ZC Rating 3 of 7: Good
"What was that all about?" asked Zombos.
Paul Hollstenwall looked perturbed. "What? You didn't like it?"
I looked at my fingers and started counting. Right. That makes eighteen times Zombos has said "What was that all about?" after watching a movie Paul brought over, and twelve times Paul's responded with "you didn't like it?" I'm not sure why I bothered to remember all this, but it did make me warm and cozy inside for some reason. I sipped my Mocha Bon Machiavelli and smiled with self-satisfaction, and waited. Right on cue they both looked at me and waited for some sort of guidance, absolution, support, or what exactly I'm not sure. I never could pin that one down.
Of course they were desperate. Outside the snow was piling up--again--and every so often I heard Pretorius, our groundskeeper, cursing above the sputtering whirl of his malfunctioning snow blower. I was desperate, too. The three of us were bottled up tight with Paul and his cache of DVD oddities as our only diversion. I will admit his choice of The Asphyx was a better choice than his usual preference for schlocky dollar-bin bargains, but the day was still young.
"It's got me flummoxed," I finally said. "I like it, but I'm not sure why. I'm also not sure why Black & Blue Films is going to do a remake. You've got a rich amateur dabbling in paranormal science, a screeching hand-puppet creature called the Asphyx, which rushes to a person's soul when said person is expiring--greatly aided by very accommodating people dying in ludicrous ways--and it's all nonsense, really, but still oddly watchable."
Sir Hugo Cunningham (Robert Stephens) dabbles in paranormal research. He's so brilliant he's invented a moving picture camera, and so rich he's not bothered to patent it. His hobby is to photograph the dying, looking for evidence of the soul as it leaves the body. What he finds in his pictures are mysterious smudges appearing next to each one of the dying people he's photographed. He explains to his step-son, Giles (Robert Powell), those smudges are evidence of the soul leaving the body at the time of death. They appear in his photographs because he uses a special acidic developing solution. By now you should have noticed the Hammer Studios-like period hairdos; but while the movie is in color, like that studios' Gothic horror stories, its direction by Peter Newbrook lacks the slick, underlying urgency and tension of a Hammer-directed costume drama.
A boating accident leaves Sir Hugo distraught with grief and determined to find precisely what those smudges are. Recording a public hanging with his camera and using another of his inventions, a bright spotlight powered by crystals that give off an intense blue light when water drips on them, he inadvertently discovers those smudges are not made by the soul departing the body, but by a netherworld-postman coming for its pickup. His special spotlight traps the screaming bugger in its beams, staying the little courier from its appointed rounds, thereby keeping the person alive and unable to die.
Lingering periods of discussion about what the creature is waste time, but eventually Sir Hugo reveals he wants to be immortal. He reasons that if he keeps the crystals in his special spotlight wet, thereby maintaining the light source that traps the Apshyx, he can stay alive. The trick is to coax the Asphyx to come for his soul. He needs to be near death to do that because the creature only comes when someone is dying. How the inexhaustible crystals (Star Trek's dilithium crystals perhaps?) will power the light forever is not dwelled on, but he's devised a constant drip drip drip to fall onto them, a box to hold the creature under his spotlight contraption, and a room--with a new-fangled (for him) combination lock on the door--to seal the box in forever. Illogical? Yes. Remotely plausible? Definitely not. Entertainingly off the wall? Delightfully so.
Especially when Sir Hugo and Giles devise fiendish Grand Guignol contraptions to bring death so very close, just enough to summon the Asphyx using electrocution, the guillotine, and asphyxiation by gas. Simply strangling each other appears to never have crossed their minds. Althought it would be dull to watch. Yet through all this seriously and impeccably performed silliness, peppered with outrageously impossible artifice, it’s fun watching the intentionally-accidental deaths pile up as Sir Hugo goes for immortality and insists his family do so along with him.
I'm dying to see what they do with the remake.