The Asphyx (1 hr 39 mins)
Oh amazon.ca, how I love thee! You send me emails of obscure horror movies from days gone by, and this one is no exception. Just had to order it, along with a few other gems that I will reveal in due time.
This period piece done in 1973, is all about immortality and how you can get it. It opens in “modern-day” at the scene of a car crash, where a man is pulled from the wreckage. We abruptly cut to Sir Hugo Cunningham (Robert Stephens), a Victorian scientist that has found love again. He brings home his lovely young fiancée, Anna, to meet his 3 adult children, Christina, Clive and Giles. He is also researching captured moments of death, odd smudges that denotes the exact departure of the soul from the body, on film. Family and science collide when a horrible boating accident takes the lives of his son Clive and fiancée Anna as Sir Hugo is filming them with his early motion picture camera. This fuels Sir Hugo in his search for answers about death, and proof that there is something to his theories. He is obsessed with the Greek myth of the Asphyx, or the spirit of death, that exists in eternal agony and appears in times of danger and great fear. His colleague asks him to film a public execution to show how barbaric and archaic this practice is, and Sir Hugo brings his spotlight doohicky to try to capture something, anything, to prove his death theory. His spotlight reveals a blurred apparition at the time of the criminal’s death, that horrifies the protesting crowd and stuns the presiding officials. Hugo is freaked out and refuses to speak about the incident, but realizes that the light device can somehow capture the Asphyx.
Enter the guinea pig. This little guy turns out to be quite the pest. He is the first successful experiment for Sir Hugo. After poisoning the poor creature, they shine the spotlight, catch the popping and locking ghostie, and the guinea pig survives. This proves that if you catch your Asphyx at the time of death, you can live forever. Ever since the tragic deaths, Sir Hugo’s remaining son, Giles (Robert Powell), stays by his father’s side. He feels compelled to help his father even though he thinks he’s kind of crazy, but becomes a believer after the guinea pig. So they move on to bigger fish. A poor man they find at a flop house who is dying of T.B. However, in the throes of death, the man throws acid in Sir Hugo’s face and the Asphyx vanishes, taking the T.B. ridden man’s soul with it.
Sir Hugo decides that it is time to catch his own Asphyx. He is traumatized by the deaths in his family, and vows to keep himself and the remaining members alive. For good. Now I should point out that Giles is his adoptive son, only because he is in love and intends to marry Christina (Jane Lapotaire), Sir Hugo’s biological daughter. And Sir Hugo will only consent to the union if they join him in immortality. Talk about emotional blackmail. Oh yeah, and weirdness with the whole I’m technically marrying my sister thing.
First up is, of course, Sir Hugo. He chooses death by electric chair that he controls himself. As Giles and his father prep, Christina is awakened by that darn guinea pig. Like, it’s in her bed. She releases it into the wild, and discovers the suicide in progress. She tries to rescue her father, and instead, aids Giles when there is glitch in the machinery. They are successful in the Asphyx capture, and Sir Hugo recovers. With some persuading and more emotional blackmail, Christina agrees to become immortal. Her death? The Guillotine. Because her Asphyx needs to sense her fear to manifest. Riiiight. Giles wants her to trust him. With a guillotine. It’s rigged so it stops before her head rolls, so of course it’s fool-proof. Right? Enter the guinea pig. Again. This time he runs in when the Asphyx is almost captured, and chews on a crucial piece of tubing. In a frenzy, Sir Hugo bumps into the guillotine lever, and oops!, Christina is no more.
Guilt ridden and distraught, Sir Hugo wants his Asphyx released so he can die to atone for all the deaths. Giles agrees to this only after he is made immortal. Only thing is that Giles is kind of pissed that his sister-wife-to-be is dead and decides to rig his own death by gas and blows himself up. Poor Sir Hugo is now all alone. The vault where his Asphyx is kept had a combination lock that Giles kept sealed in an envelope. He gave the envelope to Sir Hugo before he dies, but Sir Hugo destroys it and decides to stay immortal as punishment. With that g.d. guinea pig, who shows up for a cuddle as the envelope burns. So they wander the earth for all eternity. Cut to “modern-day” where Sir Hugo looks like a Hellish apple faced olds, while the guinea pig looks great. He wanders into traffic and causes a crash, but of course, he survives, which brings us full circle to the start of the movie. Don’t know what happened to the guinea pig though. Probably messing with someone else’s plans, or experiments, or something. Like, right now…jeez!
I actually liked this movie. It was campy and British and made in the ’70’s. It just HAD to be good! This was the only film that Peter Newbrook ever directed, but it was a pretty solid, if odd, piece of work. I loved the sets and wardrobe, and the actors all did a great job of over acting. And that guinea pig. He was like the anti-Littlest Hobo. He was always around to screw things up instead of rescue people. Damn! If you see a white guinea pig scurrying around, look for the piano to drop out of the sky, ’cause that critter is bad news!
Most Memorable Line: “Think man! Think of the power!”, Sir Hugo shouts when he is trying to convince Giles to further experiment to become immortal. Yeah buddy. Chill out. Nothing good can come of that. Just look at the guinea pig…
Favorite Scene: Has to be the guillotine scene. No all-encompassing love could ever convince me that faking out a guillotine is o.k. EVER!