Sunday, January 25, 2004

I watched The Stone Tape last night - a rarely seen made-for-tv BBC ghost drama that was made in 1972 and now available on region 0 DVD. It reminded me of The Blair Witch Project - a group of researchers take over a spooky old house and discover that one room appears to be haunted by the ghost of a screaming maid. Led by gung-ho Brock, one of those bossy little men, they try to use computers and recording machines to get proof of the supernatural phenomenon, hypothesising that the stone in the walls is a new form of recording - able to save incidents for posterity which are then triggered by human presence somehow. It'll make them rich if only they can figure out how to get the "stone tape" to play and rewind at their will.

Talks with the locals uncover some strange things about the room - at least two failed exorcisms have been carried out there - the maid apparently fell down a staircase in the 1800s and died in the room. The builders have refused to work on the room. Output from computer readings taken inside the room contains random words like "pray" and "soul".

The only prominent female role in the play is Jill, played by the marvellous Jane Asher - 70s sensation, best known for her relationship with Paul McCartney and her subsequent career baking cakes on tv. She's the most sympathetic cast member, struggling against expectations that she's a dolly-bird on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

The script is certainly a reminder of that period before political correctness where casual racism and sexism were the order of the day. The men of the company are macho, infantile and over-confident. Brock treats Jill like a baby, alternatively patronising her and bossing her around. The fact that he's cheating on his wife with her, and will ultimately dump her for his secretary lets us know what sort of man he is.

It's all a bit hokey, but despite this, still manages to be effectively scary. There's the sense that something horrible is going to happen all the way through, and it's only partly due to the arrogance of those involved. They don't make them like this anymore.

No comments: