Thursday, October 25, 2012

31 Days Of Horror Movies 2012 (Part 10)

PHOBIA (1980): When people discuss the directing career of Hollywood legend John Huston, they usually talk about The Maltese Falcon or The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. They don't often bring up his 1980 suspense flick Phobia, which stars Paul Michael Glaser (he was either Starsky or Hutch--I can never quite remember). There's a reason for this--it isn't very good. Phobia, which was filmed in Toronto, stars Glaser as a psychiatrist with a radical new method for confronting phobias--it seems to mostly consist of making his patients, all of whom are convicted felons, stare at large video screens showing depictions of their paralyzing fears (snakes, heights, etc.). His treatment becomes the subject of controversy, particularly when his patients begin falling victim to a serial killer who takes them out in ways that correspond with their specific phobias. Or not, in some cases--for instance, an agoraphobic woman is blown to bits, while another woman who lives in mortal fear of being raped is drowned in a bathtub. The whodunit aspects of the plot, mostly embodied by a pair of bullying detectives played by John Colicos and a very young Kenneth Welsh, aren't very well developed, and the story moves ahead in weird little fits and starts until it's suddenly over without much fanfare. Alien co-writer Ronald Shusett and Hammer legend Jimmy Sangster both worked on the screenplay, but you'd never know it. Huston must have sleepwalked his way through this one--overall, it has the feeling of a strange little Canadian melodrama more than anything else. The only scenes that really pop are the therapy sessions, which have a more ominous tone than anything else in the movie. I first saw, and was fairly creeped out by, Phobia on the Canadian cable channel First Choice when I would have been 7 or 8, and I've always wanted to revisit it--which is why I shelled out fourteen bucks for a bootleg copy at this summer's Fan Expo convention in Toronto. In retrospect, I probably would have been happier with the fourteen bucks, but sometimes you just have to confront your fears, no matter the cost.
THE FUNHOUSE (1981): Poor Tobe Hooper. The director of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre doesn't get a lot of respect--the only other film of his to garner much of a following is Poltergeist, and much of that film's success has been attributed to producer Steven Spielberg, who is said to have directed much of that 1982 blockbuster. Most people consider Hooper's breakthrough gig on TCM to be some kind of fluke, one which he's never quite been able to duplicate. That's a shame, since his 1980 offering, The Funhouse, isn't half bad. This candy-coloured freakshow flick could, at times, almost be the lost Brian DePalma movie--there's voyeurism aplenty in this tale of four teens who hit a travelling carnival and decide to spend the night in the funhouse, getting high and making out. The bratty little brother of one of the girls sneaks along as well, after scaring his sister in an opening sequence that parodies/pays homage to Halloween's famous POV opening and Psycho's legendary shower scene. After ogling the barnyard oddities on display in the carnival's freakshow, the teens end up spying on a Frankenstein-masked carny as he commits a crime of passion, murdering the show's resident fortune teller/prostitute. That mask, it turns out, hides the carny's hideous true face, and the kids are soon being stalked and killed by the monstrous man-child and his abusive carnival barker father. The Funhouse is far from perfect--things don't really get going until about an hour into the ninety-five minute movie, and the four lead kids are pretty much interchangeable--but the score by John Beal is terrific, the mutant maniac is suitably nightmarish, and the funhouse setting is used to garish, ghoulish, effect. Scream Factory's new collector's edition Blu-ray makes particularly effective use of the 5.1 Surround mix, especially during the funhouse ride sequences. It's easy to imagine The Funhouse being a cool, creepy night at the drive-in back in 1980, one that likely put many a fright fan off going to the carnival for good.

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