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Mr. Jangles, the voodoo possessed tow truck driver
on 18 January 2006
Some films benefit from the fact that there are times when life imitates art (and visa versa). "Marooned" and "The China Syndrome" both benefited from what happened with Apollo 13 and Three-Mile Island, respectively (and we will not begin to discuss what happens when a movie is made of a real event that reminded everybody of a movie in the first place). But sometimes real events can hurt a movie, as when the assassination of President Kennedy became part of the reason the original version of "The Manchurian Candidate" was shelved for a couple of decades. I bring all of this up because in the wake of Hurricane Katrina a splatter flick set in the bayous of Louisiana may well be a case of bad timing. At least the television series "Invasion" got to acknowledge that it might be stepping on some toes with its hurricane references, but "Venom" just runs screaming into the face of reality.
Director Jim Gillespie ("I Know What You Did Last Summer") and producer Kevin Williamson fully intended to create a new movie serial killer in the mold of Michael, Jason and Freddie. The idea for "Mr. Jangles" came from a videogame named "Backwater" that was in development (the name has to do with collecting keys on a ring so that they, altogether now, jangle). Basically he is a tow-truck driver who is possessed by the spirits of a bunch of murderers, which explains both his reliance on a tire jack and his impulse to kill, kill, kill. Ray Sawyer (Rick Cramer), was just your average deadbeat-dad tow-truck operator, but then he ended up at the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, this gets a bit complicated because Ray gets bit by a snake, but not just any snake. This is a snake that carries the souls of 13 murderers, which happened to be in a box that happened to be in the back of car that happened to be driven by a voodoo priestess that happened to go off a bridge because Ray's tow truck was on the wrong side because the two main teenagers in the film, Eden (Agnes Bruckner) and Eric (Jonathan Jackson) were discussing their futures on the bridge.
Once voodoo enters the picture you can understand the Louisiana connection to the film. I guess we can assume, for the sake of argument or just watching the film, that "Venom" takes place before Katrina, but it is hard to ignore the irony that what the dead teenagers in this film go through is not as bad as what happened in New Orleans at the Superdome. The problem is that paying attention to the rules of voodoo that are explained in the film are not that helpful because the story abandons them to engage in standard slasher action. Being related to voodoo priestess is not as good as actually being one, but even the obvious but somewhat promising idea of a voodoo doll could be helpful under the circumstances. But the screenplay fails to take advantage of even that so that ultimate "Venom" does not have much going for it once you get past the location. A lot of contemporary horror films are flawed because the basic story elements are stupid in some significant one, but here my complaint is that this film is not as smart as ti could be given the set up.
Flint Dille & John Zuur Platten (the "Constantine" video game) wrote the story and were helped on the screenplay by Brandon Boyce ("Apt Pupil," "Wicker Park"), and I have to say that one of them did come up with a scene I liked. Zombies are apparently like vampires in that there are certain things you can do to stop them from crossing your threshold. Well, Ray might be possessed, but Mr. Jangles must have picked up some of his basic tow truck driver knowledge because I like the way the killer makes the mountain come to him even if it was not enough to justify rounding up on this one. However, the only thing that separates the dead teenagers who do not get killed from the ones that do is that their names appear at the top of the credits, so there is nothing special happening on that end. When the one person who has been raised believing in voodoo is more freaked out than the ones who do not believe, that is not a good sign. Gillespie does a better job of taking advantage of the Louisiana swamp setting than the voodoo back story, but then the whole excuse for making this 2005 splatter flick is to kill people and Mr. Jangles does that even if he does not have the decided flair of his competition.