(Canada - 1980)
Directed by John Huston. Written by Lew Lehman, Jimmy Sangster and Peter Bellwood. Cast: Paul Michael Glaser, Susan Hogan, John Colicos, David Bolt, Patricia Collins, David Eisner, Lisa Langlois, Robert O'Ree, Alexandra Stewart, Neil Vipond, Marian Waldman, Kenneth Welsh, Gwen Thomas. (R, 91 mins)
Barely released to theaters in the fall of 1980, the Canadian tax-shelter thriller PHOBIA is a front-runner for the most bizarre outlier of the legendary John Huston's filmmaking career. The director of THE MALTESE FALCON, THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, THE AFRICAN QUEEN, and THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING never turned down a lucrative gig, but like his contemporary Orson Welles, he usually reserved the more shameless cash grabs for his onscreen appearances in other directors' movies. Huston enjoyed a major resurgence as an in-demand character actor after his memorable performance as insidiously evil water magnate Noah Cross in Roman Polanski's 1974 classic CHINATOWN, but he wasn't very picky with his subsequent acting gigs. Within just a few years, he was starring in things like the Italian JAWS ripoff TENTACLES (1977), Mexican trash auteur Rene Cardona Jr's THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE (1978), Umberto Lenzi's cheap WWII would-be epic THE GREATEST BATTLE (1978), the insane THE VISITOR (1979), and the dismal Joe Lewis martial arts actioner JAGUAR LIVES (1979). Following his acclaimed but little-seen 1979 directing effort WISE BLOOD, Huston, then 74, somehow found himself in Toronto helming PHOBIA, which spent some time in cable rotation in the early '80s but has since fallen into almost total obscurity. It's just been resurrected on Blu-ray in a 4K restoration (!) by Kino Lorber, because physical media is dead.
STARSKY AND HUTCH's Paul Michael Glaser stars as Dr. Peter Ross, a Los Angeles shrink who's set up shop in Toronto, where he's conducting a potentially revolutionary experimental treatment of irrational fears, using volunteer prison convicts as his subjects. The treatment doesn't appear to be anything beyond planting the patients in front of a large screen where they're forced to watch what looks like a multimedia presentation of live-action images of whatever it that frightens them the most, whether it's snakes, crowds, fear of heights and falling, etc. As one expects to happen in thrillers of this sort, Ross' patients start getting offed one by one, mostly in ways related to their phobias, except for the initial victim (Alexandra Stewart), who's killed in a bomb blast that was meant for Ross. Red herrings abound--there's colleague and former lover Dr. Alice Toland (Patricia Collins), who doesn't seem too pleased that he's taken up with new girlfriend Jenny (Susan Hogan, memorable as the schoolteacher in THE BROOD), or it could be any of the remaining subjects in the program, including Bubba (Robert O'Ree), who has a fear of snakes; Henry (David Bolt), with a fear of falling, unstable nutcase Johnny (David Eisner), and Laura (Lisa Langlois), who has a fear of drowning. Could it even be irate, bellicose cop Barnes (John Colicos), who has little but scornful derision for both Ross and his "experimentees," as he dismissively calls them, or his condescending sidekick/partner Wheeler (Kenneth Welsh)? Who knows? Did John Huston even care?
|Huston and Glaser on the set of PHOBIA