18th May2013

‘The Stone Tape’ Review

by Mark Allen

Stars: Jane Asher, Michael Bryant, Ian Cuthbertson, Michael Bates, Reginald Marsh, Tom Chadbon, John Forgeham, Philip Trewinnard, James Cosmo | Written by Nigel Kneale | Directed by Peter Sasdy 

I’ve never been a huge fan of ghost stories, largely because most of them feel (if you’ll excuse the pun) insubstantial and are more often than not resolved cheaply and without much in the way of originality. Which is to say nothing of the BBC’s insistence on producing at least four dusty Victorian-era spooky tales every Christmas. With exception, if you’ve seen one ghost story, you’ve seen them all, and The Stone Tape is mercifully one of the former.

Set in an ill-kept Victorian house, an electronics research team stumble across a room in which a female apparition appears at regular intervals to scream and just as quickly disappear, leading them to believe that she’s a psychic impression left in the stone walls of the room, hence creating a (wait for it) “stone tape”. This is exciting news for project leader Peter (Bryant), as the team’s goal is to discover a new recording medium and this might just be exactly what they need, but head programmer Jill (Asher) is significantly more unnerved, being that she’s one of only a few that can actually see the spirit.

What follows is the team’s attempts to both capture the activity on conventional recordings and exorcise it from the room so that they can keep their Thwomp-sized computers in it – the film was made in 1972, so laptops were barely even a fever dream at this point. The Stone Tape hasn’t dated especially well, the superimpositional special effects hardly convincing and the histrionic melodrama of most of the performances coming off more comical than creepy.

That said, the audio commentary with film critic Kim Newman and writer Nigel Kneale goes a long way toward redressing these issues by giving us historical context and discussing the recording methods of the day. I’d actually go so far as to say that I enjoyed Newman and Kneale’s commentary much more than the actual film, which is by no means a detriment to something that tells a compelling, unique story on what was clearly not the biggest budget.

It’s not exactly the spookiest tale I’ve seen, but I hardly think it’s supposed to be; the story is more of Peter’s brutality in removing the ghost and Jill’s desire to understand the spirit’s torment. There’s no happy ending, but if you’re familiar with Kneale’s work on Quatermass then I’m sure you’re used to it by now.

Definitely worth checking out if you want something a little more experimental with your supernatural tales (see also: Ghostwatch) if not for Newman’s insights alone, The Stone Tape is out on DVD now.

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