(back of video blurb):
" ... Can anyone help me out with this?"
Good director; good slasher flick. Well, that's how it should be - and, seeing as this is John ASPHALT JUNGLE Huston, who had also directed the monumental WISEBLOOD (1979) only the year before, you'd have thought this, supposed, horror flick would be pretty good - well, you'd have thought wrong.
WISEBLOOD might be a mighty film - and Huston has directed more than a handful of bone-fide classics, but it's clear his heart wasn't quite in it when he came to cranking out this lifeless thriller. Actually, PHOBIA isn't really that bad, it's just dull - it's not bad enough to be fun (more's the pity) - it's just dull, dull, dull. And, as we know all too well, whilst you can get no end of fun from trashy bad films, the fun just never starts with a movie fashioned from the celluloid equivalent of Ritolin.
At least the premise is good (and much copied - to usually better effect - in later films). Prison inmates are offered their freedom if they allow their phobias to be treated in a new experimental, and controversial, program orchestrated by psychiatrist Dr. Peter Ross (Paul Michael Glaser), where they are forced to confront their phobias (agoraphobia, claustrophobia, asphixiphobia, fear of snakes and vertigo) which are writ large on giant TV screens showing lavish representations of their fears (a rather ridiculously improbable therapy which would send any National health accountant screaming for the hills). The trouble is, the patients find themselves dying via these worst fears instead of being cured of them. The beautiful irony that they are being treated for fears which should be unfounded but are, in-fact, totally justified ...
How can you fail with a premise like that? ... Well, here's how: Glaser (yes, he of STARSKY AND HUTCH), in this, has all the presence and animal dynamism of a turnip - and that's bad, that's really bad. His character - brilliant, yet emotionless; seemingly unaffected by the trials and tribulations of his patients (he is described as being "...magnificently detached", by his colleague (and ex-mistress)) - may have seemed good on paper, but is a glaring nonentity on the screen - something of a no-no for a character with such a central role. Glaser's listlessness seems to have been infectious, too - the rest of the cast often look bored - and the whole wet squib is, suitably, choreographed by by a depressingly pedestrian score. Huston, it seems is unable - or can't be bothered - to even to begin to craft even the most rudimentary of suspense scenes. Even as whodunit it fails - seasoned viewers will have worked out who the killer is by the half-hour mark - and the motive seems rudimentary at best. The misery the killer puts himself out of at the end of the film came 90 minutes too late for most of the audience, I wouldn't wonder.
Actually, the next question is: is this Canadian film (as usual masquerading as an American one) even a slasher flick? Certainly, it can't fail to share at least some of the attributes of the legion of other horror/thrillers that were blooming in the early 80's. Yes, as I mentioned, there's a killer, but we get precious little of the stalking and slashing so prevalent at the time - which, I know, may have been run-of-the-mill to have included but could have at least stopped the film flatlining quite so totally as a thriller. There's only one minorly effective scene where one of Dr. Ross' patients is drowned by an unseen assailant with white medical gloves on, but the rest ...
More fun than actually watching the film is spotting the slasher movie alumni dotted throughout (you've got to take your fun where you can with this bore). Future HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME cast members Lisa Langois and David Eisner play ill-fated phobia patients, and Marian Waldman, who such a joy to watch as the boozy sorority mother in BLACK CHRISTMAS, puts in a brief, early appearance here as Glaser's housekeeper.
Even with my admitted fetishism for everything early-80's there wasn't enough
here to keep me gripped, hell, not even a screenplay partly scripted by Jimmy
Sangster could make me raise an eyebrow. Like I said, not a bad film, especially,
just dull as dishwater. Perhaps, Huston had to make downpayment or a mortgage
female:2 / male:4
1) Female dies in explosion
2) Male falls to his death
3) Female drowned in bath tub
4) Male squashed to death in lift shaft
5) Male found dead from snake bite
6) Male shot in the head with handgun