BY RITA KEMPLEY Washington Post Staff Writer

"Venom," advertised as the scariest movie since "Psycho," is a real hisser. It gets off to a slink and ends with a hiss-boo-bah. The star of the movie, a black mambo slithers into the middle of a kidnapping, long after the filmmakers have dawdled over the setup, introducing characters too carefully, wasting time on an overprotective mother who has next to nothing to do with the plot. Survivors of the stodgy editing and aloof direction are Sterling Hayden, as the grandfather of the 10-year-old whose kidnapping is interrupted by the striking snake, and Sarah Miles, as the sensitive herpetologist with the missing mamba. The victim of the crime and the direction is the kid, Lance Holcomb. Surely he deserves some sympathy: His mother's a compulsive maniac, his nanny turns blue, the chauffeur beats him, but we don't care. And he likes bunnies. We still don't care. What's more, we don't care about anything most of the time. Not even the snake. Director Piers Haggard is no Hitchcock. He makes the world's deadliest snake -- described as a paranoid, able to leap 15 feet at a single bound -- about as scary as a pastrami on rye with mayo. Sure, there are lots of shots of the mamba. And there are lots of blurry, furry elongated frames of common household items in hopes of creating suspense, terror and like that. And now and again, the child, an asthmatic, nearly asphyxiates, but the effect is not breathtaking. It's an aside, an easy out. When it's really time to scare us, Haggard goes to close-ups of a heating duct seen through the snake's eyes. All this is coiled around a made-for-TV-caliber plot -- Scotland Yard's answer to Frank Furillo tries to get the kid, the doctor and the grandfather out of a London townhouse where they are held by a Germanic goon most viperously played by Klaus Kinski. Of course, everybody is always crawling around under couches to rack nerves, but it doesn't work, despite several good moments mid-film. All in all, it was no fangdango. VENOM -- At the Beacon Mall, K-B Baronet West, K-B Langley, NTI Dale Cinema, NTI Landover Mall,, NTI Tysons Center, NTI White Flint, Riverdale Plaza, Roth's Americana, Roths' Silver Spring West, Town, Turnpike, Village Mall.