The Asphyx (1972)
WRITER: Brian Comport
DIRECTOR: Peter Newbrook
STARRING: Robert Stephens as Hugo
Robert Powell as Giles
Jane Lapotaire as Christina
Fiona Walker as Anna
QUICK CUT: A philanthropic paranormal scientist discovers the reason people die, so his first instinct is naturally to trap it.
Hugo - A dedicated scientist and philanthropist, who specialises in paranormal research around the 1870s. So his science is a bit questionable, but I'll give him a pass. He loves his family, and his work, and will do anything for his fellow man, and continue the proud tradition of the Cunninghams helping humanity.
Giles - Hugo's adopted son, and in love with his adopted sister. He's as dedicated to Christina as Hugo is to his family, and will do anything for her. He's generally used as Hugo's assistant.
Christina - She has little to do beyond being the loving daughter, and love interest, but she does also serve as the occasional voice of reason in the mad experiments, once she discovers them.
THE GUTS: I don't even have time to say hello before the first death in this movie, as that's practically the itroductory image we see! It happens so soon into the movie, I can't even give you my usual intro first! BOOM, death!
ANYways, welcome, Triskelions! I had other plans for today, but tossed that 'til next year for a little something special. I cleared this day to be the last chance for those few movies I'm *still* waiting on to appear, but nothing still! So once again, we dip into England's wealth of gothic hoirror from the 70s, with *snickers* The Asphyx. I will *try* to keep any and all jokes about an ass-fix to a minimum. We are all mature adults here.
As I already said, we start out with a car crash, but there IS another survivor...whom we won't get to for now, because we're jumping back 100 years from that present, so almost 140 years from today. Okay then...
We quickly meet scientist Hugo, his girlfriend/fiance Anna, and all of Hugo's kids; Clive, Christina, and his adopted son Giles who's in love with Christina. Awwwwkward.
Anna tries and pick Hugo's brain about his parapsychological and photographical research, but he's reticent to share, since it's pretty fantastical. Fortunately for us, we get to follow him to a meeting of his paranormal society, taking photographs of the dead, and trying to figure out what all these strange smudges are on the photographs.
They believe what they've captured is the soul, in the moment of the person's death. Welcome to Ghost Hunters: 1872 edition!
After a trip to the family crypt establishing the philanthropic bent of the Cunningham line, they all head out to the river so Hugo can play with his new *movie* camera. Oooh, is it a talkie??
He films his kids and fiance rowing out in the river, until a dire accident happens, and Clive hits his head on a branch, sending him and Anna into the river, where somehow they drown. It's more of a plot point than anything else, to motivate Hugo, but it's a calm river that doesn't look very deep...until they're dumped into it and Anna sails down into *rapids* of all things.
Now, I can buy Clive, he cracked his head and probably fell unconscious. Anna on the other hand... But whatever, it moves the plot along, and gives Hugo his motivation later on.
Two weeks later, Hugo develops his home movies, because he wants to see his lost family members again, but while watching Clive's demise, he is amazed to see that the film suddenly zooms in on Clive's accident. Yeah, that doesn't make sense with this technology, and they're just running a B&W print of the actual movie. Oops.
*Ahem* I mean, he's amazed to see that he captured the smudge on his movie, and it's not just a smudge, but something moving, coming for Clive. But it can't be the soul leaving Clive, since as I said, the smudge is coming towards him.
Hugo and Giles try and figure out just what they're seeing, and Hugo recalls something from greek mythology, a spirit of death, called the Asphyx. A spirit that is trapped in unspeakable torment, and possesses those who are about to die so it can die, and be released from its own pain.
Giles has possibly the best line in the movie, "This isn't science!!" Oh, oh how little idea you have, Giles. This gets way less science the deeper we go. Just you wait, good sir!
In the extended edition, they try and explain the ability to capture this creature on film by the chemicals used to sensitise the film, and yeah, okay, if you say so. But hey, if I can buy the reason vampires couldn't be photographed was the silver emulsion on film, then sure, I can run with this. Also, they explain that the Asphyx is intelligent enough to sense actual intent and fear and danger, so it won't come if you're faking trying to kill yourself, which is clever, I'll give them that. Honestly, while this is a talky scene, it's actually pretty important to the plot, and I have zero idea why it was cut! I guess cutting out scenes that actually develop plot and character isn't a new idea.
Fortunately for their research, someone decides it's time for a public execution, giving Hugo a handy dead body to film and try and further his theories. Strange how there hasn't been one for years, and the moment we need dying bodies, BAM!...yay plot contrivance!
So the crowd gathers for the execution, with all their "God Hates Asphyxes" signs, and Hugo shows up with a strange spotlight contraption that can somehow trap an Asphyx in place, because blue crystals and science?
Oh, and with the bonus side effect that as long as the Asphyx is trapped, the hanging man can't die.
"If the chemicals I use can capture it on film, why not the process by which my light booster works??" Because of science, Hugo!
But Hugo's brand of science must trudge onwards, and he sends Giles out to find him some more guinea pigs to experiment with.
