Phobia (1980)

PHOBIA (1980)
Article 5030 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 12-26-2015
Directed by John Huston
Featuring Paul Michael Glaser, Susan Hogan, John Calicos
Country: Canada / USA
What it is: Horror mystery

A psychiatrist experiments with “implosion therapy”, a technique where phobics are made to deal with their fears by being immersed in situations that trigger the fear. Because the technique is experimental, his patients are volunteer convicts. However, the volunteers are being murdered in ways inspired by their phobias…

This movie has a very low rating of 3.6 on IMDB at the time of this writing, and I myself am not sure I would rate it that low; whatever the flaws of the movie, it did pique my curiosity in certain ways that kept me watching. This is not to say that the movie doesn’t have problems; in fact, some of them are pretty deep. For one thing, I’m not sure what director John Huston is really trying for here. If it’s horror, then the movie is pretty weak tea; it’s almost bloodless and not very scary, and the R rating is probably more for a single nude sequence than for any horror content. It does seem rather unpleasant (especially when the psychiatrist inundates a woman who is afraid of men with images of women being assaulted), but unpleasant isn’t the same thing as scary. If it’s trying to be a mystery, then it fumbles things early on. When the police investigate the first murder, their theories so completely ignore the “elephant in the room” that the scene practically screams out the identity of the killer at that point. If anything keeps you watching the movie, it’s the hope of discovering the motive; at least, that’s what interested me the most about this one. That being said, I found most of the major characters unlikable; the doctor’s therapy seems cruel, the police are mean-spirited thugs (their interrogation of one of the prisoners is an ugly scene), and it’s hard to warm up to the mostly undeveloped characters who make up the doctor’s various love interests. That leaves the prisoners/volunteers as the most sympathetic characters, and since they’re not developed more deeply than their respective phobias, you’re not expecting any of them to make it through the end of the movie. Except for the opening montage, most of the movie’s direction feels pretty ordinary and bland; it’s really hard to believe this came from the same director who gave us THE MALTESE FALCON, THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE, and THE AFRICAN QUEEN. Which perhaps may be why the rating IS so low on IMDB.

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