availability: The Blue Underground DVD looks fantastic with its shiny cover. The DVD is also packed with loads of extras, including an audio commentary with Piers Haggard, various TV spots, biographies for Klaus Kinski and Oliver Reed, a gallery of lovely posters, French lobby cards and publicity stills and a theatrical trailer. You can pick it up for about £5 plus postage from Amazon.
The film in full – *SPOILER ALERT*:
The film opens with Ruth Hopkins fussing over her son Philip outside the American Academy of London; she does that spittle on a handkerchief thing and the emotional blackmail thing (“You wouldn’t want me to spend my time in Rome worrying about you, would you?) and the general over-protective, smothering thing. She’s annoying. And, improbably, she has employed Oliver Reed (Dave) to be her chauffeur, so she’s asking for trouble…
Dave somehow manages to get Ruth and Philip home safely without getting pulled over for drink-driving. This is a shame because only a few minutes into the film they are already irritating me a great deal – Ruth, because she is bossy, a moaner and an emotional blackmailer; Philip, because he is a sickly child who likes reptiles. That said, I guess she’d make me sick if she was my mum and I’d definitely rather spend time with a poisonous snake than with her.
Ruth’s dad, Howard, is staying with her and he’s also a bit sickly but even he thinks that Ruth is too fussy. She says that Philip’s “azma” (I think she means asthma) terrifies her and she thinks she ought not to go away but at this Howard practically begs her to go, saying that she needs to see her husband. Her husband would probably not thank him for that intervention; the husband seems to have got the right idea, spending most of his time working away so he can avoid the fussing and the sickness and whatnot.
Susan George plays Louise, a glamorous Cocker-nee nanny, wearing a black dress with white collar and cuffs; a look so clichéd that it’s bound to turn the men on. Dave sees her and beckons for her to go upstairs with him, see what I mean? Well, actually he just wants to get her alone to air his concerns about the plans they have made to kidnap the sickly kid for a ransom. Louise is convinced that nothing will go wrong but Dave has his doubts; to take his mind off it all, she tells him that instead he ought to worry about what she is going to do to him. Then she unbuttons her dress, lumme! Dave suddenly looks pleased with himself.
Dave finally gets Ruth off to the airport and everyone breathes a sigh of relief – Howard and Philip, so they can relax a little, and Louise, so she can get cracking on her kidnap plans with Dave and the mysterious Jacmel, who Dave has arranged to meet after dropping off Ruth. He can’t find Jacmel, so Dave asks Bob Cryer of The Bill if he knows when the flight from Madrid might arrive and their exchange looks like it might get a little heated when Jacmel saunters over casually with his collar up and his suit bags over his shoulder. You can tell Dave hates him already.
Just to wind him up even more, Jacmel tells him they need to go because they’re running late and then when Dave opens the car door for him to sit in the front, he spurns his offer and lets himself into the back. Dave is fuming but it doesn’t stop him from giving Jacmel a gun when he asks for it. Bad move, Dave, bad move…
They finally arrive at a secluded house in the countryside, which Dave has been renting for the past few months in order to cover their tracks, and Dave gives Jacmel the keys to a yellow car and the house and promptly leaves him to it. He explores the house (with his hands pretty much in his pockets throughout) and finds some breathing apparatus in the bedroom, just like Philip’s back at the Hopkins’ place in London. Just as well, really, there’s so much chintz in the house that it’s bound to bring on a panic attack.
Louise arrives, calling Jacmel “darling” – clearly there is something between them, even though only hours ago she’d been “worrying” Dave by doing stuff to him back at the Hopkins’ house. Jacmel runs down the stairs with a beaming smile, and promptly puts his hands in his pockets as he casually greets Louise. They kiss and Jacmel announces, “I don’t like this… Dave… his hands sweat.” That’s from the DTs, Jacmel. When Louise says she’ll “handle” Dave, Jacmel shows he knows her only too well and replies: “You’ve handled him already…” She has as well.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the sickly kid is having one of his turns so the sickly grandpa has to go and see to him. The kid is supposed to have trouble breathing but it doesn’t seem to stop him from shouting repeatedly to get his grandpa to come and help him; I’m just saying…
The maverick grandpa still lets Philip go out in a taxi alone the next day to pick up his new pet snake and in the process the two of them get into a tussle with Louise who, for reasons of her own, is not very keen on letting Philip out of her sight. But Howard makes sure that Philip gets away in the taxi and this makes Louise very angry indeed. She storms back into the house as Howard takes a call from Jacmel who is pretending to be a film producer, working on an adventure film set in central Africa.
