What’s Christmas without some ancient demons embedded in the chimney? On the evening of December 25, 1972, BBC viewers celebrated the birth of Christ by being scared to death. They learned that their homes could be resonating with discarnate traumas absorbed over centuries, that the limestone walls have been listening, recording, and screaming—and that the ghost of Christmas past had been using their minds as its personal VCR. Scripted by Nigel Kneale, The Stone Tape is about a British electronics company who’s in a race to beat Japan to a super washing machine and a groundbreaking recording medium based on the “magnetic susceptibility” of certain minerals and their capacity to retain terrible memories. Holed up in a Victorian mansion, the team of bickering scientists working for Ryan Electronics would discover that haunting was a new form of playback. Merry Christmas.
Kneale had grown up on the Isle of Man, home to a mongoose named Gef who could prove his own existence in six different languages, including Russian and Arabic. Kneale’s imagination flourished in television, a medium with a reputation for killing souls. His teleplays seemed intent on trying to out-weird each other: a taxidermist gets stuffed by a pond of vengeful toads; a man is choked to death by his own bike wreckage; a porn cinema is haunted by dolphins. He also gave us titles like “Vegetable Village,” “Clog-Dance for a Dead Farce,” and “The Big Big Giggle.” One of my favorite Kneale shows involves a frumpy supermarket cashier who enlists the store mascot—a woodchuck called Briteway Billy—to wage telekinetic war against her tyrant boss, pummeling him to death with nonperishable canned goods. How many soup cans can a supermarket woodchuck ghost hurl?