Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I know people who met a famous Discovery Channel "ghost investigator".  He drunkenly complained that every person he encounters wants to tell him their ghost story and that he doesn't give a shit, he doesn't do this for the art of ghost hunting, he does it because it's lucrative.  The next day, he gave a presentation on demonology that included such authoritative sources as this priest he knows and contained stats like "only one out of every investigation actually has anything goin' on."  Watching THE STONE TAPE made me realize how far the craft of ghost hunting has fallen.  This is far less reliant on gimmicky tricks than your average Discovery broadcast.  It's not even particularly horrific for most of its running time.  It's about very logical and scientifically-bent people encountering something unknown.

Great genre TV is something mostly unknown, although Britain has a better track record than most countries (THREADS, GHOSTWATCH, etc.).  THE STONE TAPE was written by Nigel Kneale, author of THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN and THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT.  This maintains the intellectual slow-burn of those efforts and Kneale's deft plot twists and interesting characterizations lift what could have been a far lesser work.  Because this is a TV production, the budgetary shortfalls are naked for the world to see and some of the acting is a little uneven.  But the script carries it.

This story that is most important involves a research team from an electronics/appliances firm who occupy an ancient edifice in England to work on projects involving magnetic tape and stuff.  While there, some of them perceive the image of a woman on a set of ruined stairs, shrieking, that same image appearing over and over again.  Pressured by the company to produce results with commercial potential, their manager soon forces them to abandon their deliberate studies and go full bore, with pretty bad results.  I don't want to spoil a good time, but this is notable as much for what it doesn't explain as what it does.  Our modern writers haven't learned that lesson, which is why every sequel franchise will eventually get overanalyzed into tedium. But THE STONE TAPE works, with just enough exposition, and it sticks with you after viewing is done.

I am glad that I have horror movies to get me through bad days and bad weeks, and that there are still things like this that remind me that I haven't seen it all.  

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