Deathly Familiar

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Friday, September 16, 2005

In the Louisiana bayou-set "Venom," Ray (Rick Cramer) is a scary-looking tow truck driver whom the local kids tease mercilessly. One day, while trying to rescue an old voodoo granny whose car is dangling from a bridge and who happens to have with her (bear with me) a suitcase full of otherworldly snakes, Ray gets bitten and drowned for his trouble.

Not long after, dead Ray rises from his morgue slab, with those phantom snakes slithering inside his body. Bad news, kids: Ray hasn't forgotten the taunting. It's up to good-hearted Eden (Agnes Bruckner) and her on-again-off-again boyfriend Eric (Jonathan Jackson) to figure out the spell to stop the relentless assailant.

What's worse than a voodoo-possessed zombie hellbent on slaughtering everyone in his path? A zombie killer with a tow truck , of course. Those wheels can plow through anything Louisiana can grow, and Ray doesn't lack for tire irons, knives and an industrial-strength chain -- useful stuff for wholesale slaying.

Director Jim Gillespie ("I Know What You Did Last Summer") knows how to make a horror movie look like one. The editing, production design and cinematography are top of the line, and this surface detail gives "Venom" the right death-in-the-swamps atmosphere. The trouble is, "Venom" reprises all the tedium of slasher flicks, from the idiots who scream and trip and fall rather than simply run away to the macho killer who can't be stopped. There's no antidote for that.

-- Desson Thomson


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