Thursday, November 1, 2018

Web of Fear

VENOM (1971)

Serbian actress (and later politician) Neda Arneric is the siren of VENOM, beguilingly erotic and self destructive. Elected as a member of the Democratic Party in 2000, she withdrew from public politics after the "remote voting" scandal, when her vote was registered in Serbian Parliament while on holiday in Turkey.

SPIDERS have a tradition in horror, large or small. On the silver screen, Jack Arnold directed two of the most loved during the 1950s: science goes awry and creates a giant TARANTULA!, and a household spider strikes fear into THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN. Towards the end of the decade Bert I. Gordon made EARTH VS THE SPIDER, and the 1970s saw the release of two classics: Wisconsin suffered THE GIANT SPIDER INVASION, and even William Shatner had to try and prevent a small Arizona town from becoming a KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (to no avail). More recently we have endured ARACHNIDBIG ASS SPIDER!, ARACHNOPHOBIA and Arizona again was the battle zone of EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS, where a spider farm suffered a toxic waste spillage.

VENOM is an appealing curio and the directorial debut of Peter Sykes. While holidaying in a Tyrolean village, artist/photographer Paul Grenville (Simon Brent) discovers hypnotic redhead Anna (Neda Arneric) in the woods, who has a mysterious spider mark on her shoulder. Making the acquaintance of Huber (Gerard Heinz) and his seductive daughter Ellen (Sheila Allen), Grenville is introduced to tales of the "spider goddess," a legend of the area, where a female phantom kills any men who becomes sexually involved ("they say if anyone touches me, the spiders come"). Yet her visage has been purposely created to scare off locals from a Nazi plot producing nerve agents from spider venom, funded by priceless stolen paintings and led by Anna's renegade scientist father (Terence Soall).

VENOM was released on Region 2 DVD by Fabulous Films in 2015, whose product blurb is as off kilter as the production itself.

Feeling more like a Euro-thriller than British horror, VENOM stands out with its stunning Bavarian location, odd camera angles and dreamlike ambiguity (it opens with a flashback nude bathing romp tinted green, and why not?). Anyone who is already confused should definitely avoid the American edit, which was picked up by New Line and retitled LEGEND OF SPIDER FOREST. Cut by over ten minutes, this includes dialogue referencing situations not included, and a general trimming of violent and erotic scenes. The full ninety minute movie includes an array of weirdness: softcore flogging, cows with flower garlands on their heads, and a climactic nod to Norman Bates. This must have caused an impression with Hammer, who assigned Sykes to direct DEMONS OF THE MIND the following year. 

On the small screen, the DOCTOR WHO serial PLANET OF THE SPIDERS explored Barry Letts' personal obsession with Zen Buddhism; it is the only occasion where a WHO producer and co-writer also directed the episodes. Since his discharge from UNIT, Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) is part of a Tibetan meditation group in rural England. While visiting, Sarah Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) and Yates stumble across resident Lupton (John Dearth) performing an incantation, which conjures up a giant spider. The Buddhist centre is actually a front to contact a powerful alien force that manifest as a large Arthropod; the spider is an emissary from the Metebelis 3 ruling council, sent to recover a blue crystal that The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) previously found there and that has now been returned to him by Jo Grant (Katy Manning) from her trip to the Amazon. The Doctor recognises Abbot K'anpo (George Cormack) as his former Time Lord guru and, at his prompting, returns to Metebelis 3, where a human colony revolt has failed. The Great One spider uses the crystal to complete a lattice which she believes will increase her mental powers to infinity.

A giant Arthropod attempts to exert telepathic control in DOCTOR WHO - PLANET OF THE SPIDERS. 

A weak six-partner to finish Pertwee's tenure, PLANET OF THE SPIDERS suffers from its grating use of the colour-separation overlay technique and an indulgent, nonsensical chase sequence. The original season climax was to be THE FINAL GAME, where The Master would sacrifice his life to save The Doctor in an act of redemption. This was abandoned due to the death of Delgado while filming in Turkey for the French/German TV mini-series LA CLOCHE TIBETAINE (however, Delgado's legacy exists on an obtuse level, as his widow Kismet provides the voice for the Queen Spider). Despite its flaws, the programme taps into the widespread fear of Arthropods, which research has suggested that may be innate to humans, and an exaggerated form of instinctive responses that helped early bipedal primates to survive.