What's an Asphyx? Why, they are a Dutch Death Metal band who formed in 1987, and mixed the grinding sound of that genre with the slow, Sabbath like approach of Doom Metal. Okay, so other than that, what's an Asphyx? Why, it's an effective Gothic horror film from Peter Newbrook (in his only directorial effort-he was in charge of second unit photography for "Lawrence of Arabia") that's actually quite the underrated gem.
Hugo Cunningham (Robert Stephens) has a peculiar hobby-he likes to take photos of people and animals right before their death. Why? Because he keeps seeing a strange smudge like image in each picture and film. Now, with the help of his son Giles (Robert Powell), he is about to find out what it is-it's an Asphyx, a spirit of the dead mentioned in Greek mythology. As they continue to experiment, they discover that if you box an Asphyx up, that person/animal will gain immortality. This seems like a good idea at first, especially for Hugo, but as we know, immortality and playing God has it's price...
"The Asphyx" is really a triumph of mood, direction and set design (the sets have the kind of wonderful late 60's/70's look many try to replicate but can't), among other things. The whole thing is creepy as hell, with a story that feels like it could have come from H.P. Lovecraft. It helps that Newbrook has such a good eye for detail, as he perfectly captures a look into the world of a respected man going mad due to his research, and the effects it has on others. If you ask me, the movie actually offers some serious philosophical overtones, as it focuses on issues regarding life, death and man's ongoing battle with the latter.
Also worth mentioning is the performances, which are top notch throughout. Stephens in particular is solid, stealing the show as a man who wants to achieve the ultimate gift that's a curse in disguise, yet never goes too over the top in his depiction of a man losing grip of his sanity. In most movies, he would have become a raving lunatic, but here he's actually an very flawed and human character, which is a refreshing change of place. Oh, and the score by Bil McGuffie (who was a music director for two episodes of "Monty Python's Flying Circus") is great, managing to capture lush romanticism and haunting atmosphere with ease.
For fans of little known but rewarding 70's horror, "The Asphyx" is definitely worthy of your attention. It's one of the most underrated British genre films of all time, and deserves a somewhat larger audience.