• Phobia (Kino Lorber) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Released on: October 22nd, 2019.
    Director: John Huston
    Cast: Paul Michael Glaser, Susan Hogan, John Colicos
    Year: 1980
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    Phobia - Movie Review:

    No one would ever accuse legendary director John Huston’s 1980 potboiler PHOBIA of being any good. This was essentially a doomed project right out of the gate. It had the services of no less than five screenwriters - including the iconic Hammer writer Jimmy Sangster and Dan O’Bannnon (ALIEN) and Gary (DEATHLINE) Sherman. But that old expression about the too many cooks certainly applies here. The story - about a brilliant psychiatrist Dr. Peter Ross (a deadly bland Paul Michael Glaser) who’s using a radical new therapy technique to cure patient phobias - is an incoherent mess. And while the film is well shot it also has little style. This isn’t THE AFRICAN QUEEN. Finally, the film’s fatal flaw is that it can never really decide what it wants to be. So we are left with an incomprehensible thrill-free thriller or a quarter-assed horror film.

    The plot? In yet another 10 LITTLE INDIANS styled whodunit, poofy haired film-world’s least believable shrink ever, Glaser (most famous at the time of being one half of TV crime fighting duo Starsky And Hutch), is being bankrolled by a major hospital to conduct radical therapy on phobic patients. This involves one of those patently ridiculous only-in-the-70's/dawn of the 80's type setups. Using then state of the art massive video screens and dark room isolation et cetera, Dr. Ross floods the patient with stimuli relating to their phobias. I’m not sure how phobics were treated at the time this film was made, but watching it now creates some strong comedic moments. A female rape victim being subjected to huge video screens of sweaty bare-chested men looking straight out of William Friedkin’s CRUISING pawing at a woman and ripping her clothes off strikes me as a decidedly odd approach for one thing. Anyway, after sending an attractive lady agoraphobic into the subway solo (therapy man!) and then telling her to meet him at his apartment (inappropriate, perhaps?), we are off to the races. Dr. Ross decides to play some hockey at the local rink instead of meeting his patient and while the pretty agoraphobic waits there for his return a bomb goes off. That’ll be dead body number one. Now there’s a killer on the loose and he’s killing off the good doctor’s patients one by one.

    Hands up folks. How many times have we seen this rodeo? There’s the ridiculous SCHIZO with Klaus Kinski and the infamous COLOR OF NIGHT with Bruce Willis but at least those “therapy group kill-offs” have either genuinely kooky and engaging characters or sleazy sex scenes. This one has boring patients, a boring doctor and discreet deaths that can’t even provide a cheap thrill. Glaser’s two love interests - played by Susan Hogan and Patricia Collins respectively - leave no impression. Of the phobics, only Lisa Langlois as the doomed Laura stands out as the rape survivor. The phobias themselves are cookie cutter - snakes, heights and so forth. And the deaths - by falling and other means related to the patient’s mental health issues, are hardly surprising. That leaves the film’s lone bright spot to Canadian character actor John Colicos as police detective Barnes. He’s lively and quirky, has the film’s best lines and brings some welcome energy to the show.

    Of course the plot has more holes than a Swiss cheese factory but what really messes this up on every level is the lack of excitement. Since the plot is nowhere near engaging enough or well written enough to hold our attention the film fails miserably as a thriller. At that point, all you’re left with is the film’s slasher flick structure and the deaths. Since Huston decided he wasn’t going to give us any real gore, the film falls apart on that level too. Then, to top it all off, we get one random breast shot as if somebody decided at the last minute to spice things up. Good grief. And the twist ending is about as twisty as a ruler.

    Phobia - Blu-ray Review:

    Kino’s MPEG-4 AVC encoded 1.85:1 framed 1080p transfer is far better than the film deserves. This is taken from a a 4K restoration and the transfer is a good one. Frankly, it’s a lot better than this film deserves. Every key area is well taken care of from fine image detail to color reproduction. The film has a slightly doll color palette, but that isn’t a fault of the transfer here, that’s simply the way the film was shot. Skin tones look natural and no digital tinkering seems to be present in the image. In short, this is likely the best transfer this film is ever going to get and the viewer should have no complaints.

    Audio is handled by a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which has a nice full sound. Much like the video transfer, there isn’t anything negative to report here. Aside from a couple of minor set pieces this is a fairly quiet film and one of its few strong points happens to be the score, which sounds very nice on this track. The audio track itself is also free from any defects like pops or clicks.

    The most important extra here is a feature length audio commentary by Canuxploitation expert Paul Corupe of and film historian Jason Pichonsky. What they have to say is actually a hell of a lot more interesting than the movie itself. They cover everything from a short history of Canadian tax shelter films to John Huston’s almost lost great World War II documentary to all kinds of trivia about the actors. The lengths that they went to for research are highly impressive. For example, Gary Sherman was tracked down and the screenwriter explained his various disappointments with the film. There are also a lot of fascinating quotes from various people involved with the movie. Most of them didn’t have a lot of kind words for it. This is an interesting and informative track that provides far more entertainment than the film itself.

    Both actresses Susan Hogan and Lisa Langlois sit down for short chats. Hogan has some interesting things to say about her career and technique but is a little circumspect when it comes to talking about the film itself. Langlois is the more interesting subject. She has a fascinating story about the nudity in the film and gives good insight into casual sex schism of the industry at the time. She also has some fun stories about becoming a bit of a genre film icon in Canada. She’s funny and witty and this is an enjoyable talk.

    Kino have also supplied the film’s trailer along with a selection of other trailers of titles from their catalog.

    Phobia - The Final Word:

    There simply isn’t any way I can recommend this film in good conscience. It’s a lame thriller and can’t quite figure out what it wants to do. It probably would’ve worked better as a straight up horror film showcasing the various deaths. That said, it is what it is. Kino’s presentation is excellent on the technical merits and the supplements are very strong. But I would still recommend passing on this one.

    Click on the images below for full-sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Gary Banks's Avatar
      Gary Banks -
      Unfortunately, I saw this when it first opened. I thought a horror movie by Huston might be pretty good. WRONG! At least the paperback tie in novel was cheaper than a ticket, and not as painful though I'm unsure why.
    1. Matt H.'s Avatar
      Matt H. -
      When I read that Lisa Langlois had a nude scene in this, I knew there would be at least one reason to watch it.