‘Would you sacrifice your wife… your children for immortality?’
The Asphyx is a 1972 British science fiction horror feature film directed by Peter Newbrook (producer of Corruption; cinematographer of Crucible of Terror; The Black Torment) from a screenplay by Brian Comport (The Fiend; Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly), based on a story by Christina Beers and Laurence Beers. The Glendale production stars Robert Stephens, Robert Powell and Jane Lapotaire.
Utilizing an experimental photographic device, a scientist (Robert Stephens) captures what appears to be the image of the Asphyx: the ancient Greek spirit of the dead.
With the help of his adopted son (Robert Powell), he conducts further experiments and conceives of a way to harness the Asphyx and thereby gain immortality. But, as every visionary scientist should know, defying the laws of the natural and spiritual world unleashes dreadful consequences…
“A real curio, the film boasts first-rate performances from all involved and is truly amazing to look at, with some gorgeously ornate set design and silky photography, which admirably captures the misty feeling of an era gone by. The reason for the film’s lack of recognition probably lies in the fact that it can’t really be classified.” Mondo Digital
“If you can get by the occasional silliness, The Asphyx is one of the more ambitious British horror films of its time, marred mainly by an intrusively inappropriate score by Bill McGuffie that seems like it belongs in a lush romantic drama.” Good Efficient Butchery
” …it conjures a feeling of existential angst as it wrestles with some of the darker philosophical thoughts of life, death, and immortality. With a twist towards the end of the story that is not a gimmick, but instead a well-turned bit of grief-filled misdirection, this is a must see for fans of gothic cinema.” Horror News
“The actual horrors are a bit more understated, save for the unholy cries of the Asphyx and their intended victims as each cling to life in the moment of death […] The Asphyx is a gothic throwback that’s rich in drama, shocks, and an elaborate mounting that gives an improbable dime store story an unexpected heft.” Oh, the Horror!
“Not quite a genre classic, The Asphyx is a mostly intriguing mash-up of Victorian ghost story and steampunk revisionism that occasionally threatens to degenerate into inanity with its strident morality-play storyline and escalating improbability factor.” Slant magazine
“Although John Stoll’s art direction, the acting and Young’s camerawork in Todd-AO are excellent, the static nature of the script fails to generate any of the cerebral excitement the theme demands, and leaves various contradictions and loopholes which hamper credibility.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror
“While it’s never boring, the film mainly keeps your attention through its mixture of the morbid and the ridiculous […] It’s not a bad set-up, and the Victorian paraphernalia is nicely realised, but this is a silly film all over.” The Spinning Image
” …Newbrook was an excellent cinematographer, but his handling of the action shows a lack of imagination and energy. The actors seem determined to compensate – particularly Robert Stephens, who shows no restraint in his efforts to inject intensity into scenes where there is clearly none on the page.” John Hamilton, X-Cert 2
” …intriguing glimpses into Victorian psychical research and a strong cast, get the film off to a good start. Sadly, it soon degenerates into formula and farce, with Stephens’ theatrical delivery adding the mortal blow.” David Pirie, Time Out Film Guide
“To compound all these absurdities the film has stiff actors in even stiffer costumes and a characteristically appalling Bill McGuffie score. Despite some distinguished credentials […] The Asphyx makes a dreadful hash of an arresting premise.” Jonathan Rigby, English Gothic: A Century of Gothic Cinema
“If you’re in the mood for serious, contemplative, gloomy Gothic-tinged British horror, then you can’t do much better than The Asphyx […] it’s easy to suspend disbelief thanks to some intense and dedicated performances…” David Elroy Goldweber, Claws & Saucers
“A highly original premise makes this worth watching. Acting and technical work are of a high calibre, although the direction is a bit pedestrian at times.” Gary A. Smith, Uneasy Dreams: The Golden Age of British of Horror Films, 1956 – 1976
“The Asphyx is ultimately frustrating as a result of the distracting lapses of logic, talkiness, dull direction, and missed opportunities. It’s more of an exercise in the intellectual than the visceral, and if thought about too intently the movie begins to unravel. The film is beautifully photographed in widescreen by Freddie Young…” The Horror Film, Cinebooks, 1989
In the UK, The Asphyx was released on Blu-ray on 11 June 2018 by Screenbound Pictures.
Buy Blu-ray: Amazon.co.uk
Main cast and characters:
Robert Stephens … Sir Hugo Cunningham – The Shout
Robert Powell … Giles Cunningham – Frankenstein (1984); The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1982); The Survivor; Harlequin; Asylum; Doomwatch TV series
Jane Lapotaire … Christina Cunningham – Crescendo
Alex Scott … Sir Edward Barrett
Ralph Arliss … Clive Cunningham
Fiona Walker … Anna Wheatley
Terry Scully … Pauper
John Lawrence … Mason
David Grey … Vicar
Tony Caunter … Warden
Paul Bacon … 1st Member
London and Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, Surrey, England
Audio: Mono (Super Quadraphonic Sound)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35: 1 (Todd-AO 35)
The film is also known as Spirit of the Dead and The Horror of Death.