"In 1885, a female doctor helping a group of people with their phobias becomes embroiled in a murder mystery surrounding a patient that may or may not be a vampire."
What the Hell did I just watch? It's not often that a movie is so soulless and ineptly made that it leaves me speechless, but this is one of those times. After "Phobia" ended, I sat staring at the blank page on my computer screen for three hours afterwards waiting for the neurons in my brain to reconnect, and then I had to go to bed for a long depression nap before I could bear thinking about it again.
Even though it's only 90 minutes long, "Phobia" feels several times longer because of how dialogue heavy and boring it is. When I say boring, I mean really boring in the way that watching an amateur dramatics production or a high school play is boring. Actually, no, this is worse than either of those; "Phobia" is seven-year-olds-performing-a-nativity-play-boring but in a foreign language which you don't understand. I was familiar with the subject matter, I knew what was intended, but I couldn't process it because it was so shit.
How any movie could be both overwritten and overacted but contain characters so underdeveloped at the same time is a mystery to me, although I'd hazard a guess that it must take some severely misplaced genius to create such a thing and a lot of luck to get it distributed. Maybe not so much luck since "Phobia" is only another one of many Gravitas Ventures VOD movies which I've written off this year, but still... I can't even... I don't know... my head is full of FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUU! Sorry for writing like a fifteen-year-old, but honestly, this movie was probably written by a teenager too. With no nudity, swearing, or anything more gory than you'd see in an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", it's definitely PG-13 all the way, and it's impossible to call it horror with a straight face.
|She's dressed as a man, but he's wearing a fake beard. WTF?|
If you can concentrate on anything in the first half-hour without being distracted by Erica Leerhsen's thumbsucker-mouth which stands out more because she's supposed to be disguised as a man (à la "Yentl") then you're a slightly better person than me. But if you don't wonder why she still wears a girl's wig, or notice that Sigmund Freud (played by Matt Moore) has a ridiculous fake beard, there's no hope for you as a movie critic. I know this is a low-budget B movie of sorts, but what the bloody Hell were they thinking?
Also how can anyone hire Eric Leerhsen—the only girl in "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2" (2000) who gets naked—and not ask her to get naked again? Wouldn't a clichéd and gratuitous nude shower/bath scene being overlooked by another character make a better reveal of her gender than removing a stupid black wig which doesn't match her ginger eyebrows? It's not as if you can't see that she's a woman anyway, but... oh my God!
Bearing in mind that director Jon Keeyes is only a couple of weeks younger than me and hasn't directed anything worthwhile other than "American Nightmare" (2002), a few shorts, and a couple of horror TV shows for kids, he should still know better. Exactly what age group is "Phobia" intended for? It's too talky for kids and too tame for adults. And what's with all the badly spoken French with subtitles? It's distancing, alienating, and irritating. It certainly doesn't make the period setting more realistic.
|You just have to have a bald Nosferatu guy called Guy!|
Once there are no more scenes of Americans butchering the French language, things improve slightly, but just to redress the balance towards crap again, half of them now need to have fake Romanian accents which are more like Russian. Has no one ever heard a Romanian speak before? They usually sound Latin (for obvious reasons including Romanian being a Romance language) not Russian! Jesus wept! And was it really necessary to have a bald-headed Nosferatu lookalike just so that everyone knows that this is a vampire movie? Seriously?
Beautiful Tiffany Lonsdale spices the eyecandy up a bit as bald Guy's sister with claustrophobia, but the lack of any family resemblance is uncanny. She doesn't even look like anyone in the family portraits or her cousin Val Drakul! Maybe she was adopted or a lusty milkman paid her mother a visit? Casting decisions were clearly not a strong point, so it's probably better to not overthink these things.
At least everything improves considerably after the location change from Paris to California (although it's really Texas). Once Erica Leerhsen starts wearing big Victorian dresses, lets her hair out, puts on some lipstick, and looks like a woman again, she's actually quite pretty. She's still not believable as a doctor, and her relationship with Nicholas Brendon lookalike Chase Ryan Jeffery lacks chemistry, but to give credit where it's due, her performance gets much better as the story progresses. The fact that Dr. Lesley doesn't get the chance to cure her patients' phobias is relatively unimportant.
Stephanie Rhodes (the Camp Counselor in the "Friday the 13th" remake) steals the show completely in her scenes as sexy Elizabeth, the ward of agoraphobic Annabel Lee (Carolyn Wickwire), but not enough is made of her to be memorable overall. Without any eroticism or some desperately needed sex scenes, why even add a lesbian facet to Elizabeth's character? What's the point? Again, who are the target audience?
The saddest thing is that everyone in "Phobia" can act! They've all been in other things before, whether TV shows or movies, and they don't disgrace themselves once you take into account what they had to work with. The fault rests almost entirely with the script despite annoying background music which outstays its welcome, lethargic pacing, cheap-looking camerawork, and a lot of staginess which doesn't help. Whatever clever period mystery Anne Gibson may have thought she was creating, it would have been better as a pulp YA novel than a movie. To say that "Phobia" is reminiscent of Kim Newman would be an insult more than a compliment, however, since I can't stand that grinnygog or his books.
|Okay, she does look a bit better in a dress.|
On the plus side, the way the use of hypnotism and vampires are combined into a mystery seems to be fairly original. If my mind wasn't still numb, I'm sure that I could find better examples than "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" or "The Vampire Lovers" to prove myself wrong, but as all roads lead back to Hammer and Bram Stoker's "Dracula", I'm positive that there's nothing new here other than the way it's presented. A couple of homages to Edgar Allan Poe are harmless additions.
Before I wrap this up, I have to mention the effects. Apart from the wig and beard fiasco, the make-up is generally good and a couple of torn throats look the part. Inevitably, there are some very cheap "Buffy-esque" CGI effects near the end which place this movie in the "Syfy Original wannabe" category and will doom it to appearing in Echo Bridge or Mill Creek multipacks one day, but they do provide some horror action. I doubt that "Phobia" will ever been shown on TV unless Chiller (or Zone Horror/The Horror Channel in the UK) get it for next to nothing though.
According to the IMDb, the ensemble cast from "Phobia" is due to reappear in "The Harrowing" (2014) but with the addition of Debbie Rochon instead of Erica Leerhsen. As I'm done with being a masochist after suffering through this borefest, I think it'll be another good one to miss.