I previously discussed Nigel Kneale’s Beasts. I watched The Stone Tape a few years ago-never wrote about it-but decided to watch it again mainly because I read on Mike Glyer’s File 770, a new audio version of Nigel Kneale’s lost play The Road is currently available online.
The Stone Tape was a television play broadcast by the BBC in 1972.
The Stone Tape begins with a man named Peter who is head of a research team for an electronics company. Like many of the characters in Beasts, the protagonist is not a pleasant person. Peter Brock, though likely very skilled at his job, is arrogant, self-absorbed, sexist, and condescending. Whereas some of the sexism and the bigoted comments may be a representation of the realities of the the business world (and TV) at the time, you are clearly meant not to like Peter Brock as a person which only amps up the unease surrounding the main plot.
Peter and his research team set up shop in an old abandoned Victorian mansion which as been refurbished for their use. His team is working on creating a new recording device. It’s all men except for Jill Greeley (played very well by Jane Asher) a computer programmer whom Peter seems to have more than a working interest in. (Whether there is actually an affair or just Peter’s sexism isn’t quite clear). In any event, Jill feels uneasy the moment she drives up to the mansion having strange blurry visions. As the story transpires, Jill hears the sound of a woman screaming and sees the ghostly vision of a women falling to her death in one of the rooms.
At first, Jill is dismissed as being ‘oversensitive’. As the story progresses, it turns out that Jill is not the only one to be affected. Only Jill sees the full spectral images, but others hear the screams or pick up on the unease. A few, experience nothing at all. Peter decides to use the team’s research equipment to record the ghost. It’s not entirely altruistic-Peter is convinced that the stone walls act as a recording device of past events and wants to use it for possible research into a breakthrough recording device.
The playback of the recording is just static; although a few researchers swore they heard the screaming and Jill saw the ghost. Another scientist tries to convince Jill to forget about it. He heard the screams too, but he worries that Jill will destroy herself and her career if see keeps pursuing the issue. Jill investigates on her own and discovers that a priest was called in to perform an exorcism at the spot before the mansion was even built. There is a malevolent power affecting the mansion and the grounds.
Jill comes to believe that the screaming woman was only the most recent victim of a deep rooted evil; and therefore her death was ‘recorded’ in the walls of the house. Peter Brock is dismissive of Jill’s claims and tells her she has to leave the work group. Jill returns to the haunted room; and is attacked by the dark force; and dies.
Peter Brock tries to explain away Jill’s death as an accident; and paint her as mentally unstable. Her research is destroyed. In the final scene, Peter returns to the room-and hears Jill screaming his name as she dies.
I thought The Stone Tape was worth the watch. It’s a little dated so it may not be as terrifying as it would have been to its contemporary audience, but it’s still haunting. The characters are fully developed and well-acted. With minimal special effects-and a truly disturbing scream-it manages to be unsettling. If you like classic horror or SF, this is a good one to add to the watchlist.
And check out The Road while it’s still online.
October 1768 – a scientist and a philosopher clash whilst investigating a ghostly outbreak in the woods. Nigel Kneale’s legendary lost 1963 TV play, adapted by Toby Hadoke