Saturday, 16 August 2008

The Asphyx (1973)

The Asphyx is in some ways an awesomely bad movie, and yet it’s strangely fascinating as well. Directed by Peter Newbrook, it’s the kind of cinematic weirdness that could only have been made in the 70s (1973 in fact). Robert Stephens is Sir Hugo Cunningham, a Victorian scientist with interests in photography, death and spiritualism. Through his experiments in photography he has discovered a kind of spirit-soul thingy that becomes visible for a brief moment at the instant that a person faces death. He finds a way to trap this spirit-soul thingy (the asphyx) and it promises to allow him to conquer death. He hopes to share this wondrous secret with his family. But this is a horror movie, so you just know this is going to turn out to be a Really Bad Idea.

The disregard for logic and commonsense is breath-taking even by horror movie standards, and the plot is filled with You Have Got To Be Kidding Me moments. In fact the entire film is composed of little else but You Have Got To Be Kidding Me moments, to an extent that compels a kind of stunned admiration. It’s original if nothing else.

The movie looks glorious, and there are some splendid Victorian gadgets. Robert Powell plays Sir Hugo’s adopted son, and goes through the whole movie looking as if he can’t believe he agreed to take this part. Robert Stephens doesn’t just overact; he creates whole new realms of overacting. The sheer strangeness of the movie, and the lack of even the slightest trace of coherence to the plot, have a hypnotic effect. You just have to keep watching, in case it gets even odder. And it does. There’s no gore, but there are some rather icky concepts and some quite macabre moments. The asphyx itself is a very bad special effect that despite this still somehow manages to look extremely creepy.

For all its silliness it’s definitely worth a look. They don’t make movies like this any more. And it is certainly entertaining in its own way. The Region 4 DVD looks terrific.

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