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  Venom The Spider Forest
Year: 1971
Director: Peter Sykes
Stars: Simon Brent, Neda Arneric, Sheila Allen, Derek Newark, Terence Soall, Gerard Heinz, Gertan Klauber, Sean Gerrad, Bette Vivian, Ray Barron, George Fisher, Nosher Powell
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: What could be more idyllic, a young man and a young woman frolicking in a Bavarian lake amongst the forest, naked as the day they were born, splashing one another for a giggle, and without a care in the world? They should have at least one care, however, as once their expressions change from lively to a more serious, loving intent, the girl takes the boy to a secluded area in the trees and they start getting amorous, but then he notices the spider tattoo on her shoulder, and suddenly something terrible has occurred. He rolls off her with blood pouring from a wound, and she looks on in horror - but is this murder her fault? Is she responsible for killing off men as an almost literal black widow spider lady?

Venom, also known as Spider's Venom and Legend of the Spider's Forest and not to be confused with the Klaus Kinski/Oliver Reed snake on the loose thriller of ten years later or the 21st century superhero flick, was a forgotten chiller that represented one of the entries in the filmography of director Peter Sykes, a seemingly promising talent who got stuck in a British horror ghetto when such efforts were growing thin on the ground after Hammer and its rivals were on their downward spiral into the defunct. His last big screen work was The Jesus Film, basically a religious instruction and recruiting tool that was mostly shown for church groups as a Protestant answer to the Catholic hit miniseries Jesus of Nazareth; one is an Easter holiday TV staple, the other is something for Sunday School classes to sit through.

Back at this, at the other end of the nineteen-seventies, there was a definite talent here but sadly ill-served by a script from sexploitation specialists Donald and Derek Ford which tended to render its mystery more confusing than intriguing. When you did reach the explanation about what was going on, the temptation was to wonder what that was supposed to clear up as it merely generated more questions about how all this came about, but essentially we were led to believe the spider lady, Anna (Yugoslav star Neda Arneric, who never made it big outside of her native country, though her career was certainly extensive), has the ability to poison men with some form of, yes, venom, though how she administered that toxic "bite" was another puzzle.

We needed an innocent in all this to act as our point of view, so enter Simon Brent as British tourist in Bavaria Paul Greville, there to take in the scenery and a few snaps too; he says he wanted a nice, quiet and picturesque location for a holiday, and we can see he assuredly got that, but what he was not banking on was those villagers being ever so slightly sinister. The innkeeper where he is staying seems friendly enough, but he can't help but notice those sidelong glances over the beer glasses from the locals, and then there's the fact that someone has been in his room and stolen his most recent photographs, including those of Anna who he met on the road and was baffled to see her run away from him without making so much as perfunctory conversation (this was a British production, so all the German characters spoke English).

Anna has a habit of popping up in the forest then running away, so it's only when Paul manages to rescue her from the clutches of bully boy Johann (regular heavy Derek Newark), including all three of them rolling about in a particularly dirty pond, that she warms to the outsider and decides to strike up a relationship, call it a holiday romance but Paul considers her a damsel in distress and wishes to take her away from all this. Naturally, the person in the most peril is Paul, and there was a predictably British theme in this view of Germany in that it is revealed this part of it has not gotten over its Nazi past, in essence the part where the Nazi scientists would conduct harrowing experiments: could Anna be the product of such an evil? That might explain why she likes to feed insects to tarantulas (are there a lot of tarantulas in Bavaria?) and look on enraptured as the creepy-crawlies do one-sided battle, but the truth is even more bizarre. Precisely what that was may be lost on you when you reached the end, echoing the reveal of Psycho of all things, and you're not sure the filmmakers knew either. Music by John Simco Harrison.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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