Taking Bram Stoker’s Dracula legend and fusing it with a surreal Carnival of Souls waking nightmare, a dash of Euro-sleaze and a Blood Beast Terror creature feature, this British obscurity from future Hammer horror director Peter Sykes weaves a tangled web indeed.
The only thing Paul Greville wanted was a quiet and peaceful time – instead all he found was…VENOM!
Whilst travelling through Bavaria in his yellow Citroën 2CV, photographer Paul Greville (Simon Brent), encounters the enigmatic Anna (Neda Arneric), who sports a strange spider mark on her shoulder, but she runs off when he tries to takes pictures of her.
Checking into a local tavern (where a jukebox continually blasts out Hammond organ tunes), Paul discovers the superstitious Tyrolean villagers live in fear of a phantom called the Spider Goddess that is said to haunt the forest.
Obsessed by the elusive Anna, Paul is soon drawn into a complex web of intrigue involving those pictures he took of her and a priceless Hieronymus Bosch triptych found in the hands of man killed by the venomous phantom.
After being seduced by the mill owner’s daughter (Bouquet of Barbed Wired‘s Sheila Allen) and almost killed by a vicious hunter (City Under the Sea‘s Derek Newark), Paul ends up taking refuge at the home of Anna’s guardian, Frau Kessler (Bette Vivian), where he uncovers a startling truth: Anna is being used as cover for her Nazi scientist dad’s secret nerve drug experiments…
Shelved for nearly five years after completion (reputedly for tax reasons) in 1971, Venom (aka The Legend of Spider Forest) was the directorial debut of Peter Sykes, who went onto helm Demons in the Mind and To the Devil a Daughter.
The script by Donald and Derek Ford, based on an idea by the film’s editor Stephen Collins, is full of holes and even Christopher Wicking (fresh from making sense of three Vincent Price horrors for American International Pictures) has trouble filling them; but the visuals and direction are imaginative enough to help paper over the wide cracks in the story.
The green-tinted nude bathing opening, the red-tinted cobwebbed nightmare sequence and the atmospheric lighting creating spidery shadows lend an arthouse look to the film, while the full-frontal nudity and eroticism border on Euro-sleaze (the scene in which a bound Paul is sexually molested as pigeons flap about is quite something, while Johann’s bare back whipping seems to excite the female characters).
The film’s 11-minute climax is totally bonkers, as all the film’s disjointed plots finally come together – sort of – and everything goes up in flames. But as for Anna’s Nazi scientist dad going all Norman Bates after being paralyzed by his own nerve drug – what the hell was that about?
Why Pinewood chose to restore this is anyone’s guess, but it’s still a curious find for genre fans to seek out.
Venom is released on DVD in the UK through Fabulous Films