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Blu-ray Review: The Asphyx (1973)

The Film

Incredibly silly but undeniably entertaining, The Asphyx looks the part of respectable Gothic horror, but can’t escape the flimsiness of its premise or the enjoyably overblown performance of Robert Stephens. Presented here in a surprisingly stunning Blu-ray edition, the film is well worth seeking out.

The AsphyxDirected by frequent David Lean cameraman Peter Newbrook (his only directorial credit) and shot by longtime Lean cinematographer Freddie Young, The Asphyx stars Stephens as Sir Hugo Cunningham, a well-to-do scientist who discovers what just might be the secret to immortality.

An amateur photographer in addition to a scientist, Hugo notices a strange black smudge in photographs of people on their deathbed, and when personal tragedy intersects with his own photography, he finds what he believes to be the key to the mystery. Just before death, the Asphyx — an ancient Greek spirit of the dead — comes to take the dying’s soul away, but Hugo hypothesizes that if one could harness the Asphyx and prevent it from reaching the person, that person could attain immortality.

Along with adopted son Giles (Robert Powell), Hugo develops a system of crystal-fueled lights to capture a person’s Asphyx, which looks like a shrieking, aborted Ray Harryhausen creature. The method’s pseudo-science is fairly laughable, but the film really goes off the rails plausibility-wise when it comes to Hugo’s attempts to turn Giles and his daughter, Christina (Jane Lapotaire) immortal. The process requires him to summon death, and well, let’s just say I wouldn’t use a guillotine as my method.

Despite the contemptibly stupid decisions the characters often make, The Asphyx remains a pretty interesting piece of fantasy/sci-fi/horror fiction. While the allure and the danger of immortality is never felt as profoundly as the film seems to think it is, the novelty of the narrative and the quite lovely photography by Young make for a rather pleasant diversion.

The Blu-ray Disc

Shot on the super high resolution Todd-AO 35mm format, The Asphyx looks absolutely fantastic here in this 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer. Fine detail is abundant, the image is consistently sharp and crisp and colors are vibrant. It’s a bit strange that a film like this was shot on the Todd-AO format, but the dividends have certainly paid off nicely here, as the transfer is film-like and beautifully detailed. The mono audio handles both dialogue and music cleanly.

These comments only apply to the original UK cut, which is presented as the default option here. The extended U.S. cut isn’t quite so fortunate — more about that below.

Special Features

Presented as the sole major extra, the extended U.S. cut runs about 12 minutes longer and inserts additional scenes throughout the running time. Unlike the UK material around it, these scenes were sourced from a standard definition scan of an inferior print, and the difference is quite clear. Murky and smudgy, there’s little in the way of detail in these scenes, but it’s nice to have the option to check out the extended version.

Also included are the film’s theatrical trailer and a photo gallery, which includes stills and behind-the-scenes shots.

The Bottom Line

What might be a merely fun cheesy horror film release is upgraded to a highly recommended disc by virtue of the gorgeous high-def transfer.

About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.
  • http://insomniacentertainment.com Luigi Bastardo

    Always wanted to see this one; I’ll have to get this. Thanks for the review.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    Think I saw this on Channel Four or BBC 2 late one night many years ago. The 70s was a fairly horrible decade, but pretty inventive as far as the horror genre was concerned.

  • http://www.RosesSpanishBoots.com Christopher Rose

    Oi, Doc D, no, leave the 70s alone! It was easily one of the best decades of the 20th Century!!!

    As to horror movies, I’ve never really understood the appeal of this genre.

  • http://www.squidoo.com/lensmasters/IanMayfield Dr Dreadful

    Oh, come on, Chris. Punk rock was just about the decade’s only redeeming feature! Other than that, the music sent you to sleep after one note, the economy was a nightmare, and shirt collars and trouser bottoms were so ridiculously vast that no-one could go outside on a windy day!

  • http://www.RosesSpanishBoots.com Christopher Rose

    That might have been your experience, Doc, not that I think you are actually old enough to have experienced the 70s in a grown up way at all, but I had a most amazing time.

    I didn’t experience the so called bad economy at all even though I was unemployed for at least seven years, heard what still remains some of the best music I’ve ever heard in my life and still listen to today and generally had a blast.

    The only decades that might beat it would be the 80s and the 60s, but that would be a very tough call.

    The 70s is also somewhat surprisingly rather like this current decade so far in many ways, which is weird!