The Stone Tape (Peter Sasdy, 1972)
This 90 minute BBC drama (apparently shown on Christmas day of 1972!) involves a team with the latest high tech equipment looking to do research into new recording mediums moving into an old building, which they then find out has a haunted room. One of the team, a computer programmer played by Jane Asher, sees the ghost of a Victorian chambermaid screaming at the top of a flight of stairs, an action that the ghost goes on to repeat and seems to have repeated in a continuous cycle for the last hundred years. When the ghost becomes apparent to the rest of the team, the manager sees the opportunity to analyze the ghostly occurrences to see if they will provide the breakthrough in recordable media that they have been looking for...
This is a problematic production which features a really great central conceit. The problems first - the production is very much of its time both in terms of the high tech equipment used to analyze the ghosts and the rather broad (over)acting on display (some of it is understandable, as when characters are terrified by the ghost. But other moments, such as the one during the sequence of celebrating their company having beaten the Japanese to a new recording medium when a character makes a pair of buck teeth out of paper, pulls his eyes back and does an "I'm so solly" speech, are just indefensible!). Some of the 'scary' moments are rather over-egged (such as Asher being spooked by two vans reversing at her in the opening moments of the film, which seems tailor made to allow people to be able to tut and roll their eyes over silly women drivers!), and some of the scenes are rather poorly edited (such as Asher reacting to hearing the scream of the ghost with a clenched fist to her mouth in extreme close shot, followed by a wider shot of her just standing there, hands by her side, actingly casually!). Also a lot of the comic relief and team camaraderie stuff, which takes up a fair proportion of the first half of the film, is extremely wooden!
So why is this worth a look? For the way that the ghost is approached as a set of data of a horrific incident that has imprinted itself into the stone of a building and the impetuous way that the researchers go about trying to 'trap' or 'understand' it which culminates in the 'electronic exorcism' sequence
, which takes the form of kind of degaussing of the ghost from existence.
For the good performance of Asher as a woman who has a sensitivity to ghosts (very like Theo in The Haunting); is besotted with the project leader (Michael Bryant), who starts an extra-marital affair with her when he thinks that he can use her to get to the ghost but immediately drops her (and even tries pimping her out, by asking other team members to take her off his hands!) once the ghost has apparently been 'wiped' (and then gets his moral comeuppance at the end); and who gets to ask some of the more probing questions that have ever been asked in a ghost story, such as whether a ghost is self aware or not and, if they are aware, how horrible it must be to carry out the same limited actions of playing out your death over and over again for many years.
And for the 'ancient evil' ending of what has been uncovered once the first ghost was wiped, and whether the replacement of one ghost with another might placate it.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1982)
I watched this film just after The Stone Tape because Nigel Kneale, who wrote The Stone Tape, apparently had a hand in the initial script for this film, which was then eventually changed a lot by Wallace (Wallace in his commentary track on the film says that the final film is "60% Kneale" and attributes the murderous masks and the evil prankster toymaker to Kneale. While Kneale himself on the commentary track for The Stone Tape talks of the way that the murder scene with the dril was added to his script. And apparently the ancient sacrificial evil of Stonehenge finale, despite being very Kneale-esque in the way The Stone Tape and Quatermass and the Pit go into similar territories of uncovered ancient horror, was actually not part of Kneale's original draft)
I had never really been a big fan of this film - not because it is the strange outlier of the Halloween series, being the one that doesn't feature Michael Myers at all, but really just because of that incredibly irritating advertising jingle!
I know that the jingle is intended to be obnoxious by the filmmakers, but it succeeds much too well in that job!
However on watching the new Blu-ray edition (the first time I had seen it in its proper widescreen ratio too, which I think helped a lot), I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much the film has grown on me. I particularly like the opening titles, which are very much in the style of the first two films, just with an early 80s computer age twist! I also think that the location and day-and-date titles, harking back to the original film, are used really well here, speeding up the opening section of the film as the days zoom by, as well as expanding the story out neatly across the entire country during the end section.
