Painted screaming monstrous head against purple and green
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Asphyx (1972) UK International 1 Sheet Poster

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Another cameraman briefly turned director (it was his only film) Peter Newbrook was a long-term operator / second unit photographer for David Lean, but only got his chance to light on lower budget affairs like That Kind of Girl (1963), The Yellow Teddy Bears (1963) for Robert Hartford-Davis, until his best Gothic work on The Black Torment (1964) For Compton (aka Tigon) Films. Around this time he also began to write and produce (up to 1971’s Crucible of Terror), so the sudden jump to directing was certainly aided by his triple Oscar winning compatriot Freddie Young shooting the film. Just as Hammer were turning to nudity and modernising their horrors, out came this period film with immaculate Todd-AO 35 cinematography, beautifully framing Newbrook’s restrained direction (mostly wide and mid shots) and creating a convincing Victorian atmosphere, aided by Bill McGuffie's romantic score.

Set in the 1870's, Sir Hugo Cunningham (Robert Stephens) lives an idyllic life while experimenting with photography and primitive film-making technology. When he captures his son’s tragic death, and observes a strange smudge above his head at the moment of death (a conceit woven into The Omen a few years later) he is convinced that it is the soul departing the body, something known to the ancient Greeks as the 'Asphyx', He concludes that were he to trap a subject’s Asphyx, they would become immortal. As always in the Gothic world, this can only end in disaster.

Aka: The Horror of Death / L'esprit de la mort

Artist: Arnaldo Putzu - making the ethereal spirit head as disturbing as possible.


Cast: Robert Stephens, Robert Powell, Jane Lapotaire, Ralph Arliss, Fiona Walker