Director – Peter Newbrook
Cast – Robert Stephens, Robert Powell, Jane Lapotaire, Alex Scott, Ralph Arliss, Fiona Walker, Terry Scully, John Lawrence, David Grey
Release Year – 1973
Reviewed by John of the Dead
The Asphyx is a film that interested me the very moment I came across its horror/sci-fi plot, but its slight unavailability kept me from this one until it recently made its way to me. Horror/sci-fi films have always been a treasure to me, and while The Asphyx was not as good as I expected, it still gave me enough of what I wanted to see to result in a mostly-positive watch.
Taking place in the 19th century, we follow Sir Hugo Cunningham(Robert Stephens; Afraid of the Dark), one of England’s greatest minds and a man greatly respected for his work in the realm of science and the unexplainable. When he begins to notice strange markings in photos of the recently deceased, he believes it to be what is commonly referred to as the “soul” leaving the body, and soon enough he receives the answer he has been looking for. When he incidentally captures the deaths of his wife and son on film, Hugo begins and experiment that leads him to capture the very entity he is seeking: The Asphyx, a spirit represented in Greek mythology that is said to live in agony unless it transfers to a human body. Could The Asphyx be the key to human immortality? Hugo believes so, and his quest to find the answer leaves him with eternal hauntings.
As you can tell by the storyline…this is a film I would naturally enjoy. Anything involving the paranormal has my devout attention, and when you throw science into the mix(as this film does) then you are just forcing me to enjoy this more than I deserve to. I can honestly say that I have yet to see a film with this storyline, and I give writer Brian Comport(Girly) and story-creators Christina and Lawrence Beers much credit for giving us a unique story to follow. The character of Sir Hugo Cunningham is a positive and well-written character, a man who’s love and determination for his work forces him to take great risks to not only find the truth but to use it to better he and his family, however his determination proves to be his downfall in the end. The story takes its time moving, and despite this film coming in at a moderate 98 minutes it does pace slowly most of the time. Thankfully, most of what is going on is pretty interesting(if you enjoy these types of films) and come with constant developments of both good and bad fortune for our protagonists. I did however prefer that the film would have “moved” more, which I came to conclude due to the film taking place in only a few locations and not consisting of as much horror as I wanted to see. Most of the horror that we get is positive, but for a film that takes its time with only a 98 minute runtime I wish we would have been given more of what we horror fans show up to see: horror.
Director Peter Newbrook’s only directing credit is this sole film, and while that normally does not say much for someone(unless their career is as an actor) I cannot say that he lacks talent. His execution of the film is positive thanks to its creepy atmosphere and good scenes of horror, however the film does have a very “dated” feel and comes with some special effects that some will balk at. Given the era this film debuted in, the early 70s, I am completely forgiving of the film’s lack of Avatar-esque effects, and feel that they effects were good enough to deliver what Newbrook intended: spine-chilling horror. Despite this not being an entirely scary watch I do feel that The Asphyx comes with enough creep to keep most horror vets at ease, and I give props to Peter Newbrook for doing well what with little he had to work with.
Overall, The Asphyx is an OK early 70s horror film that gives us a unique story consisting of many awesome elements, and despite its flaws it comes with some positive horror as well thanks to mostly-positive direction. The film moves slow, but if you go into this expecting a slow-moving story-driven film with a few creepy scenes then you should find this a mostly-positive horror film as well.