Russell O’Neil – Venom (1979)

Review by Justin Tate

Snakes are my favorite beast to go berserk and here we have a satisfying nest of Indian cobras terrorizing New York City apartment buildings. It’s a good set-up that’s just as zany as one would expect and hope for. Only slightly marred by a long list of characters who are probably given more attention than necessary.

That said, characters are also what makes this a good time. Our lead is a creepy vagabond type fellow who’s gone to the dark side because of his overbearing mother. He breaks a girl’s heart after using her to smuggle snakes into the States. His intended purpose with the snakes remains a mystery, but we do know that he has wet dreams whenever he hears them slithering about.

The girl definitely dodged a bullet.

Side characters spring up to mixed delight. Some are faceless victims, but others stand out. The zoo’s herpetologist, for example, is a fully formed personality who even delivers an unexpectedly lovely Black Lives Matter-esque speech when he berates a trigger-happy cop.

“The same God who created you created those snakes. They have as much right to live as you do…I have a feeling you’d shoot a black junkie in a Harlem doorway as quickly as you shot that snake—and with as little reason.” (p. 163)

Another surprise is the vibrant depiction of a gay couple. Their relationship is a bit stereotypical, perhaps, but for a few pages at least O’Neil presents a beautiful love story. I don’t know if O’Neil himself was gay, but either way, the authenticity is wonderful to see in a 1970’s horror novel.

Overall, if you can stomach the slow beginning—and super-weird masturbation fantasies—there’s a jolly snakes-gone-wild rampage that keeps the pages turning.

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