Compared to Halloween II, which I savaged a little earlier in the thread, I think Halloween III, for all its lunatic plot twists, is beautifully paced (I did wonder on watching the film this time whether the opening scenes in the hospital were Wallace's comment on Halloweeen II! The hospital room where the murder takes place is laid out in almost exactly the same way that Laurie Strode's room was in the previous film! Whether this was the case or not, a moment that I particularly appreciated was the way that the nurse who discovers the murderer just after the killing is not killed herself. I was surprised, and quite pleased, that this minor character wasn't just used for a gratuitous death scene to spice up the early section of the film). Wallace in his commentary talks of holding a little too long on certain scenes and perhaps would have edited out of scenes faster for the sensibilities of a modern audience, but one of the best aspects of the film is the way that he holds on scenes of aftermath as if in shock at what has happened, such as the aftermath of the car exploding in the hospital carpark, or the drill murder. Neither really feel to be lingering to revel in the gory aftermath, or show any extra gory details, but more to just be a kind of pause for a moment to take in what has happened.
Of course one of the exceptions to that is the scene where Marge accidentally lasers off her face, where the film does
return to show the horrifically gory aftermath, but even that moment of extreme gore is perhaps necessary to introduce the method of murder that will soon happen on a grander scale and it being necessary to have to show something utterly and uniquely bizarre rather than only just talking about it!
The other exception is the murder of the rather broadly played low class family as they get used as test subjects for the masks. I remember on first watching the film I found this scene to be rather gratuitous and unnecessary. But on this viewing I think I did not mind the scene as much, mostly because I suddenly began to think of the film, and Dan O'Herlihy's prankster toymaker with his own factory staffed by animatronic robots, as being a twisted take on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory! If that is the case then the seemingly strange and sudden introduction of a bratty kid, over indulgent mother who is badly dressed and obsessed with money, and the plump, sweatily over friendly father in a giant gas guzzling RV make sense as being similar to the kinds of characters that Willy Wonka took the greatest pleasure in despatching in various bizarre ways! (And it also gives the scene of them being given a tour of the factory, with our heroes tagging along, an extra resonance!)
The Willy Wonka theme is the big one of the film I think, although Wallace also points out his homages to the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. A scene is filmed in the same square where the trucks were being loaded up in Don Siegel's film, and the final moments with the heroine go the Body Snatchers way! Although the final scene with the heroine seems to be just as much influenced by the death of Ash in Alien! (I wonder if there were also some intentional allusions to Psycho in those scenes taking place in and around the motel cabins and front office) Another big influence that I would guess at would be Westworld, with the animatronic puppet killers bleeding strange waxy gloop instead of blood (another great little touch is when the hero gets captured after killing one of the guards, he seems rather detached from the shock of being captured and more concerned with wiping his hand down of the gloop covering it!)
It is quite amusing that the way the filmmakers find to tie Halloween III in with the previous films is to have Halloween as the film playing on the TV just before the advert that will kill everyone plays! The hero at one point ends up tied to a chair with one of the deadly masks on and the TV tuned in to Halloween as the last film he will ever see! While this is only produced rather than directed by John Carpenter there is the same kind of attitude to television here that turns up later in They Live - it is lulling everyone into a false sense of security until they suddenly get killed by it! (The hero screaming down the telephone at the end of the film to "turn it off! Stop it!!" makes this attitude towards television needing to be stopped, but also being impossible to totally shut down, very obvious too!)
It might just be my imagination but I wonder if the filmmakers relished having the hero save himself by kicking the television in (also destroying the image of the original Halloween film!) and using the broken pieces of glass from the screen to cut himself free of his bonds!
I also like that, although it is nominally about strange Irish pranksters stealing Stonehenge and doing druidic rituals involving the stone and electronics, it is really about our hero and his relationship to the women in his life. He has an ex-wife that he has arguments with so that she ignores his pleas when he tries to get through to her and children that he ignores his duties to until it is too late; has a relationship with the lab technician where she obviously cares for him but he can't see it (see is the one who gets surprisingly moving drill murder!) and the one new sexual relationship he has with the heroine of the film is doomed to end in tragedy too!
So a very strange but fascinating film. If you can get past the annoying advert jingle and the way that the film unfortunately is part of the Halloween series without having anything to do with the rest of the Michael Myers mythology, it is surprisingly rewarding. I'm as surprised as anyone that I have ended up liking it a whole lot more than I had done on previous viewings!