A psychiatrist treats his patients - sufferers from agoraphobia, claustrophobia, acrophobia, a fear of snakes, and a fear of man - with radical therapy in which they confront their fears by watching them on a large screen. The result is that each patient is driven to commit violent acts, and each dies by what he most fears. Written by
Gladys Hill, for years 'Huston, John''s personal assistant and co-writer, contributed greatly to the preparation of the final shooting script for Phobia uncredited. She was given a credit as assistant to Mr. Huston. See more »
During the 1970s, it was not an uncommon sight to have maverick Hollywood director John Huston slumming it out as an actor in often desperate, generic and star-studded international productions like TENTACLES (1977; whose fairly recent viewing did no favors to my childhood memories of it) and THE VISITOR (1979; which, surprisingly, turned out to be a far more satisfying watch than I could have ever imagined); this he did, no doubt, to obtain finance for the more personal of his projects as a director but, after WISE BLOOD (1979) – one of his most acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful latter-day films – he was forced to take the 'safe' course even behind the camera as he followed this in quick succession with three totally routine and impersonal assignments that belied his creative involvement. The first of these was the Canadian horror-thriller under review that boasted some interesting credentials: writers Jimmy Sangster (the doyen of Hammer Films' scribes), Gary (RAW MEAT) Sherman and Ronald (ALIEN) Shusett (who probably sold off their original story because they were contemporaneously shooting the superior "Video Nasty", DEAD AND BURIED) and actors – TV star Paul Michael Glaser and Canadians John Colicos and Alexandra Stewart.
Glaser had just finished his four-year stint as "Starsky" in the popular cop series and this was his first (and, as it happened, only) shot at the title of a Hollywood leading man in the movies; he had previously only had supporting roles in films like FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (1971) and, after this non-starter, he would concentrate his efforts on directing – mostly for TV but also one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's more notable star vehicles, the Sci-Fi actioner THE RUNNING MAN (1987). Glaser plays a shrink with a novel and radical technique of confronting phobics head-on with their fears in his 'treatment' room but, given the experimental nature of it, his patients so far are 5 convicted criminals. Before long, they start getting knocked off: agoraphobic Stewart, traumatized by her 'cure' of spending some time in a densely-populated train station, runs to find comfort in Glaser's apartment – only to be blown away by a booby-trapped drawer(!); a nerdy war veteran, suspected by bullying Detective Colicos of this foul play, goes nuts in the police station and dashes off to a place high up in a nearby building site to test his acrophobia by leaping to his death (despite the last-minute counsel of Glaser – who is forever being interrupted during his extra-curricular activities to tick off another patient off his list!); a frigid girl, subjected to footage of a gang rape by the friendly doctor, needs to wash off that filthy feeling presto and is, inevitably, drowned in the bathtub by a pair of gloved hands; a claustrophobic punkish youth flips out at the news of the latest murder and, eventually, gets crushed in an elevator shaft at the apartment block where Glaser's girlfriend lives; a colored ophidiophobic (a fear with which I admit to be afflicted myself) is bitten by a rattlesnake – despite having been made to finally touch a reptile only a few days before.
Despite the would-be juicy roster of red herring victim-suspects, there are only two viable suspects: one being Glaser's former girlfriend, a fellow psychiatrist who might have every reason to see his new technique fail but, when during a conversation with her replacement in Glaser's empty office, it transpires that the latter was saddled with a guilt complex following his younger sister's death in childhood, the stage is set for a crazed Glaser proudly confessing his part in the murders to his girl and shooting himself in the head right in front of her! The film is often thought of as Huston's directorial nadir but, actually PHOBIA is not as unwatchably bad as some reviewers would have us believe: quite simply, it is just too predictable for a whodunnit, too tame for a slasher movie and Glaser too detached ("magnificently" so, in fact, as per the script!) for the audience to care about his fate. For the record, this viewing came as another belated tribute to the late Jimmy Sangster and, apparently, the premise is awfully similar to the contemporaneous Klaus Kinski shocker, SCHIZOID (which I am not familiar with)...but I did watch Richard Rush's even more maligned COLOR OF NIGHT (1994) fairly recently and, all in all, that oversexed later film was an understandably more enjoyable ride than the Huston film proved to be!
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