“A remarkably creepy and subtle evocation of dread, from a typically nuanced Nigel Kneale script. What if ghosts are simply ‘data’ that need to be better categorized? That’s just what a team of computer specialists, on the trail of a new recording medium, attempt to do when they discover that the old mansion in which they are conducting their work is haunted by the phantom of a Victorian maid. Unfortunately, they discover too late that a rational explanation does not mean an end to the terror…drama as it should be done and, sadly, we’ll probably never see its ilk on British TV again.”
And that introductory paragraph was what I wrote way back in 2001, for IMDB – has my stance changed since then?
Well, there is no doubting that Peter Sasdy’s tight, tense horror is one of the best ghost stories ever produced for television, with a script by Kneale that ties into many themes that he covered both before and subsequently in his Quatermass stories, namely the idea of ghosts or other supernatural events simply being phenomena that were historically poorly observed and explained.
The premise here, that the regular ‘appearance’ of a maid who met her mysterious end in the Taskerlands mansion may be explained by the fact that it is actually ‘data’ that has somehow been ‘recorded’ in the stone walls of the cellar is comparable to the scientific explanation of Satan himself in Quatermass and the Pit (1967) or the reason Kneale provides as to why prehistoric man constructed stone circles in Quatermass (1979) – all clever juxtapositions of science and scares.
The film was originally shown by the BBC on Christmas Day 1972, and has been repeated only twice, more’s the pity, by BBC 4 – true, some of the acting is now showing its age, particularly that of team leader Peter Brock (Michael Bryant), who spends most of his time ‘shartin’ 70s-style, and there is an undercurrent of racism with the team’s attitude towards their ‘Nippon’ competitors that also dates the production, but Jane Asher provides an excellent, fragile central role as mediumistic computer programmer Jill and the scares, when they come, are genuinely unnerving. Definitely still worth a view. Enjoy The Stone Tape here.