RED VENOM KILLS ** USA 2017 Dir: Britton Stebbins. 82 mins
Twelve years after the Tarantino-Rodriguez double GRINDHOUSE double act, writer-director Britton Stebbins apes its much-imitated pastiche of the exploitation movie heyday, without seeming to understand what they were paying homage to. This opens with a pair of “Coming Attractions” (trailers for Stebbins’ own DARK NIGHT OF THE PUMPKINMAN movies) before the “Our Feature Presentation” title card, a fake rating (“D for Dirty”), an intermission and the usual pointless digitally added faux “print” damage. After a colourful comic book title sequence, sexy schoolgirl Scarlett Silk (Alexa Rae) battles with her broadly prudish Mom while yearning to be a hooker superhero.
When her parents are killed and she is left for dead, Scarlett finds her true destiny via a potion named “Red Venom”, kept by her parents in the Amazon jungle. This empowers her to face off against an interchangeable bunch of henchmen and super-villain Dark Widow (Deana Hernandez), whose main super power is her poisonous nylons. This has a self-deprecating sense of humour and a primary colour visual palette in line with its comic book world, though too much is self-conscious – including Rae’s flat, autocue-style performance. Not many actresses could get away with (deliberately?) terrible lines like “Caress my panty-hosed foot”, though her total lack of screen charisma becomes an excuse for the camera to focus instead on her arse. Ultimately, Red Venom’s potential rip-roaring-rampage-of-revenge proves to be restricted by her M.O., which involves kicking men in the balls and injecting bad guys with venom. In the absence of the sex and gore it seems to promise, we get a movie that doesn’t come close to capturing the “Grindhouse” aesthetic, with any interesting gender commentary limited to scenes of hot women in fetish wear lamenting how weak and pathetic men are.
Review by Steven West