A psychiatrist (Paul Michael Glase, TV’s Stasky & Hutch) gains publicity for his unorthodox methods of treating people’s phobias. When his patients begin to die one by one, a cop (John Colicos, Anne of the Thousand Days) is convinced that the deaths are connected to the psychiatrist’s unusual therapy sessions.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Celebrated Oscar-winning director John Huston’s (The Treasure of Sierra Madre) only horror movie, a sort of American giallo, has been described as the filmmaker’s worst movie, but I didn’t think it was that bad. Phobia has an interesting premise, but it’s all too apparent that Huston is out of his comfort zone.
Phobia is the kind of thing Brian De Palma did in his sleep. Director Huston, on the other hand, struggles to infuse life into the material. It isn’t a question of talent — the movie was made by people who knew movies. The writing team included Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, who had just finished working on a little film called Alien. Never mind that, these talented people failed to produce a high-quality movie.
As I said before, the idea behind the movie is very, very interesting, but the murder sequences are poorly staged by the usually clever Huston. I was taken aback by how ineptly edited some scenes were — the bad editing and poor camera placement kill any chance of creating genuine suspense. It really makes you appreciate the work of people like De Palma, George A. Romero, John Carpenter, etc..
The key therapy sessions, though, were intriguingly designed. I’ve read that Huston, and his long-time assistant and collaborator Gladys Hill (Reflections in a Golden Eye and The Man Who Would Be King), worked very hard on this aspect of the movie. It’s too bad that the rest of the film isn’t as good as these sequences.
Paul Michael Glaser, in his first and only starring role in a theatrical film, is fine. Unfortunately, the failure of the film killed his film career at the outset. He had better luck behind the camera — Glaser directed moderately successful movies like The Running Man and The Cutting Edge. John Colicos is very good as the cop investigating the mysterious deaths. Susan Hogan (The Brood) plays Glaser’s love interest.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
After so many years in the film industry, I’m sure director Huston thought it was time to try something different. I’m assuming Huston was trying to challenge himself. However, Phobia doesn’t work (it was a critical and financial disaster), but fans of Huston’s work don’t want to miss the master’s only horror movie. I usually don’t say this, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a remake. As I said before, the premise of the film is rather cool/interesting. A real curiosity for sure. Color, 94 minutes, Rated R.