Jacmel says he wants to meet Howard to discuss the possibility of him working on the film, flatters his ego by telling him that he is “the best that there is” and that he is “practically a living legend.” Naturally, Howard agrees to meet him in 30 minutes’ time in the cocktail lounge at The Tower Hotel, who wouldn’t? Jacmel then calls The Tower Hotel to tell them that when Howard arrives that they should tell him that he has been slightly delayed. Whilst Jacmel is on the telephone Louise has been trying to get through to Jacmel to tell him that Philip is not at the house. O dear…
Philip has arrived at a rather crummy looking pet shop in the East End where he is due to pick up his new pet snake. Mr Loewenthal does not appear to be there, so Rita Webb (who seems to have a lizard stuck to her hand) serves him instead and gives him a wooden box, which she says contains his snake.
Over at the London Institute of Toxicology (I know, I wonder where this is all going as well…) Dr Stowe is trading catty comments with her daughter. The Institute has just received a shipment supposedly containing their new black mamba snake (probably the most poisonous snake in the whole world, apparently), but Mr Mukerjee pops in and tells Dr Stowe that he doesn’t believe it’s really a black mamba as it’s not yet moved or attacked anything. Uh oh, now I understand…
For no apparent reason, Dr Stowe’s bitch of a daughter impersonates Mr Mukerjee in what is essentially a racist sort of way and then claims she was “only joking”. This adds nothing to the story, so I’m not sure why it was even included.
Dr Stowe confirms that Mr Mukerjee was right and that the snake they have just received is an African house snake. Mr Mukerjee blames this on the fact that he was dealing with Rita Webb (and the lizard attached to her hand) and not with Mr Loewenthal.
Against all odds Dr Stowe’s racist daughter likes foreign food, so they are off to get chop suey when it suddenly dawns on Dr Stowe that she may need to warn the police about the missing black mamba, in case someone else has received it in error. The police are quick to react when Dr Stowe calls: “Toxicology…? That’s poisons, isn’t it…?”
Dr Stowe tells the police that Rita Webb remembers giving an order of an African house snake to a young boy before the shipment of the black mamba went out, so the “Toxicology…? That’s poisons, isn’t it…?” policeman puts two and two together and realises that the young boy has probably got the black mamba in error. Hooray! Never let it be said that the police don’t do a good job! But Dr Stowe says the police need to hurry because if anyone gets bitten, they could be dead within minutes, and although she has an antidote for the bite she would need to get over there with it and by the time she arrives it might be too late…
It’s all happening right now – Jacmel has arrived at the house to find Louise in a panic because it’s all going wrong, with Philip nowhere in sight; Howard has got fed up of waiting for the non-existent film producer to turn up at The Tower Hotel and has decided to go home, meaning that he will arrive back before Louise, Jacmel and Dave have had a chance to kidnap Philip; and Philip is heading back to the house with his poisonous snake. If Rita Webb can dig up Philip’s details from the records at the crummy East End pet shop, presumably the police will be heading over there shortly too…
When he arrives back at the house, Louise tries to convince Philip to get in Jacmel’s yellow car to go off and see his grandpa who has “gone out on business” but Philip is having none of it; it’s nothing to do with the car being yellow, apparently, it’s just that he needs to put his snake away first. He dashes past Louise, who is, let’s face it, rubbish at her job; she can’t even outrun a sickly kid with “azma”. But little does he know that he is running into the path of the rather sinister Dave: “Hallo, Philip, what have you got there, a Bengal tiger? Who gave you that, Mrs Gandhi, I suppose?” Uh oh, we have another racist in our midst – he should join Dr Stowe’s daughter for some chop suey.
But Dave has other ideas and he shouts at Philip: “You’re a cheeky little bastard, aren’t you? Well, he bloody is a cheeky little bastard. HE IS A CHEEKY LITTLE BASTARD!” Philip is totally unfazed by all of this and just continues as if it’s normal for his mother’s chauffeur to abuse him in such a way. In fact, Philip is so determined to settle his snake in that he is wilfully disobeying Louise and I am starting to think that he is “A CHEEKY LITTLE BASTARD” after all.
In the other room Dave has just taken a call from the police; he comes in to tell Louise as Philip opens the box and…YIKES! Cut to Howard returning in a taxi below, screams from Louise upstairs, and then finally we see Louise in the snake’s eye view as the black mamba attacks!!!
The snake attaches itself to Louise’s top lip – a bit like Jacmel did earlier – bites her twice and then makes its getaway behind the Airfix kits in Philip’s room. Howard seems to think Louise will be alright as it’s only a house snake, but Dave thinks otherwise. He’s absolutely fuming. To make matters worse, Jacmel (his enemy and love rival) barges in and starts bossing him around and telling him to shut up. Jacmel goes over to Louise and although he looks concerned, he takes his time to take his hands out of his pockets to comfort her.
