Nigel Kneale’s status as one of the great thinkers of the sci-fi and horror genre is largely based on his highly-influential Quatermass quadrilogy, which was a sensation when first broadcast, but there’s a number of other notable entries in his canon. 1972’s The Stone Tape is a typically thoughtful supernatural drama, which rewards patience as it dodges most of the potential clichés and comes up with some original stuf in the sci-fi/horror genre.
Directed by horror specialist Peter Sasdy, The Stone Tape is the story of a scientist Peter Brock (Michael Bryant) who has an eye on creating a recording format to replace tape. He and his ex Jill (Jane Asher) get involved in the renovation of a country house which dates back to Saxon times, where they discover some unusual modifications.
The hidden room that Peter and Jill discover was used as a US army storeroom in WWII, and is rumoured to harbour a ghost; the researchers decide to sit in and wait to see if enything emerges. With neither jump scares or dream sequences to pad out the action, the focus is very much on Kneale’s brand of artful pseudo-science, which is always persuasive.
The idea of ancient stone as a recording format which captures the energy of past events and plays them on a loop to those sensitive enough to pick the message up is a novel one, and there’s a great, wildly prescient sequence where Jill starts to believe that their computer in Chicago has been possessed by malevolent spirits. Sure, it may have a lo-fi production, but plenty of big ideas have made The Stone Tape a deserved cult classic.