The Asphyx Blu-ray Review
The Asphyx materialises with an AVC encoded transfer of this Todd-AO 2.35:1 presentation. There are two versions of the movie on the disc. The original 86-minute UK theatrical cut, which has been mastered from the 35mm negative, and the extended 98-minute US version. Opting for the extended cut, you will find that, going along with the oddball nature of the movie, itself, and the ramshackle approach its makers have taken towards their cack-handed tale, the scenes that had been previously dropped have been reinstated in SD, and hail from a terrible US release print of considerably inferior quality. Although, in the scheme of things, this chop ‘n’ change style doesn’t impede the dire flow of the film, it still represents a jarring visual shift. However, the splicing back in of this footage is superbly seamless, flowing, in some instances, from one spoken line of dialogue to the next.
Grain is intact and there is no evidence of overt DNR having taken place. Smearing, banding and aliasing are not issues. And the print, itself, apart from those SD-culled scenes, has been very grandly cleaned-up.
Looking elsewhere at viewer’s opinions as to this restoration, there have been great comments made regarding the transfer which I would largely concur with, but I’m still going to call it as I see it.
When the object is front and centre, it is beautifully sharp and clear and detailed. Background detail is also more than decent. But there is large and noticeable anamorphic drop-off to either side of the frame, with the image at both extremes softening-up and becoming blurred. There are also occasions when edges around characters or objects – the carriage and the gates and the trees near the start - exhibit some greenish ghosting. I have no doubts that these anomalies are actually all down to the original source and the inherent photographic choices of Freddie Young. Black levels are very good indeed, with some fine atmospheric moments down in the crupt and the lab, but contrast can occasionally be a little too high, giving the image a slightly anaemic quality.
This is not an especially colourful film, although when primaries are called for, they are invariably strong. The palette is earthy and in favour of browns and yellows and greens. It’s going for the wood-panelled look of country manors and the even the laboratory is steeped with bookshelves and wooden counters. Exteriors have some variance, but not a great deal. Fidelity is fine and the aesthetic is well transferred to disc. Skin-tones are pallid and pasty-looking, but this is how they are meant to be. Eyes can sparkle, namely Powell’s. The blue light special that illuminates and captures the Asphyx is well depicted, the glow nice and unearthly and well suffused.
Detail, as I say, can be very good. The weave on tweeds and the delineation of books and lab equipment is consistently adhered to. It is only the peripheral elements of the frame that can sometimes suffer. The Asphyx, itself, which I recall from those long ago viewings as being quite blurred and indistinct, has a fair degree of clarity and it is certainly worth having a good look at the noisy little sprite.
If you are a fan of the film, then you will no doubt be highly impressed with how Redemption and Kino Lorber have cared for its Blu-ray debut. Discounting the SD elements, this gets a very strong 7 out of 10.
Not a great deal to say about the audio transfer, really.
The Asphyx is more than capably dealt with via a very clean-sounding Linear PCM 2.0 mono track. Apparently, the original Super Quadraphonic 4-channel stereo track is considered to be lost, but what we have here is more than capable of bringing the screwball story to life. The film is actually quite boisterous – there’s lots of shouting, there’s the crackle of the illuminator and lens, the shrieking of the Asphyx, the sizzle and crackle of electricity, the sound of an explosion, a police siren weaving around the limited mix during the prologue and the roaring of car engines during that ridiculous epilogue. All of this comes across clearly and crisply. The little protests from the light-captured demons are well rendered and nicely weird and eerie.
There’s no problem with dialogue, which is perfectly audible and nicely presented. However, as with the drastic change in image quality during the extended scenes, there is a noticeable difference in the audio too. Suddenly, during these moments, the pitch and volume alters. It is nothing disastrous and the clarity is not lost, but you will notice it if you are watching the longer cut of the film.
So, all in all, this is pretty well handled.
Oh, what wouldn’t I have given for a commentary enabling us to hear from those responsible for this travesty! Or even a retro chat-track from the likes of Kim Newman or Alan Jones giving us their usual brand of entertaining critique. Or, hey, just for a laugh, how about Sir Christopher Frayling?
But we get nothing other than the two cuts of the film, a theatrical trailer and a rough assortment of stills in a gallery. This is definitely a case where you want to hear someone else make a comment upon what turned out to be such an idiotic production, to perhaps glean if it does, in fact, have anything of genuine worth going on.
You won’t find a greater or more devoted fan of vintage Horror/SF and Fantasy than me, regular readers already know this, but even I appreciate that they were more than capable of making cinematic turds in all of these genres right through the Golden and Silver Ages too. Peter Newbrook’s inane offering of The Asphyx belongs in its own wonderfully idiotic age of, um, dull copper, I suppose. Although something of a cult curio, this period saga of soul-guzzling banshees, warped photography and cursed immortality is so badly written, executed and acted that I am still stunned to believe that I once held it in quite high regard. I was young and easily pleased, I can only surmise.
There’s really no excuse for something as lousy as this. The Asphyx is simply terrible, hackneyed old tosh. But on the plus side, I have to concede that it is enjoyable old tosh, just the same. There is a painfully evoked charm that you can’t help but warm to, even if this is borne more out of pity than any genuine affection. You watch it to rip it to shreds, and there is unquestionably a lot of fun to be had in doing just that. But this is supposed to be a serious film … and seeing the likes of Robert Stephens and Robert (Jesus of Nazareth/Richard Hannay) Powell hamming it up so atrociously is a pretty much insurmountable obstacle.
The guinea-pig and the wailing banshee, itself, give the best performances, hands-down.
A shoddy film is still presented with a very rewarding hi-def transfer that is sure to please. The unavoidable inclusion of SD footage amidst the extended cut doesn’t harm the decidedly oddball nature of the film – in fact, it just seems to add to carelessly wayward ambience of it all. The audio is, likewise, very clear and crisp, though still noticeably modified during the extra scenes.
Overall, I can only recommend this to people who either enjoy unintentionally hilarious movies, or to those who are really fond of this giddy SF turkey. But if you have fond memories of watching the film a long time ago and have not seen it since, then I would seriously think twice of revisiting it because it could well shatter such sepia-tinted nostalgia. It hasn’t aged well, though I find it hard to believe that any of us actually thought it was any good back then either.
The Asphyx needs to get its ass fixed. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
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