The Asphyx

The Asphyx (1973)
All Day Entertainment
Cast: Robert Stevens, Jane Lapotaire, Robert Powell
Extras: Production Notes, Filmographies, Reproduction of the American Presskit

If you are All Day Entertainment, trying to restore forgotten films to the public eye, or attempting to bring smaller films to a wider audience, you’re faced with a variety of problems that must be solved. Aside from tricky licensing and legal issues, there are also quality issues to take into consideration. Unfortunately, less-successful movies do not get much attention and treatment, and detecting quality source materials for new transfers can be just as challenging and time-consuming as the actual production and release of these titles. Luckily, All Day Entertainment take their responsibility very seriously, attempting to protect valuable, yet commercially unsuccessful, movies from their inevitable fall into obscurity. One of their biggest challenges must have been the restoration of "The Asphyx", a splendid British horror film from 1973. All Day were unable to locate the film’s interpositive, and the best materials they could get their hands on were a poorly done <$PS,pan&scan> version and a terribly faded 35 mm release print of the movie. None of these would suffice for today’s standards of high quality DVD releases or do justice to the filmmaker’s careful photography, and so, using the <$PS,pan&scan> version for color reference, colorist Bob Johanson painstakingly digitally re-mastered and color corrected the complete movie, preserving the movie’s original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. If you want to learn more about this procedure, click here and we will transfer you to All Day’s website for a comprehensive look at the film’s restoration.

The story unfolds around Sir Hugo Cunningham (Robert Stevens), a wealthy philanthropist with a morbid hobby an interest in taking pictures of dying people. He believes he’s discovered intriguing evidence of a mythical spirit of the dead, captured on numerous of his photographs. He calls it the Asphyx, and believes it to be the soul escaping feeble bodies only moments before their deaths.

One summer day, his fiancée and son die during a family photo shoot, once again revealing the existence of the asphyx. Devastated by the loss of his loved ones, Sir Hugo searches for ways to prove the existence of the asphyx. One day, during a public execution he is photographing, he makes a strange discovery. When he turns on the spotlight for better illumination of his object, the asphyx is fully visible for everyone to see. It seems that the ethereal being is captured in the light circle, unable to escape. With his daughter’s boyfriend Giles (Robert Powell), he performs a series of experiments and captures the asphyx of a guinea pig. By doing so, he discovers that while the asphyx is held captive, the beast cannot die. Completely obsessed with the thought of having immortality within his reach, he decides to capture his own asphyx in a daring experiment and strive for immortality, the age old dream of mankind. After successfully capturing and locking away his asphyx, he insists on his daughter and Giles doing the same, fearing that he might lose them as he lost his fiancée and son. Scared and insecure, his daughter Christina (Jane Lapotaire) agrees to oblige her father’s wish. Unfortunately, things don’t work out the way as planned, and a terrible accident occurs; the two survivors are left guilty of her death.

"The Asphyx" is a gothic horror movie in the best tradition of the classic Hammer Horror films which, ironically, turned out to be its commercial downfall. Everything about the movie is tastefully created, resulting in very dense atmospheric imagery and a stylish looking production with an unmistakably classy British feel. One would expect Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing to appear at any moment in the movie. Fifteen years into degrading Hammer Horror movies, and paired up at the box office against "The Exorcist", it was apparent that the time was ripe for more graphic and explicit horror movies. There was little room for traditional, moderate horror films, such as "The Asphyx", making it a commercial disaster despite its outstanding quality.

The movie works on different levels, which is what makes it so interesting and unique. Apart from the visual aspects, the story itself is unpredictable and swiftly leads from one wrinkle in the plot to another. With its opening scene set in the present, one would expect a chilling murder movie, but with a sudden cut to the late 19th century, it becomes very obvious that there must be more to this film. This is the way many elements of the movie work, forcing the viewer to think while watching.

Despite being, in the main, a simple mad-scientist movie, "The Asphyx" weaves many other aspects into the plot as the story unfolds its menace. It works with a number of metaphors and subconscious, personal experiences, just like the best of the Hammer movies did. The Asphyx, the essence of life in this film, is extracted by the scientist in order to cheat death, just as Dracula drinks his victims’ life-bringing blood to remain immortal. And though the title suggests otherwise, the asphyx is not the threatening antagonist in this movie; it is actually Sir Hugo with his cold-blooded, calculating demeanor. It is frightening how unaffected the man is, even as he watches others die. Absorbed in his own world, the only thing of interest to him is proving the existence of a soul or spirit and capturing it for his own reasons.

As I have mentioned earlier, "The Asphyx" has been meticulously restored for this release on DVD, despite all the problems All Day Entertainment faced. The image quality is good, though somewhat soft throughout. Considering the source used for this transfer, the quality of both the image and the coloration is staggering. It has been very carefully treated and, apart from a few visible discolorations in certain shots, it exhibits a sound and rather naturally rendered image. Some of the shadow detail is lost in the overly dark transfer, even though no <$chroma,chroma noise> or <$pixelation,pixelation> is noticeable. The movie is presented in its original theatrical 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio.

If there is one bad thing I’d have to say about this movie, it would have to be the music, which is too light and 70s hip for the overall somber mood of the film and its setting. The disc features an English language monaural 2.0 <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack that sounds dated and somewhat undistinguished. I tip my hat to All Day Entertainment for both the selection of this title for their catalog and the amount of work they put into this release. With this DVD they have ensured that this excellent movie will not once again fall between the cracks and vanish into the realms of some unknown archives. It is there in all its glory, perfectly restored and preserved for generations to come. "The Asphyx" is a stylish gothic horror movie with a rich storyline. It is a shame this movie has never had the exposure it deserved, but I am sure this magnificent DVD will change this soon.