In The Desert Of Seth

By G. B. Marian

The 31 Days of Halloween III – Day #5: Stone Tapes and Martian Witches

The original screenplay for Halloween III was written by a British screenwriter named Nigel Kneale. While the film was still in pre-production, John Carpenter and the film’s director, Tommy Lee Wallace, re-wrote the script a couple of times. Kneale decided that he didn’t like any of Carpenter and Wallace’s proposed changes, so he demanded to have his name removed from the credits. (Indeed, Kneale is said to have had some pretty bad personality clashes with practically everyone who’s ever adapted his work to the screen, even across the pond.) However, Kneale’s personal touch on the finished product is still visible to any viewer who is familiar with his work.

The late great Nigel Kneale, Britain’s answer to H. P. Lovecraft.

Nigel Kneale is most famous for writing the British Quatermass films and TV serials. These are about a scientist named Bernard Quatermass who thwarts several attempted alien invasions of Earth. This is interesting enough in and of itself, but Kneale’s stories have the added distinction of combining science fiction with occult horror. Usually, the aliens in his stories have some role to play in the development of human mysticism and magic. In Quatermass and the Pit (1967), for example, it’s revealed that the Christian concept of the devil is actually a genetic race memory of Martian colonists who performed experiments on our primate ancestors. The apes on which these Martians experimented, in turn, are the blood ancestors of all human “witches” and “wizards.”

I think my favorite example of Kneale’s work is The Stone Tape (1972), a made-for-TV film in which scientists discover proof for the existence of ghosts. It turns out that ghosts are actually residual recordings of past events that have somehow been left on a special kind of rock. If the foundation of a house happens to be made from that particular rock, the house can “record” everything that happens within its walls (making it “haunted”). This might not sound too scary at first, but as the characters dig deeper into just how this all works, they learn that the “Stone Tape Theory” (which is now a popular concept among real life paranormal researchers) has some truly frightening implications.

As you can see, much of Kneale’s work isn’t just horror; it’s also science fiction. And I’m not talking about mere “sci-fi” (i.e., adventure stories with just the trappings of science fiction, such as spaceships and lasers and bug-eyed monsters); I’m talking about hard science fiction here, the kind that actually speculates about the future and/or the nature of existence by building on real scientific theories. It just so happens that Kneale’s scientific speculations are really fucking terrifying and that they usually provide some possible explanation for things that people call “supernatural.” (And somehow, his speculative explanations for such phenomena usually make them more frightening than they would be if they were purely spiritual.) It’s easy to see H.P. Lovecraft’s influence on Kneale’s work; but I think Kneale also belongs in the company of such hard science fiction masters as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.

Bearing this in mind, what of Halloween III? Legend has it that Kneale’s original script had a lot more hard science fiction in it. From what I’ve gathered, Conal Cochran is really some kind of interdimensional alien; he transports the Bluestone from Stonehenge to America by some kind of transdimensional warp; and there’s much more speculation as to what Stonehenge is really made of (and why this substance becomes so volatile when the planets are in alignment). More of Cochran’s motive for his genocidal plan is supposedly explained, as well. It seems that John Carpenter and Tommy Lee Wallace both felt that much of this material would not translate very well for American audiences, so they opted to “dumb it down” a little in subsequent drafts of the script. That being said, it seems to me that most of Kneale’s ideas are still present in the finished film; you just have to think about them for yourself a bit more than you probably would if Kneale had been in charge. (Word has it that his estate still has a copy of the original script locked away somewhere, where no one can ever find it.)

One of the scariest films I’ve ever seen in my life.

As a final note, the Quatermass series has had a direct influence on the more popular Doctor Who television show, which explores similar themes in a much more optimistic light. (In fact, I can totally see Conal Cochran as a Doctor Who villain; he’d fit in nicely with guys like Davros, the Master, and the Black Guardian.) I might also mention that the final Quatermass serial, 1979’s The Quatermass Conclusion, speculates that Stonehenge and other prehistoric sites are actually “landing sites” for a hostile alien force that wishes to harvest and be worshiped by human beings. It’s hard to be sure without being able to read Kneale’s original script for Halloween III, but it seems likely that it was meant to tie in with The Quatermass Conclusion somehow.

“Twenty-six more days ‘till Halloween,
Halloween, Halloween,
Twenty-six more days ‘till Halloween,
Silver Shamrock!”


3 responses to “The 31 Days of Halloween III – Day #5: Stone Tapes and Martian Witches

  1. Colin Newton October 15, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    Ah, “The Stone Tapes,” a minor-but-marvelous movie that has been unjustly forgotten. Excellent airing from the vaults. I had never really thought about Keane being a “hard science fiction” writer, but you’re absolutely right.

    Liked by 1 person

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