The Stone Tape (1972)

DECEMBER 30, 2012


I did not know that I could watch Amazon OnDemand on my Xbox until today; I might have to look into their "Prime" service since it apparently comes with 11,000 free movies and I'm guessing a few of them could be HMAD titles. Similarly, I never heard of The Stone Tape until the other day, when I saw it written up in "Rue Morgue" and listed as an influence on Carpenter's Prince Of Darkness, a film I quite enjoy, as you know. Good to know that I can still learn stuff, I guess. I figured my brain was for shit at this point.

Anyway, being a 1970s television movie for the BBC, I wasn't expecting much action or a high body count from the flick, nor did I receive it. It's very talky; I'm not sure how commercials worked back then but if it aired today I don't even think they'd have a scare to show before each break, as they are rather infrequent (one of them is below, since I unsurprisingly couldn't find a trailer). Luckily they're pretty good, all things considered, and like Salem's Lot or (in my case) Don't Go To Sleep, probably warped a few young minds who tuned in and didn't know what they were in for. The final two scares in particular (one involving the film's only death, I think) are pretty bone-chilling, especially when you consider how chatty and generally pleasant the rest of the movie is.

I also enjoyed that Nigel Kneale's script didn't waste too much time on skepticism. Our heroine sees the ghost roughly 8 seconds after entering the room where its trapped, and when she tells the group they all go to check it out and hear/see it themselves as well, as opposed to the "There's nothing here!" nonsense that 99% of all haunting movies feel compelled to include. There's only one guy who doesn't hear it, and that actually has a fun idea behind it - one of the scientists suggests that a haunting works something like an allergy, where the element (dust, smoke, a cat, whatever) is there but will affect everyone differently. It's a pretty great idea, I think, though they don't dwell on it too much. The movie suffers from an overpopulation, so this "control" character who can't hear it like the others doesn't really factor into the proceedings all that much, as there are other scientists to deal with and fight for the remaining 45 minutes of screentime.

The dialogue can also be a bit rambunctious; at one point says that something "gets in the way, like all this jokey talk", and it was an incredibly apt thing to say as I had already noted that the group of scientists spend way too much time ball-busting one another. I actually had trouble following the reasons that they were setting up shop in this location, because when the main guy is explaining it, every other line of his speech is interrupted by some jovial ribbing, either directed at him or another guy in the room. Sure, it makes them more "fun", but with so many of them being rather anonymous in the grand scheme of things (a problem with Prince of Darkness as well, oddly enough), I'm not sure it was worth the distraction.

But again, I'm not familiar with BBC television movies (or plays, I guess - sorry if anyone is against my counting this as a movie. It's 90 minutes long, features a bunch of sets, and has a creepy opening title sequence - video look aside, it seemed like a movie to me), so maybe their audiences were accustomed to this sort of stuff. I assume they were also OK with the casual racism (the scientists are trying to invent a new recording medium to compete with "the Japs" - a comment that is delivered by a guy pulling his eyes into slants)... the point is that it's kind of dated by today's standards, but I can't really hold that against it since at the time they probably didn't have much reason to think it would still be available to watch 40 years later on something called an "Xbox".

Thus, it'd be interesting to see an update (even as a TV movie), since I quite like the idea of doing a Poltergeist type movie without the Frelings - just the scientists who usually show up halfway through (Insidious is another example - imagine a movie with just Specs and Tucker!), and even if some of the science goes over my head, it's at least a bigger stakes scenario than the usual family unit, since a bunch of scientists are easier to kill off than a mom or dad of a family unit (and forget about the kids). And unlike a family, scientists have a built in reason to stick around and solve whatever mystery is at hand, so as long as they refrain from taunting alien snakes or getting high in their spacesuits, such a film would reduce the amount of time an audience spends yelling at the protagonists. More science-driven horror movies!

What say you?


  1. The Stone Tape is quite well known in the UK where it has a high reputation. It wouldn't be structured for ad breaks as it was shown by the BBC which didn't, and still doesn't, have ads.

  2. I think its original airdate was Christmas Day 1972 as a special Christmas treat on BBC2 but not many people would`ve seen it at the time because for technical reasons BBC2 wasn`t as easy to tune into as BBC1 and ITV (the only other two channels available in Britain at that time), something to do with British televisions transition from 405 line black and white to 625 line colour which had been going on for about 5 years up to that point.


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