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This certainly is not a great thriller (and it never aspired to be), but if you like low-budget B-movies, then you're likely to agree that it isn't THAT bad, either. I happen to think that all whodunits are inherently interesting if they're executed with at least a minimum level of competence, and "Phobia" was directed by the legendary John Huston himself! Far from his best work, yes, but he managed to keep my attention. The "surprise" ending, though, is predictable. (**)
A psychiatrist's (Paul Michael Glaser) patients are being killed using
their own phobias. Who's doing it...and why? Well...the tag line of the
movie gives away the entire plot! I caught this mess back in 1981 on
cable TV LATE at night. I watched it because I was bored and love
horror movies. Well...it WAS horrible! For one thing Glaser (who can be
good) walks through his role like he's on Valium. The murders aren't
even well-done and the identity of the killer is very obvious from the
You really got to wonder why John Huston picked this to direct. He's good at dramas--not psychological horror films. Whenever he tried to direct something different it was always a disaster. Remember--he directed "Annie" which is considered one of the worst musicals put on film. In this one he seems unsure of how to shot a suspenseful scene or pace the film. This is dragged out and very very dull.
This is basically a forgotten film--let's hope it stays that way! Even Glaser said this was terrible. A 1 all the way.
If some movie magazine ever comes up with the bright idea of putting
together a list entitled "the top 100 most idiotic ways to spoil a
movie", than the number 1 spot is undoubtedly reserved for "simply
reading the tagline for John Huston's Phobia!". Seriously, if you are
considering to watch this film and you haven't yet paid any attention
to reading the tagline, well then
DON'T! I mean, guessing the
denouement of the film isn't exactly quantum physics, but the stupid
tagline just gives away the end twist. Other than that "Phobia"
honestly wasn't as bad as I was led to believe, in fact. I almost
exclusively read reviews and user comments stating that "Phobia" is a
terribly boring thriller effort and undeniably the absolute low point
in John Huston's overall magnificent career. Well okay, in spite of all
the warnings, I still desperately wanted to see it for two reasons.
First and foremost, it might be an inferior John Huston film but it's
still remains a John Huston film and they should always be worth
checking out! Besides, this is the only horror movie Huston directed,
even though he starred in a couple of weird Italian ones like
"Tentacles" and "The Visitor". Secondly, and this is truly a personal
weakness of mine, the movie poster very much appealed to me. The simply
image of a face, half covered in darkness and half depicting people's
death struggles is already a lot scarier than the entire content of
most other thrillers.
In all honesty, I'm really glad that I took the effort of tracking down "Phobia" and I would definitely encourage other people not to base your judgment on the negative reviews. This isn't a terrific thriller, obviously, mainly due to the slow pacing and continuous predictability of the script, but it nevertheless contains a few good ideas and even a handful of genuinely suspenseful and macabre moments. I found the basic subject matter to be very interesting and full of horrific potential, maybe partly because I have a couple of bizarre and inexplicable phobias myself. Paul Michael Glaser (yes yes, the original Starsky!) plays the acclaimed but slightly controversial psychiatrist Dr. Peter Ross. With the support of his hospital, he started a project to help a test group of five patients get over their various phobias including heights, crowded places, drowning and snakes. Dr Ross' methods are unorthodox and even dangerous, as he literally forces his patients to confront their fears and pushes them quite far into them. Shortly after having received the media's attention, Ross' patients start dying under mysterious circumstances and each one according to their own phobia.
I've been watching horror practically my entire life and I really think that there aren't enough movies that deal with people's fears. "Phobia" is not a great or highly memorable effort, but at least it's decent and attempts to thrive on slow-brooding tension instead of on cheap shocks and gore. The film admittedly has too many shortcomings, like the clichéd selection of phobias and the truly disappointing climax, but several sequences are properly elaborated and the wholesome is definitely worth watching.
The late, great John Huston apparently went on a bender and woke up in
Canada where they plopped him in the director's chair to helm a
tax-shelter "psychological" horror flick remarkably similar to
"Schizoid", a slightly better Klaus Kinski vehicle released the same
year. An unorthodox psychiatrist finds that his patients are being
murdered, ironically in ways that play to their greatest phobias. So
who could be the killer? Well, I won't spoil it, but all you have to do
is looking at the frickin' tag line.
Besides being generic and dull, the main problem here is the male lead. Canadians do tend to have an inferiority complex sometimes, but I find it hard to believe that they couldn't have found a greater thespian talent in that entire country than "Hutch" (or was it "Starsky"--I get confused?). Paul Michael Glaser gives a central performance that is every bit as compelling as paint drying. As for Huston, this fortunately wasn't his swan-song--he ended his life with an impressive troika of films, "Under the Volcano", "Prizzi's Honor", and "The Dead". This was merely an unfortunate misstep for him.
The only good thing I can say about this (and I'm really clutching for straws here), is that, also like "Schizoid", it does have a surprising and uncharacteristic nude scene by a young lovely of the Canadian tax shelter era. With "Schizoid" it was Donna Wilkes; here it is Lisa Langlois, who was in Claude Chabrol's "Blood Relatives" and any number of Canadian films better than this (maybe THAT was the whole reason I watched this years back--who knows?). Other than that small favor though its eminently forgettable
One word. Describes everything. So does boring, stupid, and ridiculous. I can't believe John Huston was involved in this. I can't believe Starsky was involved in this, I guess he was looking for work when the show ended. Of course, he did go on to direct Kazaam, which also was boring, stupid, and ridiculous. I want the 90+ minutes spent watching this back. I rented this because the cover art and back synopsis looked interesting. Trust me, its not.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Dr. Peter Ross is a well-known psychologist, operating in Toronto. He
is trying out a new experiment, to try and cure his patient's phobia's.
