The Asphyx

May 1, 2013 at 1:52 am (7 Heads, Asphyx, The) (, , )

The Asphyx – 1973 – England

In 19th century England, a supernatural researcher snaps photos of people moments before death. Each picture shows an ominous black smudge, possibly indicating the soul fleeing the body. On a family boating excursion, the researcher films the accidental death of his wife and son. Obsessively viewing the film in his grief, he determines the smudge isn’t the soul leaving the body, but a “Greek” spirit called an Asphyx coming to take the soul away. An Asphyx is summoned by fear of impending death. The researcher creates a machine to seal an Asphyx in a light ray, ensnaring it and rendering the dying person immortal. One experiment results in an undying guinea pig.

Human experiments follow. The once kindly researcher grows increasingly fanatical and anti-social. Executing a plan to capture his own Asphyx, he shocks himself to near-death in an electric chair. With his Asphyx trapped, he becomes immortal. He convinces his protesting daughter to participate next. Utilizing a guillotine, it’s unsurprising the experiment ends in her tragic death. The daughter’s fiancé undergoes the procedure but intentionally kills himself in the process. Crushed with guilt, the researcher debates freeing his Aphyx and committing suicide. Instead, he decides to live forever in misery as penance. The final scene, set in modern times, depicts the derelict researcher (in an awful old man mask) being smashed between two colliding cars. Some versions of the film (likely the American video and television releases) end ambiguously here. In the original theatrical version, he is utterly mangled, but survives.

The Aphyx is an English flick inspired by Hammer’s 1960s productions. Decadent period sets, costumes, and props are in abundance, as is the stately gothic ambiance. The simple effects employ projection to show spirits ensnared in light. The Asphyxes are ethereal, ragged, puppet-like skeletons emitting impressively irritating shrieks. More remarkable are the script’s moral explorations, made compelling by the intelligent and sensitive characters. Even still, informed viewers might find the ironic repercussions for playing God overly predictable.

As I have voiced many times, I dig stories that explore the realm between life and death. The Asphyx differentiates itself by outlining a system of rules for death. The victim’s personal Asphyx is drawn to their mortal dread and snatches their soul away. I would have liked to know why Aphyxes are represented by gibbering little monsters though.

Rating: 7/10 Shrunken Heads. Asphyxia is from Greek, meaning “without heartbeat”. However, I couldn’t find any Greek mythological reference to an Asphyx being a spirit of death.

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