Monday, February 25, 2013

The Asphyx (1973)

Taking a much needed break from some of the brain numbing Alien rip offs that I have subjected myself to and decided to take a gander at this moldy old British horror/thriller. I remember this seeing on T.V. a very long time ago but just couldn’t remember much about it. It just recently made its way into my collection so I thought it was a good time to exercise my cerebral matter with something substantial.

The Asphyx stars Robert Stephens as Hugo Cunningham, a rather brilliant scientist studying spiritual phenomenon during the turn of the century. Hugo believes he has discovered photographic evidence of the human soul escaping the human body precisely at the moment of death. 
The human spirit....or is it?

 During a family outing, Hugo uses his newly invented moving picture camera to record his son and fiancĂ© in a boat. During the filming his son strikes his head on a large branch and is knocked over board. His fiancĂ© falls into the water as well as the boat overturns. They both perish in the black lake water and Hugo is devastated. While watching the developed film of the accident Hugo sees a black shape enter into his sons body when he strikes his head. Hugo believes this to be the human soul but why would it be “entering” the body? Upon further research Hugo believes the shape to be an Asphyx, a Greek spirit that only appears at the moment of a person’s death. This spirit is believed to take them to the spiritual realm. Hugo then hypothesizes that if he can somehow capture this spirit he could thus become immortal.

The Asphyx catcher......or spotlight?

With help from his assistant/adopted son Giles (Robert Powell), Hugo creates an apparatus to capture the Asphyx and experiments on a guinea pig. The Asphyx is successfully captured and Hugo turns the machine on himself. Hugo uses an electric chair and takes himself to the edge of death to summon his own Asphyx. Again he is successful and locks his Asphyx in a type of vault in which it cannot escape. Hugo decides that both his daughter Christina (Jane Lapotaire) and Giles need to go through the same process so that they all can be immortal. 

Hugo subjects himself to near death in the name science.

Christina however dies during the process and Hugo decides to release his Asphyx. Giles agrees to help him as long as the process is performed on himself first. Giles however has other plans and basically commits suicide during the process. Hugo is left with no other choice but to live forever and suffer the grief of what he has done. His only companion being the immortal guinea pig.

Lots of talkin'......but nicely framed in TODD A-O.

The Asphyx was directed by Peter Newbrook, who before this feature had been on the second unit of photography for Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and had done camera work for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) among other classic titles. The Asphyx was his only directorial effort. I’m not really sure why although the film is a bit slowly paced and rather talky. I don’t mind that but it has to work perfectly in order not to put the viewer to sleep. In the case of The Asphyx, it didn’t work that well. I did find myself drifting a bit during the last half hour. However to me that is not unusual with some of the British efforts that came out in the 60’s and 70’s. 

One of the most atmospheric shots in the it!

The cinematography was excellent. The turn of the century setting was captured very well and the movie was filmed in TODD A-O which is basically a 70mm process but not true 70mm. It is a widescreen high resolution format that was used in the 50’s and up until the 1980’s. The process was adopted by Panavision and Cinerama. I viewed the Interglobal VHS release of The Asphyx (sub titled “Spirit of the Dead” which was one of its alias) so I wasn’t able to see the film in all its grandeur but I have made sure to include screen shots from the DVD release which presents the film in its proper framing. Visually it is a pretty stunning film even with its dated special effects. I believe it needs to be seen in its proper aspect ratio to really be appreciated. The Asphyx isn’t a fast paced thriller but pretty entertaining and certainly worth a viewing.

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