Many critics can’t decide if Venom is a terrible movie or a terrific one. Ruben Fleischer’s Marvel Comics adaptation is a lot of different things at once, and the antihero action sci-fi flick never settles on a consistent tone. Some laughs are intentional, while others may not be. Perhaps its identity issues are appropriate to a big-budget B movie about a guy sharing his body with an alien symbiote? At least it’s never boring.
With such a mixed bag of a movie, I couldn’t focus my picks for what to watch next. I’m eager to recommend similar superhero movies, including a bad one, and films with symbiotic relationships, as well as some of the classics that inspired Fleischer in his making of this hodgepodge of a franchise starter. Here is this week’s suggested further viewing:
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)
While admitting that Venom is very different from the “Jekyll and Hyde” situation, due to the dual personalities of Eddie Brock and Venom interacting, Fleischer has acknowledged an obvious ancestor in Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic horror novella. There are so many adaptations that more than a few are actually essential viewing, but you can begin with one of the earliest still-existing silent versions. John Barrymore stars in the 1920 film as both the doctor and the monster he becomes. It’s a remarkable performance in that the change is not achieved via special effects, just great acting.
The 1931 adaptation starring Fredric March is really great, too, that one because of its impressive effects. And I enjoy Spencer Tracy in anything, so I’m also a fan of the 1941 remake. Basically, I’m down for any take on the tale of Jekyll and Hyde, but I also have a soft spot for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which like Venom is not good but is often awesome. Start with the 1920 adaptation and go from there. And as long as you’re watching all those faithful versions, add Fight Club, as well.
The Odd Couple (1968)
While Jekyll and Hyde are two sides of the same man, Venom is actually a separate creature melding but clashing with Brock, and Fleischer likens their relationship to other movies about unlikely pairings, such as buddy comedies including 48 Hrs. and Midnight Run. But before that strain of the action genre took off in the ’80s, the situation of two distinctly different people butting heads in the same space was fine without the action, as in the case of The Odd Couple.
Based on the play by Neil Simon and starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau as the perfect strangers, the movie is deeper than its simply put premise — a loud slob and a polite neatnik become roommates — would imply. Here’s Fleischer on citing The Odd Couple as a precursor to Venom in a Los Angeles Times interview:
“The symbiote bonds early on with Eddie and it’s kind of like ‘The Odd Couple,’ but instead of sharing an apartment, they share a body…The fun of the movie is the dynamic between them, with Eddie trying to rein in this basically unbridled id and find a balance with him. That theme of duality and trying to control your id — I think that’s what Tom and I responded to in terms of why this character is unique and special.”
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Another direct influence that Fleischer has recognized is this classic horror comedy by John Landis. When Fandango asked the director what other comic book movies he looked at before starting Venom, Fleischer instead named other kinds of films that were on his mind:
“As a comic book fan, I’ve seen all the comic book movies. I didn’t have to watch them specifically for this. I was more interested in the kind of classic ‘80s horror movies. ‘American Werewolf in London’ was a big influence on me, just because of the experience of being taken over by another. You know, [David] Cronenberg and John Carpenter, I just love his classic horror movies. Aesthetically, the director of photography and I talked a lot about the look of those films. Those were probably the ones that come to mind first as far as the look and the feeling of the movie.”
He doesn’t mention which Cronenberg or Carpenter movies specifically were discussed with DP Matthew Libatique (maybe The Fly and The Thing, though they would be for story themes more than visual similarities probably). As for the American Werewolf comparison, yes there is the link in a man being overcome by a monster in a Jekyll and Hyde sort of way but there’s also a kind of supernatural sidekick in the form of the main character’s undead friend — he’s basically the hero’s Jiminy Cricket, while Venom’s voice for Brock is pretty much the opposite of a conscience.
All of Me (1984)
In this underrated fourth and final collaboration between director Carl Reiner and star Steve Martin, the latter plays a lawyer who accidentally winds up sharing his body with the reincarnated soul of Lily Tomlin. Obviously, slapstick ensues, as Martin’s character occasionally loses control of himself due to Tomlin’s possession and their very different interests. Martin can hear Tomlin, but nobody else can, and he can see her reflection in mirrors, but nobody else can. Throw in some space shuttles and motorcycle chases and a lot of dead bodies, and it sure sounds like Venom is just an effects-heavy remake of All of Me. If only Tomlin could show her true self at times and bite guys’ heads off.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Not long after Tomlin was puppeteering Steve Martin from within, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) was possessing and manipulating Mark Patton in the first A Nightmare on Elm Street sequel. “Kill for me!” the infamous child killer turned beloved movie icon says to his new host. “You’ve got the body, I’ve got the brains.” It’s strange that we eventually came around to rooting for Freddy, even more so than how we quickly embrace the antiheroism of Venom as he’s chomping on heads — hey, at least he didn’t kill a little girl, like Riot.
Howard the Duck (1986)
Howard the Duck and Venom: two movies based on Marvel comic books, both about a pair of aliens brought to Earth on the same night, where one alien is good and has a very weird, kinda creepy romantic scene and the other is evil and wants to bring more of his kind to our planet yet is fortunately thwarted by the good alien. The difference is that Howard doesn’t inhabit a human host body, though the Dark Overlord does seem to be just like a symbiote in the way he takes over Jeffrey Jones.
