‘These walls are a lot older than the rest of the house…’
There’s something undoubtedly very special about the British TV horror of the ’70s and ’80s. The MR James adaptations. The incredibly creepy public service announcement clips. The work of Nigel Kneale. The latter, while best known for creating the character Professor Bernard Qatermass, also gifted the world The Stone Tape. Originally broadcast on BBC2 as a Christmas ghost story in 1972, The Stone Tape has endured mainly because of its huge influence (which can be felt everywhere from Poltergeist to Prince of Darkness and even in backwards-looking British comedies like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and The League of Gentlemen). Let’s dive in…
Peter Brock (Michael Bryant) is overseeing the relocation of an electrical firm into an old abandoned mansion. When a ghost appears, Brock and his programmer Jill (Jane Asher), use the only weapon they have – science.
I should begin by saying that large parts of The Stone Tape haven’t aged well. The constant use of erroneous close-ups feels very old-fashioned now, as do some of the sensibilities (large parts of The Stone Tape are, to be frank, very racist). That being said, however, Bryant’s performance is electric (if slightly eccentric) and Kneale’s writing more than stands up. The conversational style of his dialogue has been incredibly influential elsewhere and while he clearly doesn’t know what to do with a woman (the character of Jill is laughably inept) most of the writing here still stands up.
Viewers with a more modern sensibility will struggle to get through The Stone Tape and that’s fair enough, but if you can forgive its foibles or even embrace them, there is plenty here to enjoy.