In the meantime Dave picks a fight with Howard, who is trying to make a telephone call – he wrenches the wire out of the wall (well, that’s one way to stop him making a call) and then punches him in the gut twice (and that’s another way). Philip, aka the “CHEEKY LITTLE BASTARD”, lives up to his name and wades in to Dave, kicking him so hard that Dave feels obliged to throw him against the wall.
Jacmel shouts at Dave to leave Philip alone; it’s okay, he just hasn’t realised yet that he’s a “CHEEKY LITTLE BASTARD”, but give it time. Jacmel and Dave really don’t get on at all – Jacmel tells Dave that he can’t touch anybody unless he says so. “I will tell you what to do, when to do it, what to say… I will tell you when to breathe,” he says, pointing a gun at Dave. Then he tells Dave to lock Howard in the cellar and he takes Philip with him, saying that he will be going away for a few days.
In the meantime, the previously glamorous Louise has deteriorated – she now has cross-eyes, a sweaty forehead and a dingy looking grey coat on; quite frankly she looks like a wino (I don’t know what Klaus and Ollie ever saw in her, not that I am jealous nor nuthin’). She tells Jacmel that she thinks she is dying – at this he tells her, “You will lie down soon, but not yet,” and then he proceeds to drag her around the house.
Back in the cellar, Dave tells Howard if he makes one sound he’ll put his foot through his stomach; best be quiet, old man! Dave takes one of Howard’s rifles and loads it with cartridges – he has plans, but I’m not sure who he’s after first: Jacmel, the “CHEEKY LITTLE BASTARD”, or the old man.
The doorbell rings just as Jacmel and Dave argue about Dave wielding the rifle and just when they don’t need it, the “CHEEKY LITTLE BASTARD” screams out “HELP!” in the hope that the person at the door will hear him. See, told you he doesn’t really have a problem with his “azma”; he can summon enough breath when he needs to. Upon hearing the shout, the policeman outside the door pushes the door open to reveal Dave and his rifle and Jacmel, the wino and the “CHEEKY LITTLE BASTARD” standing on the stairs. O dear, bad move, now Dave will have to shoot him in the chest…
The policeman valiantly tries to get through to his colleagues on his speakie weakie, but with his flesh and blood dangling out all over his police uniform you know he’s not got long to live. RIP “Toxicology…? That’s poisons, isn’t it…?” policeman…
Now everyone is going into panic mode – Dave and Jacmel are arguing, whilst the wino has taken to standing on the stairs, pulling a close approximation of the “booyakasha” hand gesture behind the “CHEEKY LITTLE BASTARD”’s back; pressure makes people do strange things, I guess. I don’t blame the “CHEEKY LITTLE BASTARD” when at the first opportunity he tries to make a run for it, but instead of chasing him himself Jacmel just orders Dave to do it.
The “CHEEKY LITTLE BASTARD” gets away and hides under the bed – big mistake, would you really want to see Dave peering at you under the bed like this? It would make you pee your pants, and the things is, Sarah Miles has not even arrived in time to drink it for you, so that would be a real waste. I note also that I need to revise the name for Philip now as Dave has taken to just calling him, “YOU LITTLE BASTARD.” Not so cheeky now, just a little bastard. Right, I’m with ya.
Meantime, the wino is now dying in the most undignified manner on the painters’ covers on the hall carpet. And Jacmel clearly does not approve:
She has now gone purple like Violet Beauregarde and she’s doing the hand gesture thing again – just give up, wino, it’s doing nothing for your street cred! She’s purple everywhere apart from her legs, so I am making a mental note that those American tan tights do the world of good for your complexion. Dave, who clearly loved the wino more than Jacmel, hugs her as she dies whereas Jacmel has moved on already and wants everyone else to do so: “Come on, move!”
Outside the police arrive and Dave realises it’s too late now; they’ve had it. They seem to care more about the police outside than they do about the escaped black mamba inside; and that’s despite seeing the wino go purple and croak it.