His patients have all been given to him by a jail, and are all
criminals. They all suffer from various phobias, from fear of falling
to fear of snakes. His radical new treatment involves making them face
their worst fears, in order to overcome them.
Unfortunately trouble comes his way, when his patients begin to start dying mysteriously, according to their various phobias...
This film is bad. Good, just wanted to get that out of the way. So why is it bad? It had an interesting premise, but the actors look bored to death in their roles, including Paul Michael Glaser in the lead. The direction is sloppy, especially for an old pro like Huston. The plot chugs along at a snails pace. There is no horror, and barely any laughs. Even seeing a city I know and love like Toronto in the early 80's wasn't enough to hold my attention. They even give the ending away in the tag line.
I find that when writing a positive review, I have more fun. I had no fun writing this review, just as I had no fun watching this film. Don't get me wrong, it has its good points. The score is well done, especially for a horror film, and it holds make where most composers would go for a screeching violin, an admirable move. The plot is intriguing, even if it isn't carried out well. I did have fun recognizing some landmarks that I know from the city.
Unfortunately that's it. So I guess I'll start with the actors. The cast is pretty no name. Glaser, as I mentioned above seems bored, and his character is very one note. Susan Hogan, playing his girlfriend, really isn't given anything to do, so to criticize her to harshly would be unfair. John Colicos gives a performance as the stereotypical red blooded cop, that can only be defined as uninspiring and unoriginal.
The cast that patients are all good at reacting to their horrific fears in a cheesy way that, unfortunately, brings neither laughs nor fears. The screenplay by a trio of writers is dull and lifeless, at least that's the way it was portrayed on screen. It is neither horrific nor cheesy. The film would have been best made as a psychological drama, but unfortunately the way it is carried out is not as such.
The score, as I mentioned above, is one of the few saving graces of the film. It isn't great, but it's better than the rest of the film. The cinematography is ordinary to say the least, and the copy I had was full of dull colors and popping sound bites. It may not be the cinematographers fault that no one has taken the time to remaster the visuals, but it did hamper my viewing experience.
And now to the direction. I have no idea how Huston ever came to make this film. Yes, It's that bad. Huston's direction is so laconic and uninvolved, that it doesn't surprise me that this was his only horror film, he was far better adept at dramas. There is a scene when Glaser reaches out to stop a patient from jumping, Huston just keeps the shoot wide the whole time, infuriating me by not adding any close-ups. Maybe it's just me but I found that scene lacking for that very reason.
Overall, this film has the reputation of being John Huston's worst film. That is so, at least for now. I won't deny that I felt like nodding off during the film, but I kept myself awake so I could write this review. It is a truly terrible film, and as a Canadian, I feel sorry for anyone who watches this film. Please, if you want to watch a good Canadian film, watch Mon Oncle Antoine, or Going' Down The Road. Don't watch Phobia.
Phobia: A Descent Into Terror, 1980, Starring: Paul Michael Glaser, Susan Hogan and John Colicos. Directed by John Huston, 2.5/10 (F)
(This is part of an ongoing project to watch and review every John Huston movie. You can view this and other reviews at http://everyjohnhustonmovie.blogspot.ca/)
I do say this with a heavy heart, because I love John Huston. He is a
terrific director, and I loved some of his acting performances too(ie.
Chinatown). However, Phobia was just awful and didn't work on any
level. In fact, out of the John Huston-directed movies I have
seen(which is a lot), Phobia is by far his worst. Much worse than
Victory(or Escape to Victory), which for me was quite enjoyable despite
being silly, predictable and clichéd. Much worse than The Unforgiven,
despite one or two scenes that could have been better thought-out and a
miscast it does have a talented ensemble cast, looks gorgeous and was
quite interesting. And also much worse than Annie, granted Huston's
direction wasn't the best it could have been, but Annie is a childhood
favourite, has marvellous songs and some great performances, plus I
think it has a lot of charm and doesn't deserve to be down there among
the worst musicals not like Xanadu, Can't Stop the Music, Grease 2 and
About Phobia, when I watched it, I found very little about it that was good. Huston's direction is not good here, out of his movies Phobia is his most ineptly directed movie. It is a shame, because when Huston is good he is just terrific, but I could tell that his heart wasn't in it. I could also say the same for Paul Michael Glaser, I agree he can be good but that is not the case here. He doesn't seem interested at all in this movie and literally sleepwalks through his role. I also thought the look of the film was shoddy, the camera angles are slip-shod and the lighting is very dull even in the less-dark scenes.
The dialogue is poor and unfocused, while Andre Gagnon's music is forgettable and drab. The story is also dreadfully constructed, very drawn out and uninteresting with more-laughable-than-shocking murders, countless contrivances and an ending that you could smell a mile off. The characters lack any credibility, especially the culprit who I knew the identity of far too soon, while the sluggish pace alone kills this movie.
All in all, an awful movie and the only movie of John Huston's actually that I dislike intensely. 1/10 Bethany Cox
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
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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