I'm a huge fan of suspense and horror- it's one of my favourite genres. I especially like when it isn't simply jump scares, gore porn or cheap thrills but a piece of work that builds up tension slowly and the payoff is exciting and jolting. So for my first review I've decided to look at Children Of The Stones. I chose this because I heard it mentioned a few times and spoken of affectionately by several people including comedian Stewart Lee, who described it as the scariest children's programme ever. As a fan of Twin Peaks, X Files, American Gothic and the like this sounded right up my street so I decided to give it a look.
Children of the Stones is often described as a landmark in children's television. The series was filmed largely in Avebury in Wiltshire and progresses over 7 episodes, shown weekly over the Summer of 1977. The series introduces us to astrophysicist Adam Brake (played by Gareth Thomas who is famous for Blake 7- I've never seen that show though) and his son Matthew as they go to the village of Milbury to carry out research on an ancient Megalithic stone circle. When they arrive at the village they start to understand that its people are held captive by the sinister power of its stone circle and the mysterious Hendrick, a prominent figure in the village.
The spooky ethereal music sets the sinister mood, the soundtrack is beautiful dark and unsettling. To get a hint of the creepiness check out the opening credits and the first few minutes of the first episode, then try to sleep tonight.
I found the introduction was very similar to the beginning of Twin Peaks where we are introduced to an outsider going into a small community. At just over 2 and a half hours the tale is well paced and crafted, brought to the screen with some very adept direction and a remarkably haunting musical score which heightens the mood and tension. The cast are excellent, even the child actors perform astonishingly well. Iain Cuthbertson is excellent in channeling his best Crowley and succeeds in being sinister.
Unsurprisingly, Children of the Stones has gained a devoted cult following in the decades since its first transmission in 1977. There are a few online forums where people still discuss the ending and the implications of what occurred at the conclusion and any series that does that is okay in my book, except Lost, now that ending sucked! Children of the Stones is inescapably haunting, even if you see it now for the first time as an adult (which I did).
This is an incredibly intelligent, atmospheric and genuinely unnerving series and to call it a children's show is a bit of an insult. If I had to describe it to the uninitiated I'd say it was like a Young Adult version of the Wicker Man. This may seem like hyperbole as this is high praise indeed but both share many of the themes and ideas such as outsiders coming into a new town full of strange folk who seem to be guarding a secret about an ancient evil. To be honest I'm surprised it got away with being shown before the watershed. It isn't horror per se but the way people act and the situation brings a creeping dread. The series incorporates such complex concepts such as 'Time Circles', 'Psychic Bubbles' and 'Time Rifts'- heady subjects for adults let alone a programme supposedly aimed at children.