Commander Bulloch arrives in his Peter Storm style anorak, cheap tie and trousers with front pockets. He doesn’t look too happy:
It’s understandable in that outfit…
Jacmel opens the sash window slightly and peers out at the Commander, and in a voice a little louder than a whisper says, “Can you hear me?” Clearly not, he’s several feet away and you’re not talking very loud. He raises his voice, asking the same question again, and this time, by some small miracle, the Commander can hear him. Jacmel tells him that he has a 10 year old boy in the house, Philip Hopkins (he means “YOU LITTLE BASTARD”, but he never got the hang of Dave’s name for him). Jacmel says it’s impossible to send “YOU LITTLE BASTARD” out to the police because, “there are serten sings I wish. I talk to you? Have you ausority? …I wish to leave soon, please fetch your superior, someone who has ausority.”
The Commander does not take this request lightly, he heads off to his car and asks where his coffee is whilst two of his men rush around him pouring instant coffee from an orange vacuum flask and lighting his cigarette for him; that’s the life! The good news is he does not think it’s a football game (Phew! That could have caused a few problems if he did!) and there’s no score (That’s good. I think…).
Meanwhile, the black mamba is rearing its ugly head – it’s been under the bed, a bit like “YOU LITTLE BASTARD” earlier, but I think you’ll agree it doesn’t look half as scary as this:
It is a little bastard in its own right, though, as it eats one of “YOU LITTLE BASTARD”’s pet rabbits. Poor little rabbit.
Outside again, a policeman announces over a loudspeaker that people in the neighbourhood should stay inside their houses, so Jacmel puts the double-lock on and bolts the door just in case there’s any trouble; why he thinks he needs to stay inside, I don’t know, he’s one of the trouble makers they’re talking about if he did but know it.
Then he tells Dave to “get the old man”; Dave gets excited at this and cocks his rifle barrel. Oo-er missus!
The black mamba is now in the crawlspace (a bit like Klaus Kinski in Crawlspace), after having demolished his way through “YOU LITTLE BASTARD”’s pet collection. And the old man has inspected the wino and identified the bite marks as those of a black mamba, so now they know what they are up against. Jacmel then forces the old man to do a recce of the premises to see if they can locate the snake, little realising what danger he is putting them in; he may have a gun, but the snake’s reflex would be quicker than his. Crikey, Jacmel!
Outside the Police Control vehicle has arrived (someone has to control the police, I guess) and so the Commander finishes his coffee and fag break and goes to supervise as several policemen appear to take a large roll of grey plastic out of the back of the vehicle and put it on the road outside. Um?
Inside, the tension mounts as Jacmel and the old man go snake hunting upstairs. Jacmel would stand little chance if the snake attacked him now as he has (yes, you’ve guessed it!) one of his hands in his pocket and the other hand on his gun. The old man wouldn’t stand much chance either as he goes in rummaging around with a cushion and a table lamp for weapons. He finally proceeds to whack and hack a black cable to pieces with a poker, like the safari expert that he is. That’s my boy!
“YOU LITTLE BASTARD” dashes into the room and says to his grandpa, “You weren’t afraid, were ya?” No, kid, he wasn’t because it was just a black cable and not a black mamba. Bit of an anti-climax, that.
Back outside the Commander goes over to greet the marksmen as they arrive with their berets and rifles and he gives them some really good advice: “Try not to freeze your arses off.” Yes, because a marksman walking around with no arse would be neither use nor ornament and any fool should know that. But they had better not make a mistake because as the Commander puts it, any man that does, “I’ll have his balls”. O dear, so if they freeze their arse off and make a mistake, they’ll wind up with no arse and no balls. There’s a lot at risk here, lads…
Dave’s not sure about the grey plastic either: “They’re putting up some kind of a… some kind of a… plastic curtain.”
The marksmen take their positions quietly (well, they don’t want to lose their balls!) at windows opposite the Hopkins’ house and wait patiently. Until the Commander spits on the pavement and then two guys in a police van come up and tow Jacmel’s car away. Ah! I get it. When the Commander spits, that’s a sign to tow the yellow car away, I see. But this makes Dave very angry indeed – I didn’t know he was so attached to Jacmel’s yellow car, but apparently he was – and he’s so angry that he busts his way onto the balcony with his rifle, yelling at the police not to take the car or he’ll blow their heads off. He doesn’t get a chance though as Jacmel grabs him and slaps him around the face twice. Ooh, enjoy that!
Dave’s just about had enough and now he warns Jacmel that he needs to “be careful”, and he means it; Jacmel knows this. Dave is crazy and a liability, but it’s too late to worry about that at this late stage in the game.
To defuse the tension, Jacmel continues his nice little chat with the Commander, you know, the one about his superior and “ausority” and all that? Jacmel asks the Commander if he’s “playing games” with him, but we know that the Commander has already realised that it’s not a football game, and the Commander confirms this when he tells Jacmel: “No, I never play games – I just went for a pee and a cup of coffee.” He actually went for a cup of coffee and a fag. And we all know Sarah Miles is not there so nobody should be going for a pee just yet; waste not, want not.
Even though the Commander is clearly being a tad naughty, Jacmel decides to make demands anyway. It seems I was wrong about this yellow car, it clearly is important as Jacmel wants the yellow car back and he also wants £1M – he’s not asking for much, is he?
Meanwhile, Detective Constable Spencer narrowly avoids the Commander “having his balls” by giving him some important news – Dr Stowe has finally got in touch to let them know about the black mamba. What took her so long?
“YOU LITTLE BASTARD” is having a relapse and needs some treatment for his “azma”; tough, Jacmel says he can’t have any. Outside, the Commander is requesting plans for the area, intelligence on the owners of the house and their servants, and coffee. This seems to be Detective Constable Spencer’s main job – so much so that I am beginning to wonder if he’s a barista disguising himself as a policeman.
Dr Stowe has only just arrived and already she is drinking the Commander’s coffee. She explains how dangerous the snake is and says that without the anti-venom anyone who is bitten by the snake would stand no chance at all; mamba bites are 100% fatal. But even the anti-venom can be fatal if you’re allergic to that too. She brings good news with her, uh?
The Commander convinces Stowe to go with him and to tell the occupants of the house about the danger they are putting themselves in, but she says they need to get David Ball, the Reptile Man at the London Zoo, in case they need assistance.
Dave is getting riled again about the yellow car or lack thereof; he’s so angry that he helps himself to the contents of the drinks cabinet. O dear, things are bound to go downhill from here… In order to get him to pace himself a little bit, Jacmel tells Dave to make sure he saves some for later. That’ll do the trick.
Dave spies the Commander outside in the street with Stowe and I swear he says, “He’s bought a woman with him”, rather than “He’s brought a woman with him”. But Jacmel doesn’t notice the mistake and he sees that it’s only Sarah Miles so he doesn’t get excited either. Stowe explains that she works at the Institute of Toxicology (Remember, “Toxicology…? That’s poisons, isn’t it…?”?) and that she knows about the black mamba “YOU LITTLE BASTARD” took home in error. She says she has an antidote in case anyone gets bitten.
Jacmel tells her the maid (he means the wino) has been bitten and that she may use her medicine on her if she wishes to do so. That’s nice of him; bit late now, but what the heck. Jacmel says he’ll bring the wino to the steps if Stowe will come and inject her with the antidote. What is he up to…?
Jacmel makes Howard drag the body outside onto the steps – and as Stowe approaches with her antidote and asks the maid if she can move, the blanket uncovers to reveal… Jacmel! How daring and impudent of him! There in front of the marksmen, and Stowe with the antidote in her hand which she could inject him with and he may or may not be allergic to it, yikes!
Instead of injecting him, Stowe drops the syringe and before the marksmen’s very eyes (and rifles) Jacmel leads Stowe inside the house. And there ain’t nuthin’ they can do about it, the silly sausages.
Dave sees her and demands of Jacmel, “What the hell did you bring her in here for?” Yes, he’s realised it’s just Sarah Miles too. But Jacmel had thought she could watch “YOU LITTLE BASTARD”. Relations between Dave and Jacmel are now worsening and they’re almost fighting on the stairs, both with their guns out (it’s a bit like the scene in Women in Love, only not really – actually not one bit, sorry to disappoint, ladies…).
Stowe is holding her arm as if Jacmel had hurt her or something (I’m being naughty, see Other Information about the Film below for more on this), when Jacmel threatens to shoot her if she pulls any tricks. He demands that Howard and Stowe go upstairs with him and Dave.
Outside the Commander gets all aggro about the plans he requested, but he’s told that they’re on the table – well, that’s alright then… He gives the plans the once over and thinks he’s onto something; it would seem there was once a different entrance to the house, at the back, so he sends the barista off to check it out for him.
The reptile doctor, who clearly knows all about kids (having a racist daughter of her own), demands that Jacmel get “YOU LITTLE BASTARD” his inhaler immediately. Dave doesn’t give a damn if the boy dies or not, but Jacmel lets Howard go with him to get the medicine.
Meanwhile, the barista is breaking and entering into a ladies’ clothes shop called Julia, which is presumably what the Commander was asking him to check out. He taps on the back wall a bit.
Dave has been left with the reptile doctor long enough to ask her if she’d like to share a drink with him. Dave thinks it will “help us to relax” and Dave definitely needs to relax a bit as his nerves are totally on edge right now. The doctor watches as he puts the rifle down to open the drinks cabinet, but that’s the least of Dave’s worries as he is faced with the black mamba when he opens the cabinet doors!
Jacmel comes to the rescue and throws the cabinet door shut and catches the reptile doctor in time to stop her taking Dave’s rifle. Bloody hell fire, Dave! You can’t be trusted for one minute with a woman and a drinks cabinet in the vicinity, tut tut…
The snake apparently got into the cabinet through the duct behind the cabinet, which just happens to have a snake sized hole in the back. What are the chances of that, eh? Jacmel manages to squash it back into the duct with the aid of a cushion (cushions are useful when used against snakes after all!) and then pushes the cabinet back into place. Phew! At least Dave can have his drink now, right?
The reptile doctor pipes up with an idea – she suggests that they should turn the central heating off and then the snake might go into a coma as its body temperature lowers. Sounds like a good idea but Jacmel says he’ll have to think about it; he must be cold himself as he still has one hand in his pocket. Brr!!!
The police have come up with the intelligence on the Hopkins’ staff now – apparently Dave has “no previous” (he’s made up for it in the last 24 hours though), and nor did Louise, but Interpol had been keeping tabs on her since she had been living with a “German underworld figure.” YES! I knew Klausy would be the ringleader! This excites the Commander more than somewhat – so much so that he flicks his fag away without finishing it off. Time for a coffee, I’d say, how about you?
“YOU LITTLE BASTARD” is milking the difficulty with breathing thing for all it is worth and despite having his equipment, he’s still putting on some show; he’s in danger of actually hyperventilating at one point, but I suppose it gives him something to do. Little does he realise, his mum is on her way back from Rome right now – now that’ll give you something to hyperventilate about, “YOU LITTLE BASTARD”!
The barista comes back with news of the secret passage way through the back of the mews shop, just as a scream is heard coming from the house – so instead of putting the kettle on, the barista runs outside with the Commander to see what the kerfuffle is about.
Dave is manhandling the reptile doctor, while Jacmel shouts down to the Commander: “I will throw somesing from the window; a gift from Dr Stowe.” A metal box bounces past the Commander, and Jacmel promises that every half an hour he will throw “somesing” else down until he gets the money and the precious yellow car that he and Dave so adore. The Commander opens the box and finds… a finger!
A policeman gives a laboratory assistant the finger, so to speak. He looks like a cross between Manfred Mann, Rolf Harris and Jarvis Cocker, see:
They ask him if he knows what it is yet (do you see what I did there?), but he has to do some tests on it first, of course.
The Commander is in a stinking rotten mood now – he practically ignores David Ball when he is being introduced to him, and says he wants a tall motorcycle patrol man and his revolver – I don’t know what his plans are, but I don’t like the sound of it at all…
Dave perks up for the first time in ages when he spots the yellow car out of the window – “They’re bringing back the car!” But Jacmel is more concerned about the money, which he is told is “on its way”. I believe you, Commander, thousands wouldn’t!
Meanwhile, Mrs Hopkins has arrived at the airport and she is so upset that she is walking into people and not apologising for it. What’s more, Dave hasn’t even bothered to turn up to take her home – you just can’t get the staff, can you? – so she has to take a taxi.
Dave is back at her house drinking her out of house and home “to celebrate”. Jacmel is not exactly celebrating – he’s more experienced in this line, of course, and he doesn’t believe the Commander is going to just hand over the money in the way that Dave thinks he will.
Jacmel advises Dave that they need to keep checking everything and so he sends him downstairs to check that the house is still secure. Dave doesn’t want to go alone, so he takes the old man with him in case he needs him to fight off any black cables with a fire poker or anything like that.
Outside the Commander is planning on breaking into the house with the help of the barista and David Ball, the Reptile Man from London Zoo. The Commander has kitted himself out with the tall motorcycle patrol man’s outfit and his revolver. The three of them easily pull the panelling off the back doorway that has been boarded up, only to find that the door is locked – dammit! So the barista has to do a bit of lock picking and door oiling, which he appears to be expert at, and they manage to push their way through the plasterwork just as Dave and the old man are checking out the cellar.
The Commander shoots Dave in the shoulder and then finds out who the old man is, just as David Ball sees the black mamba behind them! The Commander makes a run for it back into the ladies’ clothes shop, closing the door on the old man and Dave. That’s right, Commander, think of your own safety first. Luckily for the old man, he manages to make his way up the stairs out of the cellar, leaving only an injured Dave down the cellar and now in the black mamba’s sights…
Dave is just dragging himself up the stairs when he realises that, Good God, the black mamba is now shimmying its way towards him. And straight up his trouser leg, gulp!