So, our heroes poison the poor guinea pig and wait until it's in pain and dying, to activate the light booster, once again trapping an Asphyx in the spotlight. Nice to know that even the smallest creatures have Asphyxes to trap and watch. The insect Asphyxes must be suuuper busy.
The pair use the light booster to nudge the Asphyx over to a small coffin shaped box Hugo has prepared, with a smaller light booster atop it, to try and trap the creature inside, under a permanent light beam it can't escape from.
Well, at least not until the water the booster uses runs out. Or the crystals. Or... Yeah, this plan seems to have flaws. But for now, Death takes a holiday.
They try and complicate matters by having issues with the two beams being unable to merge, because the Asphyxiated beam is stronger and dominant. So Hugo adds more crystals to the box's booster, and this allows the beams to merge and the Asphyx to be transferred and trapped inside. Why? Because! *shrug emoji!*
So, Hugo has found a way to remove Death from the equation. Yeah, I know how this story goes. Now that the Beyonder has killed Death, someone else is gonna have to take her place. It would be easier to cheat Death by beating it at Uno...
Anyways, now that the animal trials are over, it's time to move onto the human trials, and Hugo heads out and finds a poor, sick man to take in and wait to die, to try and grab his Asphyx.
They trap the Asphyx, but things don't go entirely to plan, as the poor dying man is in extreme agony at the edge of death, with the spectre trapped in the spotlight. The man grabs some acidic photographic chemicals that Chekov showed off earlier, throws them at Hugo's face, and before you can say Harvey Dent, the lights are shut down in all the confusion, and the man is given sweet, sweet release.
But this is when Giles figures out what Hugo is really up to, and that he is really pursuing immortality. Because that wasn't already obvious? What *other* goal is there for stopping death? Hugo wants the immortality for himself, to see the world grow and change, and continue the Cunningham tradition of guiding it himself.
Oh, and also, he wants to bring Giles and Christina along for the never ending ride, because family.
So, Hugo makes his death plans, and has Giles get a combination lock for the vault where his Asphyx will be hidden away. Only Giles will know the combination to the lock, so it will never escape, and Hugo can never be tempted to release it. Well, there's nothing that can go wrong with immortality you can't end.
I mean, unless you get an axe and bust down the door, but shhhh.
Can you just imagine your assigned Asphyx finding out you're suddenly going to kill yourself, or there's an accident, and he has to rush down from the bar to possess you and end its own torment?
Faster than you can say Shocker: 1872, the electrocutional begins, but that's when Christina shows up and tries to save her father. Oh, they also kinda forgot they need two people to operate both lights, so it's actually a good thing she stumbled on their little experiment. Otherwise, we'd have a Hugoner.
"I've got to absorb your beam into mine! Do you understand??" I JUST WALKED IN HERE AND MY FATHER IS BEING ELECTROCUTED AND THERE IS A SCREAMING BLUE HELLBEAST IN A SPOTLIGHT YOU WANT ME TO PUSH TOWARDS A COFFIN! NO NO I DO NOT UNDERSTAND. NOT ONE BIT!
But the experiment is a success! Hugo is a little bit singed, but he's not dead, and cannot die! Boy, if only Thanos knew it was that easy to grab Death, his courtship would've been a lot easier. Forget the Infinity St...Gems, find a light booster, Thanos!
So now they have to bring Christina into the plot, and she doesn't believe it at first. And when she does, she questions the morality and godliness of it.
Hugo is determined to prove to Christina that he's immortal, and Giles takes her down to the family crypt the next day, where her father was sealed up in a coffin. Good thing he can't be asphyxiated, right? I don't know what that's supposed to prove really. He got a good night's sleep? Sure, they say it was air tight, but there's plenty of ways around that if he wanted to trick her.
Whatever, she's now a believer, and on top of that, her father has given her and Giles his blessing to get married! OH, just one thing, only if they get immortalised!
After a brief distraction with one of Hugo's colleagues trying to pry, he finally convinces Christina to kill herself, so he won't lose another child.
So yeah, Giles rigs up this overly elaborate device to kill Christina, and trick the Asphyx. It involves a guillotine, and his skill at stopping the blade JUST before it decapitates her. Yeah, nothing can go wrong here.
Christina expresses plenty of NOPE the instant she sees the guillotine, but they still somehow get her to lay down beneath the blade. Oh, but they've taken EXTRA precautions to ensure a constant drip of water to the Magic Crystals, so there is NO WAY that they will run out of water on accident.
And wouldn't you know it?? That damned guinea pig comes along and eats through the tube. In the ensuing chaos to try and supply more light and keep the Asphyx trapped, Hugo bumps into Giles, and the blade drops, killing Christina.
In fairness, she's still *alive*, but before this becomes The Thing That Couldn't Die, Hugo releases the Asphyx so she can die, rather than spend her life as a head in a pan.
Hugo gives into despair over killing his daughter, and wants to release his Asphyx, rather than be damned to eternal guilt and remorse.
Giles has his own guilt he must assuage, and convinces Hugo to immortalise him, to give him time to atone for his sins, and continue Hugo's work. And in return, he will give Hugo the combination to the vault.
