Teens-In-Peril continues to be one of the most popular horror sub-genres, and adolescent mayhem is not limited to masked killers knocking off stereotypical characters one by one. Let’s face it, teenage life can be scary. With fears ranging from school exams to dating, to the question of what to do after graduation, filmmakers use countless tropes to transfer those nightmares to the screen. From old-school classics to modern, meta takes, teen horror spans the spectrum, focusing not only on movies aimed at a younger audience, but also those dark dramas that feature teen characters. For “Greedy Guts” month, I’m revisiting 2005’s Venom.
Venom is a supernatural slasher that follows a group of teens in the swampland of Louisiana. The film stars Agnes Bruckner (Blood and Chocolate), Meagan Good (The Intruder), Jonathan Jackson (Riding the Bullet), Laura Ramsey (The Ruins), Bijou Phillips (Hostel Part II), DJ Catrona (Shazam), Rick Cramer (Resident Evil: Extinction), and Method Man (Shaft). Venom was directed by I Know What You Did Last Summer‘s Jim Gillispie from a screenplay by Flint Dille and John Zuur Platten.
As defined by Wikipedia, stories within the realm of Southern Gothic have “deeply flawed, disturbing or eccentric characters who may be involved in hoodoo, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.” I’m happy to say that Venom checks off every item on the list. The movie uses its setting, characters, and multiple teen-horror tropes to deliver a perfectly juvenile introduction to the Southern Gothic genre.
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“From Venom’s opening moments, Louisiana’s swampy setting helps to establish an appropriately spooky mood.”
It goes without saying that Southern Gothic movies need to be set in and around the American South. From Venom‘s opening moments, Louisiana’s swampy setting helps to establish an appropriately spooky mood. The film begins on a rainy night while conjure woman Miss Emmie (Deborah Duke) is digging up a mysterious box. The nighttime bayou is beautifully shot and immediately gives viewers a strong dose of Southern atmosphere.
But its not just the swampland of Venom that fits nicely into the expected elements of Southern Gothic. Other locations fit the bill, too, most notably the old, grime-y gas station/auto shop that is owned by tow truck driver Ray, the man who becomes possessed by evil spirits and serves as the film’s monstrous villain. The sketchy, dilapidated building and its junky surroundings are good reflections of the what the townspeople (and even Ray‘s own son) think of him. Aside from the bayou and Ray‘s shop, a couple of other settings of note are the local cemetery and Miss Emmie‘s shabby house which stands deep in the swamp.
Even though a sense of place is a highly important part of living in the South, fans need to know that Southern Gothic is not only about strong visual aesthetics. Instead, the people who live in and around the strange and unusual locales are paramount to the story. Characters within a Southern Gothic tale are expected to be eccentric, deeply flawed, damaged, and maybe a little off-kilter. Similar to its successful use of location, Venom also uses this theme to its advantage.
While Venom doesn’t delve far into any one of the character’s pasts, the idea is obviously present. Protagonist Eden, whose father has recently died, believes there is nothing for her in the small town and longs to escape. Eden‘s friends Sean (DJ Catrona) and Cassie (Meagan Goode) also have interesting traits that fit the template. Cassie is the granddaughter of Miss Emmie, and she carries the knowledge of her family’s voodoo practices. Out of the cast of teens, the character of Sean has the truest Southern Gothic attribute: Ray, the scarred outcast and killer, is Sean‘s estranged father. Several scenes throughout the movie emphasize how heavy the knowledge of the bloodline link weighs on Sean‘s decisions and mental state.
“[Venom] uses its setting, characters, and multiple teen-horror tropes to deliver a perfectly juvenile introduction to the Southern Gothic genre.”
It is common for Southern Gothic stories to have supernatural elements, and it is also just as acceptable for the idea to only be hinted at. With Venom, the story line of voodoo is prevalent from the get go, but their are two other sequences that cement the movie as part of the genre. One is Ray‘s transformation into a killer by the way of snakes. The movie’s plot establishes that prior to the events as they transpire on screen, the serpents had been used in a ritual to free the souls of men by sucking out the evil. During a car crash, the snakes bite Ray and transfer the evil into him. The second sequence that needs mentioning is one in which a main character’s lifeless body is used as a human voodoo doll. Both are significant, as each of them represent the horrific effects that the past can have on the present.
Venom hit theaters on September 16, 2005. Unfortunately, the movie was a flop at the box office. Even though the story and its villain could have made for an interesting and long-running franchise, a sequel was never developed.
Overall, Venom is a fun exercise in teen Southern Gothic. Are you a fan? Would you have liked to have seen a sequel? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!