The Stone Tape

22 Sep

The term ‘Stone Tape’ relates to two things: first, the theory that inanimate materials such as buildings can record the resonances of living things and ‘play back’ those memories in the form of ‘ghosts’; and secondly, a little known original screenplay broadcast on BBC television way back in 1972. The Stone Tape theory is interesting enough, if a little mundane in the way that it explains away ghosts as ‘recordings’ rather than spirits, but the TV serial based on it is quite simply one of the most disturbing things that I’ve ever watched (which is perhaps why it has not been shown on TV again – it’s difficult enough to find it on DVD/video).

The Stone Tape starts with a simple premise – a team of scientists arrive at a Gothic mansion hoping to conduct research into what might potentially be an exciting new recording medium. Jill, the only woman on the team, is disturbed by the rumours of hauntings at the mansion, a sense of unease which is soon exacerbated when she sees the ghostly image of a woman fleeing from one of the rooms in the house and falling to her death down the stairs. Enquiries reveal that this is the ghost of a maid who perished at the mansion during the Victorian period, although what exactly it was in the room that so terrified the poor woman was never discovered. When Jill tells the rest of the team what she saw they (unwisely) decide to investigate the ‘haunted’ room and set up their equipment to experiment with triggering the ‘playback’ feature of the Stone Tape. They get far more than they bargained for, however, when their fumbling attempts reveal the presence of an evil force many thousands of years older than the house it resides in. It has killed many times before and once awoken will not rest until it has taken another life…

I recently watched The Stone Tape again after an interval of many years and feared the worst – that it would look, well, a bit naff after all this time. Sure enough, some of the sets look a bit clunky (as does a lot of the acting to modern sensibilities), but the serial has lost none of its power to shock, any more than those other classic seventies horrors, The Omen, The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. The director’s mastery of suspense, his ability to create and maintain a steadily rising sense of terror and the genuinely disturbing feeling you get if you’re foolish enough to watch The Stone Tape on your own – all were just as I remembered from watching this for the first time on UK Gold as a teenager. Afterwards I felt like a stranger in my own home, wondering what the walls around me had seen over the years and what presences might be preserved in them.

You’ll never look at an empty room the same way again.

3 Responses to “The Stone Tape”

  1. Genki Jason September 22, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    Great review. I totally agree. Whenever the BBC screen this I always watch it. It starts off so low-key but the story and atmosphere slowly plug you into the horror and when the ending comes it is chilling!

  2. belleofthecarnival September 23, 2011 at 12:21 am #

    I’ve never seen it! It sounds eeries! It might be perfect for a good scare!

  3. Archard September 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    Just watched that, thanks for the referral.

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