Oliver Reed’s face as the snake “has his balls” (as the Commander would put it) is a picture:
Outside Mrs Hopkins is doing her nut and Manfred Mann/Rolf Harris/Jarvis Cocker is waiting patiently to give the Commander the finger – or the results on his tests, at least. He eventually gets to tell the Commander that the finger did not come from a living body. That’s all, but maybe it’s important somehow.
Meanwhile, Jacmel has just discovered that the old man has returned from the cellar alone. He tells Jacmel that no one should go down to the cellar as the black mamba is down there, so they all troop off to the front room where “YOU LITTLE BASTARD” is still pretending to be sickly etc.
The Commander shouts up to Jacmel that the money has arrived and is at the bottom of the street. The Commander wants to know that all the hostages are okay before the handover, so Jacmel gives the reptile doctor a kick in the arse as a parting gesture; don’t go feeling sorry for her, she deserved it anyway because she has a racist daughter. Then Jacmel prepares her for her appearance at the window by wrapping her hand in a towel – to disguise the fact that she has not had her finger removed – and pushing her forward. Neither the reptile doctor nor the old man has worked out what is going on. But what the old man has worked out is that the black mamba is coming…
Even “YOU LITTLE BASTARD” has noticed it now. With the reptile doctor out on the balcony, effectively safe from harm, there is only Jacmel who hasn’t realised the danger he is in. But as the reptile doctor starts slowly making her way back in from the balcony, the black mamba appears behind the curtains and launches itself onto the back of Jacmel’s neck!
Jacmel begins a fight with the snake, whilst the old man takes “YOU LITTLE BASTARD” and makes a run for it and the reptile doctor is warned to get out of the line of fire so the marksmen can try and take a few pot shots at Jacmel.
If you think Oliver Reed was great in the trouser snake scene, wait until you see Klaus Kinski fighting off a rubber snake with far more enthusiasm than necessary. He eventually stumbles his way through onto the balcony, still fighting off the snake and shooting at it, whilst himself being shot at by the marksmen. He certainly earned his money on this film, I’ll give him that.
To close it all, the old man grabs the reptile doctor to safety and they all live happily ever after etc. Apart from Mrs Hopkins who I have decided is determined to be miserable and moany forevermore. But that’s okay because there is a baby snake hatching out in the duct right now and, with any luck, it might just be there waiting for her when she gets back from the hospital…
What a brilliant film! I loved it and so should you.
Other information about the film: There are so many stories about Venom… In Kinski Uncut (Bloomsbury Paperbacks, London, 1997, p294) Klaus says the following:
“Steven Spielberg offers me a part in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Someone brings me the script from Hollywood to Paris. But much as I’d like to do a movie with Spielberg, the script is as moronically shitty as so many other flicks of this ilk. At the same time, Claude Lelouch is nagging me to do his film Les Uns et les Autres (Bolero). I’d be willing to do this project, but not for the shabby pittance that this rat offers me. Besides, the American movie Venom is still in the running – all three at once. I pick Venom because the salary is very high, even though I hate London, where the flick’s to be shot.”
Also in Kinski Uncut (p307) Klaus says that the dubbing for Venom was done in New York.
In Kinski Die Biographie (Aufbau Verlag, Berlin, 2008, pp284-285) Christian David says that in June 1980 the producer Martin Bregman offered Klaus a part in Venom, which was then to be directed by Tobe Hooper (director of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). Klaus was paid $250,000 for 7 days of shooting and one week of rehearsals. But he also insisted on staying at the five star Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair and having a chauffeur driven car take him to the studios in Elstree each day, which apparently took his costs up to $325,000.
A pre-production advertisement credits Tobe Hooper as Venom’s director
Working on Venom was not as comfortable as Kinski’s accommodation, it would seem, as filming met with so many problems and delays. According to Neil Norman in “Film Buff on Location” in The Face magazine (sorry, not sure which issue!), when he visited the set they were running five weeks over schedule and aside from the change of direction (more on this below) there were many other problems: “Stirling [sic] Hayden has had to leave for the States where his son is having an emergency operation for cancer of the spine… Oliver Reed hobbled on to the set nursing a suspected tendon injury, though he seems to be trying to persuade everyone it is gout. “That’s all part of Ollie’s image of himself,” scoffed one anonymous bystander… Susan George is commuting between Britain and America where she is simultaneously engaged in another film, and can only spend two days a week on the set of Venom… Overheard Nicol Williamson making unhappy noises to the director over his role as the Chief Superintendent… And just about everyone was badmouthing Klaus Kinski whose reputed inflexibility, ego and twelve inch cigars are getting up several noses it seems…”
Piers Haggard says in the film’s (very interesting) audio commentary that he took over from Tobe Hooper (the original director) as “things hadn’t gone well”. Hooper had been shooting for about 9 days when he left but it was two weeks before Piers Haggard could pick the film up due to other commitments. When he did he effectively started from scratch, ditching all of the footage Hooper had shot and changing some of the storyline slightly – altering Klaus’ role from being “a grim Nazi” to being “a smooth international operator”. When Haggard made this suggestion, “Klaus was wildly pleased, I said he should look smart so he immediately went off to some Bond Street store and bought innumerable ties on the production. He preferred to have a lovely pale fawn suit and nice shirts and ties and so on… He was pretty pragmatic about nicking the costume…”
Given that Hooper was an experienced director it’s not clear what the problems were on Venom, other than as Haggard put it, there were “…a lot of big personalities involved.” That’s a bit of an understatement, of course, as several of the cast were known to be difficult. Here’s Haggard’s description of the cast:
Klaus Kinski: “…quite a tricky man… very nervy and he was completely unprofessional in terms of hurting people and not being able to control himself… he had a great capacity for danger… he was a very awkward man and I think that life was difficult for him… he didn’t respect other people, other actors particularly… he was an egomaniac, completely self-centred, and he did wanted he wanted to do, and he fitted in […] with people [only] when he needed people…”
Oliver Reed: “…quite a naughty boy really, liked to have a laugh and he and Klaus didn’t really get on very well, which is a bit hard because they have most of their scenes together… he was a handful… he would test you all the time… made Klaus’ life a misery…”
Sarah Miles: “…sometimes thought to be tricky… a high voltage personality…”
Between them they were so bad that Nicol Williamson, himself well-known for his tantrums, promised to be a good boy for Piers Haggard as he knew the others were giving him a hard enough time already.
It was no wonder that Klaus and Ollie didn’t get on because in some ways they were too similar – both bad boys, both taking any film if the price was right, both powerful performers – and in others they differed wildly; as Haggard put it, Ollie was a prankster and Klaus “unfortunately had no sense of humour”. Red rag to a bull with Oliver Reed, I’m sure. Here’s one of Haggard’s stories:
“Oliver used to amuse himself by going to Klaus Kinski’s trailer and shaking it – cos Ollie was as strong as an ox – and shaking it and saying… “Oh, you fucking Nazi bastard! Nasty Nazi bastard!” And then Kinski would come out, you know, trembling with rage and swearing back as best he could.”
Haggard says that Klaus and Ollie never actually came to blows because it was more “like an elaborate ritual” with them both making life as difficult as possible for each other on set. However, things well and truly took a turn for the worse when they completely fell out over one scene in the film….
Haggard: “It was all over who was standing in the doorway and whose arm was in front of whose face… it was when [Klaus] first comes in and then Oliver has to come past him. And Klaus put his arm across that door and Oliver said, “What am I supposed to do about this arm?” And then I said to Klaus, “Do you think perhaps you could just take your arm down?” “No, I feel like this; this is how I want to stand.” And then Oliver said, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” So when he comes in the room, he comes in and he gave Klaus’ arm the most almighty crack with the edge of his hand and Klaus took his arm out of the way and Oliver came through the door. And that was the beginning of the enmity. So when you see those two playing these scenes together, there is genuine hostility.”
It’s funny because in the scene, I only saw Klaus barging past Ollie who had his arm over the door, and not vice versa. See the picture above.
But Klaus didn’t only have problems with Ollie; he also managed to rile Sarah Miles too. Haggard: “[Sarah Miles], however, became a bit difficult after Klaus had manhandled her in this scene and left her arm with bruises. He had not controlled himself; he had not been technically correct or professional in the way of holding her. He had left her with the most monstrous bruises and she was furious and so she defended herself. So she got a little tricky at times for that reason.”
O dearie, me! You don’t want to piss off the piss drinker, Klaus!
Haggard says that, amongst other things, with the problems between Klaus and Ollie they ran over on the shoot and the producer and the Director of Photography ended up shooting some of the opening shots at the beginning of the film (where Ollie was driving the car through central London), because he was busy trying to get the film finished up.
Summing it up, Haggard said: “So, all in all, it was a nest of vipers; not just one black mamba. There was quite a lot of conflict between the people, which needed handling on a daily basis and was a terrible strain really.” No wonder Tobe Hooper walked!
There was talk of a sequel – the ending was left open for this reason – but I doubt that Piers Haggard would have done another Venom, although with the Klaus and Ollie characters killed off in the film already I guess it could have been possible…
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