VENOM (a.k.a. The Legend Of Spider Forest) *** U.K. 1971 Dir: Peter Sykes. 91 mins
A fascinating oddity from one of the more curious directors to work in 70’s British horror: Australian filmmaker Peter Sykes also made the long-underrated Hammer movies DEMONS OF THE MIND and TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, alongside the clever Frankie Howerd vehicle THE HOUSE IN NIGHTMARE PARK. After a striking green-tinted opening in which a beautiful spider-tattooed young woman lures a willing victim to his doom after a skinny dipping session, sarcastic photographer Simon Brent becomes fixated on the seductive waif (Neda Arneric) while plying his trade in the picturesque Bavarian mountains. “They say she is Death…” the mysterious locals warn, while hinting at blood-drinking spiders in the area and the suggestion that Arneric is some kind of Spider Goddess.
This fascinating take on the “deadly siren” theme has a richly eerie and erotic ambience, enhanced further by Arneric’s simultaneously vulnerable / predatory presence in the pivotal role and by the use of location. Unfortunately, its abrupt second half shift into vastly different territory jars with what has gone before: although the comic book villains, cliff-hanger set pieces, diabolical plans for a lethal nerve drug and a Norman Bates-ish dewigging are fun, the more understated and intriguing build up seems to be leading somewhere else entirely. Still, an often-forgotten curio that’s worth picking up.
Review by Steven West