The Hidden (1987)
If there is one thing Venom is severely lacking, it’s a young badass Kyle Maclachlan playing a no-nonsense FBI agent. Oh, and it could have used a bunch of Ferraris. For all that and more, check out this B movie from the same director (Jack Sholder) and studio as Freddy’s Revenge. Did they get the idea from the earlier movie to try something similar with an alien symbiote? The creature in The Hidden, a slug-like being from space, transfers by mouth to inhabit innocent humans, which then become its new shell, and then kills many more innocent people. It’s more like Riot in Venom than the titular character. However, there is a good guy symbiote, too, and you can guess who that is without having the movie overall spoiled for you.
The Mask (1994), Liar Liar (1997), and Me, Myself & Irene (2000)
It’s funny that Jim Carrey was apparently in consideration for a character in Venom but it wasn’t the title role, because so much about Eddie Brock after he’s inhabited by the symbiote seems straight out of an old Carrey comedy. First, there’s The Mask, a comic book movie in which Carrey finds a magic mask that turns him into a kind of superhero, albeit one who also commits crimes himself. In Liar, Liar, Carrey plays a lawyer under a spell that makes him incapable of telling a lie, and it often seems to others as if he’s going crazy. And in Me, Myself & Irene, he plays a man who develops an additional personality that is rude, violent, and deals with things the original won’t. Maybe we can throw in Bruce Almighty and The Cable Guy into the mix for the perfect Venom blend.
Parasites Eating Us Alive (2000)
Imagine if a creature was living inside you and off of you, feeding on your parts. Guess what? That’s happening every day, always. For this week’s nonfiction pick, I present Discovery Channel’s mid-length documentary on microscopic organisms that prey on us, inhabiting our skin, blood, hair, and eyelashes. Of course, the film spotlights a lot of parasites that are harmful to humans, causing disease or worse, but it also recognizes that there are tons of mites that just live in symbiosis with us.
Yeah, you can skip this one if you like, but it’s important to see bad movies on purpose sometimes for a full familiarity with pop culture and for peak level media literacy. Venom was always a strange project, because it’s weird for movies to focus on characters associated with other major comic book superheroes — such as Steel with Superman and Catwoman with Batman — where they those famous superheroes are completely ignored. Of course, you could theoretically make a great solo Catwoman movie and a great solo Venom movie, but what we’ve gotten is a goofy and sometimes fun but mostly bad B movie starring Oscar-level performers seriously slumming it.
Unfortunately overlooked by most as it arrived in the shadow of Kick-Ass, James Gunn’s brutal, Troma-like superhero B movie is about a loser who is suddenly encouraged to become a costumed crusader by a voice in his head — that of God. Or maybe it’s just Rob Zombie, or more likely a delusion. In any event, he becomes the Crimson Bolt and goes a little too far in his heroic duties, clobbering people in the head with a wrench for as little as cutting in line. Gunn is probably the best person who could have made a Venom movie, given he’s since shown a skill for bigger-budget, effects-heavy superhero movies but still surely retains his dark sense of humor and taste for violence.
Remember when everyone thought Life was a secret set up for Venom? The funny thing is that sci-fi movie, put out by the same studio, can still be viewed as a prequel to Venom (or Venom a sequel to Life, either way). Life is about astronauts in space recovering an alien life form, though while it does enter or engulf people it’s not a parasite like Venom and the other symbiotes. Aside from that difference, the way Life ends could be seen as leading into the opening of Venom.
Then again, two more of this year’s sci-fi horror movies, Rampage and The Predator, pretty much begin the exact same way, and both of them also, like Venom, eventually involve aliens or genetically-changed beasts that want to help humans against those that want to kill us all. At least The Predator, if I remember correctly, gave Earth two more generations before we’ve made it uninhabitable for humans, while in Venom they say it’s just one generation away from our doom.
Imagine if Venom starred another actor who looked a lot like Tom Hardy and the entity giving the main character an upgrade is technological rather thane extraterrestrial. Well, that’s Leigh Whannell’s latest directorial effort, a much better movie starring Hardy doppelganger Logan Marshall-Green and involving AI rather than alien symbiotes. So many fans of this movie have been posting anything from social media shout outs (see below) to full articles claiming that this is almost the same movie as Venom but done right.
I highly recommend watching #Upgrade after #Venom. It's another movie about a man wrestling with something taking over his body, but it's bloodier, gorier and R-rated. It stars Logan Marshall-Green, who oddly resembles Tom Hardy, and it also has a wicked sense of humor pic.twitter.com/DF1iEBIX3f
— Erik Davis (@ErikDavis) October 2, 2018
#Venom…What the hell were they thinking. There’s no denying Hardy looks like he’s having fun, but this movie is a disaster. Very little in it works. It’s even more frustrating that we saw this movie earlier this year when it was called Upgrade, and it was actually good.
— Patrick "PJ" Campbell (@pj_campbell) October 5, 2018
— q (@dense_DB_666) October 5, 2018