Children Of The Stones
Altogether now: “They don’t make ’em like this anymore!”
1977 Dir: Peter Graham Scott
Starring: Gareth Thomas, Iain Cuthbertson
Cert: PG Running Time: 187 mins
Price: £12.99 Release: OUT NOW!
Reviewer: Steve O’Brien
“Dumbing down” is the easiest and most used critical missile to lob at today’s television. But while the TV terrain of the 1970s wasn’t exactly choc-a-block with I, Claudius , Civilisation and David Mercer plays like those doomy naysayers would have us believe, there is a credible case to make that those suits trusted viewers to cope with a little intelligence a mite more than they do today. And if you need any proof then check out this spine-freezing gem from the children’s archives. The fact that it’s for kids and from the much scorned philistines of ITV make the quality of this six-part horror story even more staggering.
Its set-up is classic – the newcomers in the foreign land, the universally recognised neurosis of walking into that alien pub only to have the locals stop and stare (see Straw Dogs , Deliverance , et al). Children Of The Stones isn’t in a hurry to explain away why everybody else in this stone-prisoned idyll, save for the four newcomers, (astrophyisicist Adam Brake and son, and museum curator Margaret Smythe and daughter) seems to be under some bizarre mass hypnosis. They all greet each other with the weirdly sinister “Happy day!” while the vacantly grinning children coast a multitude of extreme mathematics tests. The only clue seems to point toward the standing stones, ominous neolithic echoes of a lost pagan age.
Children Of The Stones is the fruit of a heady, mind-screwing mix of concepts that involve astrophysics, astronomy, history and religion. Even the kids talk impenetrable Open University language inbetween the requisite juvenile cries “Yeah” and “Hey”. But while it’s sometimes a challenge to catch up with the high talk, there’s a cold brilliance to the direction that makes Children Of The Stones still scary even today. Peter Graham Scott suggests a malevolent sentience in the stones through some inspired fish-eye camerawork and an idiosyncratic music score (basically, a soul-chilling cacophony of moaning choir voices apparently orgasming in the recording studio. Listen and you’ll understand). Children Of The Stones ’ middle class primness makes it sometimes come across as Enid Blyton meets Dennis Wheatley, but if you can stomach the hot-cross buns and impossibly perfect family relations, then this 25-year vintage will scare the living s**t out of you.