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New Releases for Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Venom: Collector’s Edition

Genre: Thriller

Directed by: Piers Haggard

Run time: 92 minutes

Rating: R

Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: There’s been a lot of deep diving into films archives of late as DVD distribution companies look for more and more older horror films that can be refurbished and repackaged with a high-definition release.

While some of the movies definitely warrant the time and loving attention that comes with painstakingly restoring a 20-to-30-year-old film negative, many of the movies are better left to nostalgia where fond memories of past viewings are actually better than the films themselves.

That’s not to say that every horror feature from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s isn’t worth a second chance at cult fandom.

Venom, a 1981 oddity that falls somewhere within the animal attack genre, is definitely worth that second chance at glory, which explains why Blue Underground wisely dusted it off and spruced it up for a two-disc collector’s edition.

Based on a novel by Alan Scholefield, Venom was marketed 35 years ago as a horror thriller on par with “Jaws,” “The Birds,” “The Omen” and “Psycho.” Those are some pretty big shoes to fill, and it’s very likely that the tagline alone drew some people into the theater to check it out.

Venom isn’t nearly as good as any of those irrefutable classics. In fact, it’s barely a horror movie at all. But it still works surprisingly well as a home invasion thriller with a twist, and it holds up exceptionally well due to its trio of lead performances by genre icons Klaus Kinski, Oliver Reed and Susan George.

George is uber hot, Kinski is the definition of Euro-cool and Reed just snacks and snacks on every line he delivers, never straying into camp even as his character becomes increasingly unhinged.

The three leads play criminals attempting to kidnap the ailing son of a wealthy British businessman. Their plan goes awry when the young boy accidentally receives the wrong box from his local exotic pet store – instead of a harmless garden snake, he gets a container housing a deadly black mamba, the most venomous snake in the world.

Once the reptile is unleashed, it spends a good chunk of the film slithering around the ventilation system of the three-story brownstone where the boy’s parents live and the criminals are holding him and his grandfather hostage. There’s truly just three total snake attacks in the entire picture, but all three are pretty awesomely staged for maximum effect, even if the sight of Kinski rolling and thrashing and struggling with what’s clearly a rubber substitute for a real snake is distractingly hysterical.

Venom benefits from some unexpectedly solid character building and the acting by everyone involved is above-average for what’s essentially a B-grade thriller. There are some very funny, quirky moments sprinkled throughout – most of them focusing on the efforts of police to diffuse the hostage situation and stop the bad guys from making off with the boy.

It’s always exciting to take a chance on a title, especially an older film, and find yourself completely hooked.

In a week where I’ve suffered through several recent A-list Hollywood features, Venom was far and away the best movie I viewed.

The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Susan George, evil nanny hot.

Nudity – No. Gore – Snake attack violence.

Drug use – No.

Bad Guys/Killers – Klaus Kinski or a black mamba, take your pick.

Buy/Rent – Buy it.

Not to be Overlooked:

Helga, She-Wolf of Stilberg (MVD Entertainment, 93 minutes, Unrated, DVD): When I was younger and had just discovered the pure unadulterated joy of wandering alone through a video store, I stumbled across a VHS box prominently displaying Dyanne Thorne, decked out in black patent leather boots, jodhpurs and a tight-fitting blouse provocatively unbuttoned to reveal her ample bosom.

To say that "Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS" came to define my fascination with trashy, sleazy grindhouse movies is probably an understatement. From that point forward, I rented every exploitation title I could get my grubby mitts on. I vividly remember being in junior high and making friends watch "Ilsa" during sleepovers and watching their eyes grow wide with the discovery of something they had never seen before.

Somehow, in those formative years, I completely missed this wonderful 1978 gem starring Malisa Longo as Helga, a total ripoff of Ilsa, yet completely different too. Thankfully, MVD somehow knew my life was incomplete and recently re-released Helga, She-Wolf of Stilberg so I could finally soak in its cheesy goodness.

The Ilsa franchise (yes, Virginia, they made three sequels) took a more horrific approach to the traditional 'women in prison' genre, focusing heavily on the gore -- Ilsa oversaw brutal Nazi experiments on inmates in "She-Wolf of the SS"; she arranged barbaric death fights complete with genital mutilation in "Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheikhs"; and she imprisoned a young boy in an underground dungeon in "The Wicked Warden."

By comparison, Helga, She-Wolf of Stilberg downplays the horror and ramps up the sex. Helga is still sadistic, but she's more concerned with using her busty body to gain power and pit men against each other in a bid to assume total control. The story, as it is, sees Helga dispatched to supervise a remote gulag populated by scantily-clad, voluptuous women (are there any other kind?) who have been kidnapped to be sold into sex slavery, or something (honestly, the plot is secondary). Helga attempts to break several of the women to her will, all the while populating her bed with various men (and women) she wants to manipulate. The bedroom action gets decidedly steamy at times, likely translating to the film's lack of a rating.

It's lurid, over-the-top entertainment at its very best, at times playing like a low-budget softcore 42nd Street treasure instead of an exploitation classic.

Much like Thorne, Longo commands the screen, oozing sex appeal and making the most of each revealing outfit. She has just the right sneer and snarl, when required, but purrs like an overactive kitten when enamored.

Sadly, they don't make movies like Helga, She-Wolf of Stilberg anymore. That's why you need to go out and find this title if you've never seen it. I'm telling you, it's worth the effort, especially for fans of Ilsa and the titillating subgenre she helped define.

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