Reviews

The Stone Tape

3

A terrifying, prescient piece of TV drama

Years before Ray Stantz and Pete Venkman went to work, scriptwriter Nigel Kneale (Quatermass And The Pit) proposed the idea of scientists catching and studying a ghost.

Such was the power of his 1972 chiller The Stone Tape that ghost hunters today refer to residual haunting - the idea that spirits are an imprint being “played back” by buildings - as ‘stone taping’.

The set-up is unique: researchers working for an electronics giant are dispatched to a mansion to develop a new recording medium.

The building has one room the contractors won’t renovate, and inside, programmer Jill (Jane Asher) can hear a woman screaming.

Boss Peter (Michael Bryant) twigs that the stone walls are repeating something, and blasts them with electromagnets to try and record what’s there. Of course, he doesn’t realise the diabolical forces he’s awakening...

Put simply, The Stone Tape is one of the most effective ghost stories ever filmed. These aren’t brain-dead teens we’re following here: they’re scientists, one step ahead of the guessing audience, two steps behind the layers of evil they’re unpeeling.

Each time Jill’s alone in that stone room, the footsteps and screaming voices are frightening enough to make a shark wrestler sweat.

As with its reissue of Ghostwatch, 101 Films has rescued one extra from the original BFI release: a commentary with Kim Newman and the late Kneale. Newman talks with the writer about his disowned screenplay for Halloween III, and the fact it was “too tiresome” to sue Spielberg for Poltergeist.

It adds its own layer of mystery to this terrifying, prescient piece of TV drama.

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