Directed By: Peter Newbrook
Starring: Robert Powell, Robert Stephens, Jane Lapotaire
Tag line: "The Difference Between Life And Death"
Trivia: A planned remake of this film, announced in 2009, has been indefinitely shelved
A British horror film from 1972, The Asphyx isn’t going to keep you up at night, worrying about a monster under your bed, but it will give you plenty to think about.
Amateur photographer Sir Hugo Cunningham (Robert Stephens), a widower who dabbles in paranormal research, is engaged to be married to Anna (Fiona Wise), and even though she’s considerably younger than he is, Sir Hugo’s adult children Clive (Ralph Arliss) and Christina (Jane Lapotaire) couldn’t be happier for him. Even his adopted son Giles (Robert Powell), who is himself in love with Christina, welcomes Anna with open arms.
In addition to the changes in his personal life, Sir Hugo has made what he believes is a startling discovery. In several pictures he snapped of terminally ill patients on the brink of death, a dark smudge is present, and he's convinced this smudge is, in fact, the soul, captured the moment it departs the body. However, during two separate incidents with his brand new motion picture camera (one of which results in a family tragedy), Sir Hugo realizes that what he’s actually photographed isn’t the soul at all, but an entity the Greeks referred to as an Asphyx, a creature that collects the spirits of the dead and transports them to the afterlife.
Even more shocking is the revelation that, with the help of his fluorescent spotlight, Sir Hugo can trap an Asphyx, preventing it from carrying out its duties. Aided by Giles, he next undertakes a series of experiments to see whether or not the Asphyx holds the secret to eternal life! But as Sir Hugo will soon learn, tampering with death does have its drawbacks.
Any scares to be found in The Asphyx come courtesy of its title creatures, which look and move like puppets, yet let off a deafening scream whenever Sir Hugo shines his light on them (even the first Asphyx, belonging to a tiny guinea pig, puts up a pretty good fight). More than anything, though, The Asphyx is damned fascinating, from its early scenes where Sir Hugo delves into the smudges in his pictures to the moment that he and Giles capture an Asphyx. This latter discovery does, of course, lead to all sorts of questions: what will happen if the Asphyx can’t complete its task? Will the person it came to collect live forever? These queries are, indeed, answered, and the manner in which they’re explored is every bit as interesting as the science behind it all.
Ultimately, The Asphyx may prove frustrating to those horror fans looking for supernatural thrills, but with its various theories on life and death, odds are you’ll be turning this movie over and over in your head for quite some time.
Well, that’s the effect it had on me, anyway.