But we see Giles has other plans besides becoming immortal and one day become a member of the Watchers Council. He swaps out the Magic Blue Crystals for some other crystals to sabotage the lights.
We then see him burn the combination, and place the ashes in the envelope for Hugo. This guy is taking no chances to screw over his dad!
So the time of Giles' supposed immortalisation comes, and he keeps Hugo away from the crystals, and gives him the sealed envelope, to be opened once things are done, or in case things go wrong and Giles dies like Christina.
Giles' death involves him getting into a small box, where gas will be pumped in until he dies. And in case anything goes wrong, he has oxygen rigged up for Hugo to turn on, until he can hoist the box up and save him. He thinks of *everything!*
The executional begins, but of course the light booster doesn't work, and Hugo turns off the gas, and cranks up the oxygen. Giles watches as he does this, and pulls out a box of matches, uttering Christina's name one last time before he makes everything go boom.
Everything goes boom, Giles is turned into a fine red mist, and Hugo is left to literally pick up the pieces of his ruined workshop.
Hugo doesn't put things together, and blames himself for killing his other adopted son. He takes out the envelope, and before he can open it and discover it's nothing but ashes anyways, he burns it, leaving him unable to ever open the vault of horrors and release his Asphyx. Leaving him an immortal who seeks to atone for his sins.
Well, unless he gets an axe. Or a sledgehammer. Or a battering ram. Or a locksmith. Or a safecracker. Or...
And so we leap back to the present day of the 1970s, where an ancient, wrinkled Hugo, who can no longer die, but will forever age, walks into traffic with his equally cursed guinea pig friend, and gets hit by the cars. And so the movie ends where it began. But don't worry, Hugo. I have it on good authority that given strange aeons, even death may die...
Video: For 95% of the movie, this looks great. The video's pretty sharp, the colour is great, way beyond anyone would expect from a 40 year old British film. The other 5% is just a mention for the extended edition. The added footage came from an old print of the movie, and the best that Kino Lorber had for this edition of the film. But with the few plot points the extended edition restores, it's the version I'd recommend viewing, even if the quality drops sharply. The story is the important thing.
Audio: A good mix where everything's nice and clear, although maybe a bit on the quiet side for my liking.
Sound Bite: "That guinea pig can't die, unless we release it's Asphyx!" Stop grabbing asphyxes!
Body Count: A fairly small number, all things being told. But it's a small film, and it's about cheating death, so that's fair!
1 - Dead body in a car accident, right out the gate!
2 - And another in the opposing car!
3 - Hugo's son conks his head and falls into the river.
4 - Anna sails off into the rapids
5 - A poor hapless soul dies for Hugo's experiments, but not before trying to create Two-Face: 1872
6 - Christina dies after her botched execution goes horribly right.
7 - In a fit of despair, Giles goes boom.
Best Corpse: That goes to poor Christina, who lived like a chicken for a few seconds after her head was sliced clean off.
Blood Type - F-: I don't think there was a single drop of blood in this movie, which is amazing for something where someone is splattered on the walls after an explosion, and someone else gets decapitated...
Sex Appeal: Scoff! Pssh! Tosh! Not in such a British movie! Harrumphharrumph.
Drink Up! every time you hear the word Asphyx, because I'm 12 and that shit is hilarious.
Video Nasties: Y'know, with what I said last time, this *probably* shouldn't be my video clip, since it's too long, too dry, and too British, but hey. I like it, the science is hilarious, and it's a good summation of the entire movie, really, as Hugo and Giles try and capture Squeaker's Asphyx.
Movie Review: Much like last week's anthology, this is very British. Probably moreso, although it's considerably less dry, and has some more emotion and range to it. It's VERY Gothic, and VERY wannabe Hammer, minus the attempt to cram in boobs and make people watch for the more lurid reasons. In fact, yeah, I like that. The Asphyx is like a more respectable, serious Hammer movie. The story is well told enough, although the plot holes are large enough for you to crash a car through. The science is laughable. It would've been laughable with photography knowledge in the 1970s, and it's even moreso now. Can you imagine if the Asphyx was real, how many would be captured on camera phones now? Actually, there's a sequel/update idea there somewhere, but I digress. Still, it's a decent enough flick. The story's good, it's classical horror in the gothic tradition. I'm not sure if it's better or worse for not being as exploitationy as a Hammer film. I enjoyed it though, so three out of five screaming Asphyxes.
Entertainment Value: The acting on this is pretty good. Everyone's on point, and only Hugo gets to chew the scenery when things are really going wrong for him. Or he's being electrocuted. But the actor has good range from normal, rational Hugo, to crazed and despairing Hugo, determined to find the Asphyx. The effects on the creature are good for what they are, and the movie is just weird enough to be weird. There's a lot of cheese based on classic movies just being kinda silly, and the science is downright laughable and fun. Plenty of fun, silly bits here, but nothing really stands out, as the bad parts aren't bad enough to make it so bad it's good, and the good bits don't really raise it up. But it's still fun, if dry and maybe a bit slow. But hey, it's British, right? Three out of five light boosters.