Tuesday, April 10, 2007
#4: The Asphyx (Peter Newbrook, 1972)
Peter Newbrook's only film as a director, "The Asphyx" is a Victorian period piece, wacko mad scientist movie, stern morality lesson about playing God, and unintentionally campy farce of the out-of-control British thespian spit and bluster variety. What I mean to say is: this movie is not very good, but it is a very good time. The story concerns itself with Sir Hugo, a scientist/inventor and beloved family man. Sir Hugo is also a photography enthusiast with the odd habit of photographing the elderly and the sick at the moment of their death. No one in the film seems to think it an odd hobby, but everyone is intrigued by the weird smudges that appear in each photo next to the heads of the near-dead. Sir Hugo has also invented a motion-picture camera. Since the film is set in 1875, this is some accomplishment for our man Hugo. However, the entire cast, including Hugo himself, is relatively unimpressed with the remarkable invention. Until tragedy strikes, that is. Sir Hugo films a family outing that, when viewed later, surprisingly contains close-ups and freeze frames even though it is explicitly stated earlier in the movie that the camera cannot zoom in or out and must film everything from a fixed position. This goes unremarked. Not particularly curious or perceptive for a group of science aficionados, am I right? Getting back to the story, the family outing ends in tragedy, and when Sir Hugo is finally able to bring himself to view his filmed footage (actually later that evening, he recovers fast), he discovers a nasty-looking little spirit hovering near the heads of his dearly departed loved ones. He views and films a public execution a short time later (being an enlightened man of knowledge, he opposes execution and is filming it for posterity's sake) and sees the nasty little spirit again. This could only be one thing, he surmises, using only the finest movie science 1875 via 1972 has to offer. It is the asphyx! The spirit that comes to you the moment before you die to escort your soul to the afterlife. Using even more high-tech science, Sir Hugo comes up with a plan to trap one's own asphyx, thereby ensuring one's immortality as long as the asphyx remains trapped. He enlists his surviving family, his daughter and her fiance, to aid in his crazy immortality experiments. Everything goes perfectly. Just kidding. Things go wrong! Ha ha ha ha! This would be a good place to explain the best reason to watch this movie. I assumed before renting "The Asphyx" that it was pronounced "uh-sfix," as in "asphyxiate." Hilariously, I was wrong. The word, spoken repeatedly in the film, is pronounced "Ass-fix," emphasis on the "ass." The incredibly hammy Robert Stephens, as Sir Hugo, is fond of yelling, "Release my ass-fix." This never got old. My wife and I were howling with laughter every time. Instead of a cry of pain at his tragic hubris and science run amok, it sounded like Sir Hugo wanted a big ol' booty up in his grill. Sir Hugo's an assman.
Newbrook, who had previously worked on the camera crews for "Lawrence of Arabia" and "The Bridge on the River Kwai," understandably never directed again. He doesn't have much of a visual flair or distinct directorial style, but he does manage to come up with two or three effective scenes and a truly great ending. Also, a lot of unintentional hilarity. This is an ideal Bad Movie Night candidate. Eleven thumbs up.