The master of British science fiction, Nigel Kneale, may be unknown to you, yet I can guarantee that his work has influenced one of your favorite programs or movies. It’s actually unfair to limit his genre of choice to sci-fi as his work contains elements of supernatural thrillers and moody horror, all set within a relate-able context.
One his most influential pieces, 1953’s The Quatermass Experiment, chronicled the launch of a manned space expedition and the unpredictable events when it returned. The unease with which the slow moving plot unravels may be lost on the modern viewer more accustomed with immediate payoff, but Kneale was working on a deeper level. His vision of space was more akin to HP Lovecraft than Ray Bradbury. There were unspeakably mysterious things in the world of the beyond, not just green men but something outside of our understanding. In The Quatermass Experiment, the horror is in actually making the journey into the limitless void. His influence can be seen in TV programs such as Doctor Who and the X-Files and motion pictures such as Life Force and Event Horizon.
I highly encourage readers to seek out Neale’s work. When it was first screened, The Quatermass Experiment was essentially presented as live television and received an unprecedented viewership. In 2005 (the same year Doctor Who returned to TV), The Quatermass Experiment was updated yet retained its raw live-TV style and starred names familiar to readers of this blog such as David Tennant and Mark Gatiss.
The Stone Tape is perhaps on of Nigel Kneale’s lesser known TV dramas, but is well worth a look. Screened during the 1972 Christmas Holiday Season, when it was once a tradition for British TV schedules to be filled with horror and supernatural stories, The Stone Tape bears a resemblance to some of Neale’s equally enthralling radio dramas.
The Stone Tape’s premise revolves around the collision of science and the supernatural. An enterprising technician is developing a new style of audio recording to compete with the foreign market. Much like Quatermass’ British Space Program, national pride is a strong theme here. Electronics executive Peter Brock has chosen an old Victorian mansion for his work, but finds that parts of the structure date back much further. While the crew is setting up shop for a data warehouse, Brock’s girlfriend Jill has an unusual experience when she witnesses the manifestation of a ghost.
After some skepticism, it is revealed that a previously blocked off section of the estate is indeed haunted. Rather than depart, Brock sees this as a challenge. No one has ever recorded a ghost, after all. If his team were to succeed in this endeavor, it would bring great notoriety… followed by financial success, no doubt.
Then things go pear-shaped.
If you are a fan of British TV and cult horror, this should be on your viewing list. While it is unavailable on home media in the US, you can watch the entire film online via YouTube!
Happy Halloween, my gentle readers.