- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

Louisiana could use a film highlighting its tourism treasures right about now.

“Venom,” a new horror film set in the state’s sticky bayou country, surely isn’t it.

Nor is it even a second-rate scare-fest, although unlike nearly every film out these days, it improves as it putters along, managing more visceral jumps than its lumpy start portends.

Viewers may have to set aside recent events to gain a measure of that enjoyment, considering the death and destruction depicted here comes sandwiched by swamp water and decay.

“Venom,” produced by “Scream” writer Kevin Williamson, opens with a group of barely likable teens gnawing over the minutiae of their lives. Minutes later, a lovers’ spat indirectly causes a car crash. A bungled rescue attempt leaves both the town’s creepy trucker, Ray (Rick Cramer), and one of the drivers dead.

Trouble is, Ray doesn’t stay dead for long. The deceased driver was a local voodoo priestess, and through some magically obtuse plotting, the rescue attempt lets loose her suitcase full of snakes — which feast on Ray.

It seems the woman had banished the evil right out of a dozen or so lost souls, and the captured snakes embody the wickedness.

No wonder the film sat snoozing on Miramax’s shelf until now.

The snake-bitten Ray begins a murderous rampage, centered in part on chasing the aforementioned teens, led by a brainiac named Eden (Agnes Bruckner of “Blue Car” fame).

One by one, Eden’s friends meet their maker courtesy of Ray’s crowbar. Eden’s friend Cece (Meagan Good of “You Got Served”), the granddaughter of the voodoo priestess, realizes the evil force behind Ray’s transformation and tries to squelch the black magic with some white stuff of her own.

So far, so very “Friday the 13th.” In fact, the film is very much a 1980s slasher-genre retread, complete with a new killing machine bucking for a place alongside the likes of Freddy, Michael and Jason.

Just when the proceedings draw to a soporific zenith — our heroes get trapped in a house from which escape seems impossible — the film lets loose with a few zippy surprises.

After a truly extreme home makeover, Mr. Cramer’s Ray gets even more inventive, but Miss Bruckner’s Eden is up to the test. She’s a terrific heroine, resourceful and raw without evolving into a shrieking mess.

Her performance is more than expected from a middling slasher film, and it makes the last third of “Venom” a modest treat.

That is, until the ubiquitous sequel setup, but even that can’t deny the thrills set down in the final moments.

“Venom” waits too long to bare its fangs, but when it does, it leaves a discernible mark.

**

TITLE: “Venom”

RATING: R (Violence, extreme gore and strong language)

CREDITS: Directed by Jim Gillespie. Written by Brandon Boyce, Flint Dille and John Zuur Platten.

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

WEB SITE: www.miramax.com/

venom/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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