CanCon 101 and a Career Nadir: John Huston’s Phobia (1980)

January 24, 2013 | By | Add a Comment

It’s Thursday, and kinda cold in T.O. but NOT as cold as the rest of the country –  which most locals will admit instead of the alleged whining stemming from a bored media obsessed with what people think about the weather by the hour and on the hour.

Torontoist ran a report this morning about turning a hydro beltline into a green corridor, and the current contest on how to achieve this re-use of open space. Sounds like a good idea, but playing around towers that read ‘Danger! Do not climb, touch the fence, or gaze for prolonged periods due to risk of unwanted & highly painful human combustion’ isn’t comforting. Besides, anyone who’s seen Durham County [M] can see what it actually looks like when playgrounds and baseball diamonds are nestled between and under hydro towers, and how the characters slowly go bonkers.

Awful film. Cool poster, eh?

Everything above is, of course, meant to be a lead-in to the next CanCon film review, Phobia [M] (1980).

Regarded by some as John Huston’s worst film, it’s what I call a mortgage movie – a lackluster, poorly developed project accepted by an A-level director because it helped offset mortgage costs.

Shot in Toronto, it stars Paul Michael Glaser as a head shrink whose patients start dying in giallo-like fashion. Special thanks to James for facilitating a VHS source – being a tax shelter film directed by an Oscar-winning director that did make some money and was released internationally, it’s still  nowhere to be found on DVD because no one cares.

That’s something I hope will be corrected if and when the Starlight channel debuts. Its mandate is to present new Canadian films, but being realistic, there’s only so much new content at any given time in Canuckle land, so the airwaves will have to be filled with additional CanCon product, including older Quebec films rarely seen outside of the province, more recent films which have either been released on DVD and / or fell out of circulation, and maybe that giant catalogue of titles owned by Alliance which the company utterly failed to exploit on video and online venues.

With EOne’s purchase of Alliance Films official and the latter’s brand name now dead, EOne can perhaps find new venues to fully exploit the huge catalogue of never-seen-again titles which Alliance failed to touch, even on their own specialty channels. The company seemed hell-bent on acquiring libraries and just sitting on them because it felt good, but it frustrated filmmakers to no end when their efforts to get older work on disc went nowhere.

Witness Darrell Wasyk’s weird situation in proposing to release his award-winning H (1990) outside of Canada, and making it available as an import. Maybe he’ll have better luck with EOne, who could (read: should) set up a new line of native special editions, revisiting acclaimed Canadian films we’ve been denied due to Alliance Apathy.

Maybe the erection of Starlight might also get some of those dentists and podiatrists who own tax shelter films to re-negotiate broadcast rights, since a chunk of tax shelter films (those good, bad, and some enjoyably wretched) have never seen a home video release, and if you’ve got a qualified work caked in dust, why not make some money? The last thing we want to see is another rehash of Littlest Hobo reruns (although I’m betting that evil series will be on Starlight’s first broadcast schedule).

Remember how The Grey Fox enjoyed a 30th anniversary screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in November of 2010, and there was talk of a DVD release? Still hasn’t happened, which is proof of how even a critically acclaimed classic can’t find sympathetic, interested parties to get through the rights nightmare. Wouldn’t be surprised if it appears on a U.S. label by 2020 which you & I can import.


Coming Friday: A long review of Hammer House of Horror (1980), nicely remastered on DVD by Synapse; and Steel Magnolias (1989) on Blu via Twilight Time.

Coming next week: an interview podcast with Fernnado Velazquez, composer of the current box office hit Mama.



Mark R. Hasan, Editor ( Main Site / Mobile Site )

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