Nigel Kneale is one of the great British writers who gained prominence with his Quatermass trilogy and other Sci-Fi/ supernatural works in T.V. drama. Over his 50 year career in writing Kneale wrote many pieces that are high televisual watermarks. One of these is The Stone Tapes, a legendary work he wrote which is fondly spoken of so I thought I'd give it a looksie.
Originally shown in 1972 on Christmas Day, this ghost story had just the right mix of the supernatural and science fiction to make a lasting impression. Looking online many people fondly recalled watching the series on their black and white TV's (even though the show itself was shot is colour) and the sleepless nights and nightmares that followed.
The basic plot element identifies that the fabric of a building,the bricks or in this case the stones, can absorb or record events of the past and re-play them when triggered by another event . In this case some re-building work taking place in a gothic mansion awaken a malevolent spirit. I don't want to spoil it but the payoff is great and will haunt your dreams.
The whole thing is and looks like it was all shot in a studio, similar in style to Doctor Who, but it works well and stands the test of time after nearly 40 years- the sign of great writing. The cast itself is solid but can be a little shouty at times. Jane Asher plays her role well as a scientist who is experiencing the supernatural phenomenon and slowly losing her mind. Iain Cuthbertson is a dependable actor, performing his role as a friend to Asher well and Michael Bryant excels in his love rat role as Peter, even though he does go bugeyed and over-dramatic a few times.
The horror of the film does not come in the form of blood and gore but from cranking up tension- something that British television did extremely well in these productions, due to the lack of finances and economy of design- sometimes what you don't see is far more scary than what you do.
After watching the film I was impressed with its contemplation of an uncanny alien presence in the midst of our human world, a very Lovecraftian theme. Don't be put off by the 70's period detail and old-tech computers-this is a thoroughly modern story about the search for a perfect technological archive and could just as easily be about digital media or the web.
The whole production is greatly enhanced by the wonderful Radiophonic Workshop tracks that make the genuinely shocking conclusion all the more powerful. After meditating on the film I can see why this series is so fondly remembered, back at a time when the mass British population weren't desensitised to violence and horror a work like this would have shaken people to the core and after 40 years it still has the power to chill. Thoroughly recommeded!