Peter Sasdy directs Michael Bryant, Jane Asher and Michael Bates in this TV movie horror where a technology firm moves into a haunted country house and begins experimenting with the apparition.
Very Nigel Kneale this. Sinister without being bombastic. Almost as if he knows approaching the irrational rationally lends it more power. Watching the one note characters test the haunting like a technological problem that needs to be decoded, suppressing their natural instinct and the pressure that puts in their sanity is quite powerful. How many times can you hear a bodiless blood curdling scream and not react to it?
The Stone Tape is a Seventies BBC TV production though so the sets are wobbly. It isn’t a million miles above the production standards of a Rent-a-Ghost episode. The acting is variable. Hammy, stilted, capital ‘M’ Manic. But the divergent styles add to the tone. This feels like an intellectually rigorous, psychologically weaponised episode of Dr Who or Quatermass. Only without a familiar paternal loon to hold our hand through the teatime madness. The safety net has been put to bed after the watershed.
The ideas that Kneale churns up in the margins add to the bleak atmosphere. The toxic masculinity of the scientists seems pointed and stifling. Kudos for recognising the computer programming was mainly a female profession until your Bill Gates rumbled onto the scene. The casual racism suggest the erosion of the British dominance in technology and business is being palpably felt. The strange, never seen, homelife of cad executive Michael Bryant lingers creepily. His corporate rival with his strangely coloured hands and celtic background… well… Kneale always seems to have a sore spot about the Irish. It all brews up to something more than the sum of it parts. The Stone Tape might be dated as a shocker but these enigmatic qualities stay with you. Just what exactly is this ancient artefact trying to tell us? Trying to warn us about? As it echoes through time…
Perfect Double Bill: Ghostwatch (1992)
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We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/