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Venom (1971) - Peter Sykes

Related: 1971 - British cinema - horror film - British exploitation - exploitation film - European exploitation film


Australian-born Peter Sykes was one of a handful of young British-based directors working in the horror genre at the start of the 1970s, among them Peter Sasdy, Stephen Weeks (I, Monster 70) and Robert Fuest (The Abominable Dr Phibes 71), who began to attract serious and positive attention from mainstream film critics. Although Sykes had a successful career as a documentary filmmaker, and had helmed the reportedly very bizarre, and rarely seen, Pink Floyd pop-artefact The Committee (68) beforehand, he really established himself working on the Linda Thorson season of cult teleseries The Avengers. That show also provided useful experience for filmmakers like Brian Clemens (Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter 1972), John Hough (The Legend of Hell House 1973) and Ray Austin (Virgin Witch 1972), as well as Robert Fuest. The programme’s eclectic mixture of content and style arguably has a bearing on how Venom turned out.

Ostensibly presented as a contemporary thriller with horror overtones, and with some merit as such, what is most interesting about the film is the way in which the screenplay by British exploitation veterans Donald and Derek Ford (Corruption 1967), reworks material and themes from the British gothic literary movement of the 19th (and early 20th) century and introduces them into what initially appears to be such a modern setting.

Amongst the authors who seem to have had the biggest bearing on Venom's screenplay are Wilkie Collins, M.R. James and J. Sheridan Le Fanu. The influence from James comes in the importance attached to the screenwriters' use of German folktales and legends and their continued potency amongst the rural population of Bavaria in the latter half of the 20th century. The further influence of both Wilkie and Le Fanu may be seen by the way these legends and superstitions tie in with the appearance of a mysterious, possibly spectral, young woman seen roaming the countryside, with a number of strange deaths attributed to her. The literary link is further underlined by the hero's obsession with discovering her identity and true nature. This quest by the Englishman (Simon Brent) becomes the film's narrative and dramatic dynamo rather than its thriller or other genre elements.

The Fords also introduce a distinctly sadeian flavour to the mix, particularly with the character of the mysterious girl (exotic Serbian actress Neda Arneric, who made a few English-language features in the 1970s, including John Guillermin’s Shaft in Africa 73), initially presented as a naive child of nature. However, cracks soon appear in this façade, with her shown gloating while a spider devours a cockroach and becoming visibly aroused by the beating the hero takes at the hands of the local thug, as well as his later whipping. -- Iain McLachlan via http://www.sffworld.com/movie/486.html [Nov 2005]

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