THE STONE TAPE
Peter Brock -
Jill Greeley -
Roy Collinson -
OTHER GHOSTLY TALES
A group of electronics engineers moves into the recently renovated old country house of Taskerlands in order to research a method of recording and storing data tha will make magnetic tape obsolete, revolutionise the electronics industry and steal a march on the Japanese. Before they can start, however, they find that the room dedicated to their computer storage area has been left completely untouched. The workmen, it seems, refused to work in there because they were scared by something. Jill, the team's computer scientist, is more psychically attuned than the rest and she hears a scream and sees the figure of a maid on a flight of stairs that goes nowhere. Nobody believes her as she is prone to being a bit highly strung anyway, but when the team's arrogant leader also hears the scream he decides to investigate. After all, the ghost is simply data stored in the stone walls over centuries. If they can understand the process they will have the greatest leap in data storage ever. Jill, however, believes that the phenomenon goes deeper than that and there is an older, darker and more dangerous force at work. When the Victorian ghost is 'erased' from the tape, the force needs a replacement from amongst those resident in the house.
Any writer looking for a masterclass in the creation of a truly eerie ghost story could do a good deal worse than look at this 1972 BBC television production created as a 'ghost story for Christmas', something that the BBC has a long tradition of. From an uncertain start, the story builds through a slow-burning 90 minutes to a shocking finale. With only limited resources, THE STONE TAPE unsettles its audience, creating a genuinely creepy experience likely to last long after the television has been switched off.
This one-off drama was written by Nigel Kneale, one of Britain's truly great science fiction writers and one of the world's finest science fiction dramatists. THE STONE TAPE is fully of his trademark touches. Firstly, the setting is utterly real, the fantastic being rooted in a scenario familiar enough that its effects are multiplied by being set against a backdrop of utter normality. In these days of CD, DVD, blu-ray, HDTV and hard-disc recorders it is easy to see how the search for the next generation of recording technology was the holy grail of the electronics companies and reducing the existence of ghosts to merely data stored on another system of recording is a, whilst not new, thoroughly convincing idea.
Nigel Kneale is a master of setting the opposing forces of the supernatural and the scientific against each other. It was the central platform of his brilliant QUATERMASS AND THE PIT and this is another example of his skill in explaining away phenomena in scientific terms whilst still retaining the terror of them and then undermining that very scientific understanding by showing that sometimes science isn't enough. There's enough scientific jargon to make the characters and their plans convincing, but not enough to lose the average viewer. Kneale adds into that very real concerns of the time, such as the japanese dominance of the electronics markets, and everyday worries such as the corporate wrangles between the researchers and a team of washing machine developers who want to share the research space. All of this adds to an authenticity that makes the supernatural all the more unnerving.
As was the case for the times, the acting is a little bit 'intense', for which read that the characters are always heightened and almost on the edge of hysteria. This is initially jarring to modern audiences, especially in the opening sequence where Jane Asher's Jill is almost involved in a collision with two lorries that is completely ignored by everyone else, but this soon becomes accepted and, by the finale seems perfectly appropriate to the situation. Asher manages to make her high-strung character more determined and capable as the story progresses, giving the climax more punch. Michael Bryant plays the leasd scientist Peter as an arrogant, unsympathetic, self-centred prick who just happens to be brilliant enough to justify the arrogance, again a believable character with enough depth to add believability to the story. Iain Cuthbertson is his usual stalwart self as the site supervisor who comes to believe in the danger of the supernatural late on, providing the heart that Peter clearly lacks.
The set up is an obvious steal from THE HAUNTING (based on Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House) in pitting scientists against a malevolent force in an old house, but from that starting point it follows it own path and still comes across as fresh (70s fashions notwithstanding), compelling and downright scary even if the special effects at the end clearly betray its age and budgetary constraints.
THE STONE TAPE is a brilliant mix of science fiction and horror and shows how imagination and talent can overcome lack of resources.
Just don't watch it alone.Top
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