SPOILER ALERT! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS! SPOILER ALERT!
A scientist, Sir Hugo Cunningham, has been investigating what happens at the moment of death. As he has captured on film what he believes to be the soul leaving the body, which appears as a smudge mark on the photos. After creating a device (a light booster) to allow him to see the being more clearly he discovers that it is infact an Asphyx (a Spirit of Death), every person has an Asphyx and it only appears at your moment of death to take your soul. Using his light booster he believes he can capture the Asphyx and transport it via the beam of light into another light booster in the form of a box with a constant beam of blue light to keep the Asphyx imprisoned. If he can successfully capture and imprison a person's Asphyx, then that person's soul can never leave their body and this will allow them to live forever. But to what cost is Sir Hugo willing to go in order to immortalise himself?
The Asphyx is a 1972 Glendale Film Productions prduction. It stars Robert Stephens, Robert Powell and Jane Lapotaire. It was directed by Peter Newbrook. A remake of The Asphyx is currently in the works.
First of all, I'd like to commend whoever designed the Asphyx, as the actual Asphyx itself is of rather eerie design, and accompanied with it's horrifying squeal, it makes for quite a disturbing and terrifying creature.
I love the science to this story, I may not understand all of it, but it's well within reason and belief. With the exception of those “magic” blue crystals which power the blue light in the light boosters, I'm not too certain as to why they can trap the Asphyx. Other than that the science is sound. Essentially, everyone has an Asphyx (their own personal Spirit of Death which takes their soul at their moment of death) and so if you can capture your Asphyx and stop it from taking your soul then your soul in turn can not leave your body and theoretically you can live forever. I think that's a brilliant premise for a story.
Hugo not only uses photographs to capture the soul leaving the body but he also uses moving pictures using a device he has invented to do so. So essentially, he has just invented the world's first camcorder and hasn't gone public with it. Doesn't he realise he could make a lot of money of this invention? Then he'd have even more money to fund his experiments.
That is hilarious! Sir Hugo has enlisted the help of his adopted son (Giles) and now they are conducting the experiment to trap Hugo's Asphyx so that he may live forever. Now in order to do this there are two very important pieces of equipment that have to be turned on; both light boosters. So that should be simple enough to remember. The Asphyx only manifests itself at the moment you are about to die, so Hugo straps himself into an electric chair and Giles is in control of the light booster. Everything is going tickety-boo until Giles has captured the Asphyx in the beam of light from the first light booster then realises he forgot to turn on the other light booster to contain it in and in horror shouts “THE OTHER BOOSTER!”. All the while poor Hugo is still being electrocuted, which is done brilliantly by the way, it's horrible there's even smoke coming off him because he's been a good while getting electrocuted that now he's actually beginning to burn. Don't worry all gets sorted in the end. Hugo's daughter comes down after hearing the screams from her father as he's being electrocuted and the screams from the Asphyx. So Giles gets her to hold the light booster while he turns the other one on.
WARNING! I'M ABOUT TO DISCUSS THE ENDING! WARNING!
(note: it's a good ending, and as such I want to discuss the sheer brilliance of it, but obviously if you don't want it spoiling skip the next 2 paragraphs)
Hugo promises to immortalise both Giles and his daughter whom Giles wishes to marry. After being pressured into being made immortal, the experiment goes wrong and Hugo's daughter is killed. This leaves Giles resentful and as such he plots against Hugo. Hugo now no longer wants to be immortal because he no longer has anything to live for, but he doesn't know the combination to the locked door on the room which contains his trapped Asphyx, so now he's unable to release it. Only Giles knows the combination and makes a deal with Hugo so that if he immortalises him he will give him the combination. Giles explains that he wants to be immortalised so that he may actually have a chance to overcome his guilt of his wife-to-be getting killed, as one lifetime wouldn't be enough to do so. Hugo accepts the terms of his agreement. Just before the experiment, Giles gives Hugo a sealed envelope containing the combination. Giles' chosen method of death is to be gassed, but having no intention of being immortalised he changes the blue crystals for white ones, which results in Hugo not being able to capture the Asphyx, believing his equipment to not be working. Then when Hugo isn't looking Giles strikes a match and ignites the gas which is being used to bring him to his moment of death. Giles is killed leaving Hugo believing that he has killed Giles as well as his daughter, so heads down to the room to release his Asphyx so that he may die. But as he gets there he thinks about what Giles said about needing more than one life time to be able to overcome his guilt for what he had done and instead burns the envelope containing the combination. Then we see a very old Hugo in present day 1972, who walks out into the street in between two cars just as they are about to collide, then the screen freeze frames and we hear the cars crash. Now to back track to the beginning of the film which I haven't mentioned yet, it starts out in 1972 with a policeman attending to a crash where we see a man's legs sticking out of the wreckage so the policeman goes to pull him out and states that the man is still alive. Which I think is a great ending, the film actually comes full circle.
Alternatively, the American cut has an extra 10 minutes or so of scenes that were deleted from the UK cut. One such scene I feel is redundant as it shows Giles burning the combination, leaving the audience to believe that he is double crossing Hugo giving him either an empty envelope or (what I was expecting) a letter explaining his double crossing just to piss Hugo off. But no, it ended the same as the UK cut, with him burning it in order to overcome his guilt, so for me the American cut isn't as good because the ending doesn't fully make sense, that scene with Giles burning the combination is irrelevant.
Overall, I thought this was a great film with a brilliant and original story. The acting was really good, except maybe Jane Lapotaire, she seemed a bit over the top at times for me and just not as good as the others, she was a bit of a disappointment compared to the other actors who were good. Robert Stephens was brilliant as the man obsessed with his work, obsessed so much that he wouldn't even let his daughter who didn't want to be immortalised stop his plans of having his family immortalised. Robert Powell was great too, being a fan of him anyway, I just love seeing him in stuff even though whenever he shouts all I can think of is him shouting at Jasper Carrott in The Detectives. So far I've only seen (because I only know of) 2 British horror films starring Robert Powell (Asylum and The Asphyx) and both are great. So hopefully there are more out there, all I can say is “Keep 'em coming”. Back on the topic of The Asphyx, there may be some aspects of the science that I don't fully understand but as I mentioned earlier it's not completely out there and unbelievable, it's fully within the parameters of believable reality and as such makes it even better. I personally feel it is made better for being set in the 1800s, it's just a personal preference that I have for quite a lot of horror films. So I'm really hoping that the remake isn't set in present day which I have a really bad feeling it will be, as most horrors usually are these days. So yes, go see this. Seek it out and watch it, it's very good. But don't get the Anchor Bay release from the early 2000s as the quality is terrible, get the 2 disc release that came out either last year or the year before.
The Asphyx 5/5