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‘Venom’ has unfortunate Katrina coincidence

Movie depicts murder and mayhem in the Louisiana swamps
/ Source: The Associated Press

It could have been just another slasher flick, and one of the last of a rush of films Miramax is releasing as the founding Weinstein brothers sever ties with parent company Disney for good.

But “Venom,” about a voodoo-crazed serial killer, depicts murder and mayhem in the Louisiana swamps a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina brought real death and destruction to the region.

While no hurricane or flood is depicted, the young people who populate the movie are dragged across overgrown brush and chased through knee-deep bayou water. One character is trapped inside a car that plummets from a rickety bridge and becomes submerged. The killer (Rick Cramer) piles his corpses in a cemetery crypt alongside a river, while the few survivors hide in a house that’s been blessed by a protective spell.

Emily Bear, a spokeswoman for Dimension Films — the branch Miramax has used to release horror movies, comedies like “Bad Santa” and family fare like Robert Rodriguez’s “Spy Kids” trilogy — said “Venom” was scheduled months ago for release this Friday, far prior to the hurricane.

“The film’s plot is completely unrelated to the disaster in New Orleans,” she said. “‘Venom’ is a fictional horror film.”

After Sept. 11, 2001, filmmakers struggled with how to depict images of the World Trade Center towers in movies that had been shot or set in New York — or whether to depict them at all.

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In the comedy “Zoolander,” which came out only a couple of weeks after the attacks, director-star Ben Stiller digitally erased the buildings and was criticized for the decision. “Kissing Jessica Stein” featured new shots of Manhattan skyscrapers to replace footage of the towers.

Others, like “Glitter” and “City by the Sea,” simply left them in. Still other films were postponed entirely, including the Arnold Schwarzenegger action flick “Collateral Damage,” about a terrorist attack on Los Angeles, and “Big Trouble,” a comedy with a subplot about a nuclear bomb on an airplane.

Miramax couldn’t postpone the release of “Venom” even if it wanted to, though. The company must clear its slate of films by Sept. 30 as part of Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s break with Disney.

But “Venom” probably wasn’t destined to be a blockbuster anyway, said Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations. The movie is being released nationwide, but only on about 800 screens.

“It’s a sensitivity issue — it’s sort of in the eye of the beholder in terms of how closely someone might associate this movie with the real-life events in the wake of Hurricane Katrina,” Dergarabedian said. “They’ll put it out there, people will be able to decide whether it’s something they want to see, it’ll have its run and that’ll be that.”