The Stone Tape (1972)
January 7, 2022 11:16 AM - Subscribe

Broadcast on BBC Two as a Christmas ghost story in 1972, the story concerns a team of scientists who move into their new research facility, a renovated Victorian mansion that has a reputation for being haunted. The team investigate the phenomena, trying to determine if the stones of the building are acting as a recording medium for past events (the "stone tape" of the title). However, their investigations serve only to unleash a darker, more malevolent force.

The Stone Tape was written by Nigel Kneale, best known as the writer of Quatermass. (He also wrote Halloween III: Season of the Witch.)

Currently streaming in the US via YouTube.
posted by DirtyOldTown (13 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Wow. This is hilarious.

I normally watch The Stone Tape at least two or three times a year. For some reason, since Xmas this past year, I've become completely obsessed by it.

I literally, as in a few minutes ago, just finished reading the original teleplay and playing the movie along in my mind, because I wanted to get a clearer sense of the intended action the (primitive but awesome) special effects were trying to convey. (I may have also bought the 10" green vinyl Record Store Day pressing of the soundtrack.) I've also chased down PDFs of many of the books referenced in the Wikipedia page on residual hauntings, or "the Stone Tape theory," and I'm looking forward to creeping myself out further with those.

Anyway, this movie is a perfect intersection of my many interests (obscure recording methods, paranormal activity/ghostings, 1970s England, BBC Radiophonic Workshop, hauntology, etc.) and I couldn't love it more.

I'm glad no one has tried to remake or update it. It stands perfectly unto itself.
posted by mykescipark at 3:34 PM on January 7, 2022 [5 favorites]

You can always count on Nigel Kneale for a fascinating plot acted out by deeply unpleasant men screaming at each other. If you don't like that sort of thing, it can be shrill and offputting, but the man made a hero out of Professor Bernard Quatermass, the most unplesant, shoutiest of them all, and I respect that.
posted by maxsparber at 8:02 PM on January 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

That makes a fair amount of sense as, according to John Carpenter, Kneale himself is a deeply unpleasant man.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:17 AM on January 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

This was a fun creepy ghost tale, but for all the enjoyable bits I really had trouble dealing with the off-the-wall racism and sexism. The treatment of the computer programmer, in particular, reminded me of this book about how British women were pushed out of technology.
posted by phooky at 7:33 AM on January 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

It's an absolutely brilliant premise, dramatized well even with the limitations in budget and effects. Honestly, the way it portrays tech bro arrogance not only aged well, but seems prescient.

But yeah: it leans hard on the fragile/hysterical woman trope and the peripheral engineer characters manage to toss in a bunch of racism even without a single POC ever appearing on screen.

This could be updated fairly easily. The premise hasn't been beaten to death the way something this clever usually would be after fifty years.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:40 AM on January 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

I've wanted to see this for a while, but haven't gotten around to it. One more for the list.

If anyone is interested in the intersection of technology, the unnatural, and place, I recommend Kristen Gallerneaux's High Static, Dead Lines: Sonic Spectres & the Object Hereafter.
posted by heteronym at 10:25 AM on January 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

The film suffers from, but eventually rises above, its limited budget. While I don't like it as much as some of the commenters, I really like the way that the tragedy from the past is "activated" by the tensions and tragedies of the present and rises up to consume the characters in the modern day. Which is, if you think about it, pretty much the definition of a ghost story....
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:20 PM on January 8, 2022

This could be updated fairly easily. The premise hasn't been beaten to death the way something this clever usually would be after fifty years.

I agree, but I hate the visual and aesthetic overload of so much modern horror. I'd want to put it in the hands of someone like Peter Strickland or Ben Wheatley or Anna Biller, who would know how to honor the precise chill of the original piece without amping everything up to 11. More Oscilloscope Laboratories and less A24 (or worse, a mainstream house).

One aspect that really struck me in the original teleplay was the description of the screaming: "There is a shrill rasp in the air. A human scream that has lost its humanity, denatured and dead.” That's definitely not what we get in the 1972 filmed version, which is terrifying enough, but the technical capacities of modern sound design would allow them to be much more faithful to Kneale's original idea.

Anyway, I think it's certainly fair game to call out the politics of the original film. It's obviously key to the story that Jill is a Cassandra figure, so I'm not sure there's any getting around Brock's attitude towards her ... but the out-loud racism certainly doesn't need to carry over, even if spoken by flatly unsympathetic characters.
posted by mykescipark at 2:53 PM on January 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

Peter Strickland adapted it for BBC radio a few years ago. I don't know if it's still available to stream anywhere, but you can read about the production in the Guardian.
posted by Ballad of Peckham Rye at 3:07 PM on January 8, 2022

This might be it?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:34 PM on January 8, 2022 [3 favorites]

Thank you, Ballad. Hilarious that I didn't cop to that, considering it was Strickland's radio adaptation that first introduced me to the story. (Sigh.)
posted by mykescipark at 9:54 PM on January 8, 2022

Firstly I want to say, I salute you Stone Tape Super Fan mykescipark!

I remember when I first watched this, after reading about it for years and being a fan of Kneale's other work (even his Hammer Abominable Snowman movie), I tracked down a PAL video copy and had it transfered to NTSC by a friend (this is in the long ago days before digital media). I rushed home when he dropped it off and was enraptured by it. While I agree the racism & sexism which even for the time it was written is too much I was really beguiled by the main concept of residual haunting and recording of a trauma in the place it happened. There's something about how Kneale works an idea that I really connect with. But yeah its better not to know the artist... there's many stories of him being unpleasant.

On a side note, one of my staff likes to think of Nigel Kneale's Year of the Sex Olympics as a prequel to Succession. Which is a weird thought.
posted by Ashwagandha at 5:51 PM on January 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

The Stone Tape I find effective, even with the peculiar "yelling men doing serious stuff" feel that seems to be common with a lot of Kneal (and other Brit sci fi of the time). Kneal manages to appeal to me often, regardless, with his knack for somehow mixing sci fi with folk horror, as he's done in several of his productions. There's something about mixing the rational with the supernatural that's very compelling, and not often done well, if at all.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:27 PM on January 30, 2022

« Older The Expanse: Why We Fight...   |  The Amazing Race: The Amazing ... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments