Director: Peter Newbrook.
Starring. Robert Powell, Robert Stephens, Jane Lapotaire, Alex Scott, Ralph Arliss. USA. 1h 39m.
A moralistic story written with a heavy gothic horror backdrop by Christina and Laurence Beers has been cleverly adapted by Peter Newbrook in a pseudo Hammer Horror-esque style. In a large opulent mansion a brilliant Victorian scientist becomes obsessed with the idea of becoming immortal.
In Newbrooks only directional feature which followed the Crucible of Terror (1971), another classic story similar to Buckets of Blood, in which he produced a vibrant tale of a man possessed, he amplifies this character with the lead, Sir Hugo Cunningham (Stephens) who, after filming at a public execution he manages to capture something uncanny, unable to explain what he saw, it all come into focus when, testing his ground-breaking film apparatus at home, he captures the death of one of his children, in his grief, he discovered that he’s captured the soul leaving the body at the point of death, something known to the ancient Greeks as the Asphyx. Hugo then attempts to bottle up and imprison his own spirit of the dead or Asphyx which will enable him to become immortal, but what price can such a luxury cost?
The Difference Between Life And Death
There’s a touch of over-dramatics in this creeping horror, Robert Powell plays Hugo’s trusty assistant Giles and beloved of his long suffering daughter Christina (Lapotaire) together the two men begin their experiments on a guinea pig (of course) and attempt to make it immortal.
With any crazy science-fiction horror the laboratory is always where the entertainment starts (and usually finishes). It’s not as elaborate as Dr Frankenstein’s castle retreat, or a technicolour as the fleshy test lab in Freakmaker but it’s large and foreboding and just the right set up for trapping the spirit. With trippy lights, cameras, and at some point it’s almost like a magicians stage show with coffins, glass boxes and a guillotine as it appears the Asphyx is only drawn to a person who’s in fear of their own death, allowing Newbrook to play around with his cast being set up in elaborate torture and death devices such as an electric chair.
Sir Hugo Cunningham: “I obey God’s will, my friend, my old friend, my eternal and everlasting friend…”
There’s lot to admire in the movie, the design of the Asphyx remains a bit dated but it’s screech and approach to its design holds some charm, the idea of finding a way through locking up a part of you sings praise to The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the need to distance oneself from fate and death by removing the invisible. I really don’t see many people talking about this horror, despite how it’s easily given way to many ideas in modern horrors, sighting ones death and departure of the soul in a photo is a iconic part of Richard Donner’s Omen as well as capturing souls using light beams in Ghostbusters (1984). It wrestles with some pretty heavy topics, as we see Hugo writhe with grief the meaning of life and human existence in it’s basic forms and theories, on top of this the mash up of steampunk style gadgetry and healthy gothic atmosphere, it’s a real cracker. I think if a bit of the melodramatics was watered down and more effort went into the atmospherics and cinematography this wouldn’t be able to be ignored the way it is.