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Okay, a little digression from book reviews but I can’t resist – I’ve spent the evening watching a favourite film of mine which has just been re-issued on DVD after being quite hard to track down for several years. And if you are a fan of ghost stories, you simply have to watch this.

The Stone Tape was scripted by Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale and directed by Peter Sasdy (of Hammer fame) in 1972. The technology and the casual racism do date it, but the story is excellently plotted and executed. It stars Jane Asher as Jill, a computer expert working for Ryan Electrics. The company is involved is highly secret research, attempting to create a new recording media to supersede magnetic tape (this is way before today’s modern optical media!) and has relocated to Taskerlands, a dilapidated house which is being renovated to house the development team. But there’s a problem – the builders won’t complete work on one room earmarked for the computer lab. Jill quickly discovers the cause – the room is haunted. As every member of team encounters the disembodied footsteps and the terrified screaming of a woman, Jill’s boss (and lover) Peter becomes obsessed with capturing a recording of the haunting. And as the team pit technology against terror, the stage is set for tragedy.

It’s an intense story simply told with a minimum of special effects, a limited set and a concentration on character, and all these things mark it as a classic drama. The haunted room is genuinely a scary place – my body temperature actually drops every time one of the characters enters the room. Jane Asher is brilliant as the fragile but determined Jill, and Michael Bryant as Peter is a character you’ll love to hate as he drives his team to the brink of sanity. Supported by a fine cast of familiar faces from the 70’s screen including Iain Cuthbertson and Tom Chadbon, this is a true gem. It’s a genuinely chilling ghost story and I love it – although I’m not going to go to bed just yet… is that footsteps I hear on the stairs…?!

Rating: *****

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