On holiday in a small sawmill town located in Bavarian countryside, artist and photographer Paul Greville seeks to capture the serenity of nature’s bountiful beauty. When he comes across a strange, wild woman with a spider scar on her shoulder, known as the “Spider Goddess” to the townsfolk as a curse individual, his curiosity sends him poking around the quaint, sleepy village that leads him into discovering also a rare and priceless painting thought lost after World War II. The deeper Greville digs into the mysteriously beautiful, unfettered girl and the valuable lost artifact, the more the town begins to resent his nosiness into their hidden agenda of a former Nazi scientist extracting deadly venom from the lethal forest spiders for noxious nerve gas weaponization.
Better known as “The Legend of Spider Forest,” or “The Spider’s Venom” in the States, director Peter Sykes pulls from the madcap story cache a sticky, wacky web of lies and deceits with the unwinding-arachnid thriller “Venom” that involved mad scientists, creepy-crawly spiders, a half-naked wildling girl, and a plot planned from a World War sore loser shot in the United Kingdom as the backdrop for a Bavarian woodland. Five years before directing Christopher Lee and Denholm Elliott in “To the Devil….a Daughter,” the Australian-born Sykes was outfitting his sophomore UK feature with real, untrained, bird-eating tarantulas to be the basis of his visual terror in a mind baffling labyrinthine screenplay from the filmic exploitation brothers Derek and Donald Ford who, when not selling sex with their erotica celluloid (“Suburban Wives,” “The Swappers”), they were dappling in low-rung independent horror as such with the psychotronic “Venom” which is a co-business affair between Cupid Productions and Action Plus Productions with Michael Pearsons and Kenneth Rowles producing.
The unlucky sap caught in the village scheming drama is liberal arts enthusiast Paul Greville understood in his thirst for solving the case of the missing medieval art by English actor Simon Brent. The “Love is a Splendid Illusion” Brent, who left acting a few years after “Venom,” finally lands a significant lead man role albeit in a rather stretch of post-war German antics horror that has more twists in the narrative than there are actual spiders. Brent exudes an uncomfortable amount of a curious confidence as he charges through the forest to track down, or rather just happen to run into by chance within the vast area of a mountainous forest, “Erotomania’s” Neda Arneric, a Serbian rugged beauty playing wildling Anna with red-hot hair atop her short frame. We are first introduced to pixie cut Anna during a flashback of a full-frontal skinning dipping frolic in the river with a young, also naked, man and while the unknown man and Anna gaze with an effervescent stars of love in their eyes, the chemistry between Brent and Arneric is about as sparkless as a dud sparkler in a warehouse full of dud fireworks as their characters are too far apart and unalluring to fall for each other at first sight; instead, Brent casts such a demanding go-getter presence with his amateur investigation into the village’s little secret, his murky intentions toward the locally feared Spider Goddess is nothing more than nearly a figment of formulaic structure. We, as the audience, literally attempt to use our own mental will power against them in order to fall in line, or in love. More infatuation buzz surrounds the sawmill boss’s cloak-and-dagger daughter Ellen with “Children of the Damned’s” Sheila Allen as a willing and brazen femme fatale that seduces the hapless artist more than once, especially during one intimate session that restores him back to full health. Although an English production shot in an English forest despite being backdropped in Germany, there is one German actor that gave “Venom” that je ne sais quo toward locale authenticity, beginning with the sawmill boss and self-proclaimed first village resident Huber, played by Gerard Heinz (“Devils in Darkness”) in his last feature length film before his death one year later in 1972. The rest of the cast predominately is English with Derek Newark (“Fragment of Fear”), Terence Soall (“Theatre of Death”), Bette Vivian and one sole Czech actor Gertain Klauber (“Octopussy) giving it all with his very convincing German accent as the village Alps only pub and inn owner Kurt.
The sting of “Venom’s” unavailing characters is dangerously potent to a near effect of paralyzing the narrative. From Huber’s ireful small talk foreman with his own entourage of blue collar lackies to the mad scientist who doesn’t actually arrive onto the screen until the very last 10 minutes of story, in who is also perhaps the most interesting character garnering deadly spider venom and doing a little crossdressing on the side, “Venom” bears the brunt of unnecessary and disproportionate figures to be an implemented stopgap in managing Simon Brent’s screentime. Sykes teeters away from the majority of Greville’s point of view with little windows outside his perception that drop more diversional obscurity in who Huber and his operatives think Greville really is, why Greville is really there, and how can they handle Greville once he’s become too close to Huber and company’s operations. “Venom” slips unintentionally into the being a low-rent, haphazard Bond film or, better yet, a Scooby-Doo mystery without the Scooby Snacks, but there is ascot fashion. The story implies some exploitation of the mentally instable, using the “Spider Goddess'” strange behavior and her ominous ill-repute to be a warning to outsiders but Sykes conveys the latter allegorically with the destruction of pure, free love by an oppressive governing head, spreading lies about being cursed and deadly, only to find it again in a similar person, a person like Graville seeking to subvert the old wives’ tales and explore his unwaning curiosity no matter the consequences of bodily harm. I just like that Paul Greville drives off-road with a conspicuous bright yellow fiat through the forest shrubby and muck without getting stuck and without blending in.
The skirmishing climatic finale quickly wraps up loose ends and, at the same time, is an intoxicating delirium of madness and suspense. Twilight Time delivers another Screen restored eldritch mystery onto Blu-ray home video as part of the limited-edition series licensed for a U.S. release from the UK’s Screenbound Pictures and distributed by MVD Visual. Presented in a 1080p, high-definition widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio, this is a good-looking transfer with soft, dream-like overtones stemming from a well-preserve original negative with the only drawback being the edge of the 35mm stock occasionally being visible in perhaps a mishandling or misaligning of the film reel that may have also been exposed to light slightly. Other than that, only a few hardly noticeable blemishes are on the image. The English language 2.0 LPCM Dual Mono that separates the dialogue and the ambient/score tracks. You’ll find a robust vocal channel, discerning very nicely from the action, but there’s still quite a bit of hissing and popping on the tail end that denotes more attention needed for better clarity. The film is rated PG but that doesn’t mean much of anything in early 1970’s with Anne Arneric going full-frontal, along with young beau Ray Barron, in emerald green tint as well as other brief flesh scenes from Arneric, arthropod terror, some blood, and the quickest flash edit I’ve ever seen of the lower half of a post-sawed torso. Much like the “Seven Deaths in the Cat’s Eye” release, “Venom” also has zero special features and, as a more tangible replacement, is a 11-page booklet with color and black-and-white stills, various poster art, and an essay by author Mike Finnegan. The Blu-ray cover art is also reversible with a color still on the backside. Don’t expect to contract arachnophobia after watching “Venom” in this high concept, poor execution of cheap boscage thrills.