Sunday, September 25, 2011

Children of the Stones (1977)

NetFlix 2.8/5
IMDB 7.2/10
My Rating: 7.5/10

An astrophysicist and his son investigate the standing stones of secluded village Milbury and find the people eerily happy and under the control of the creepy Hendrick.

I had NEVER heard of this before, and for some bizarre reason it has only been rebroadcast once since its original airing in '77, but it's now out on DVD and Netflix has it for rental. If you can pick up the single DVD (all 7 eps are on 1 disc), I recommend it highly, providing you are a patient viewer and well-attuned to the sort of no-budget ambiance of 60's-70's British TV.  Fortunately, it eschews FX for the most part and depends instead on a smart screenplay and a slow-building atmosphere of tension that makes it seem much more than just "kid's telly", as it was originally marketed.

It's the story of a professor and his son moving to a small village that's completely surrounded by a circle of standing stones, and populated by strangely cheerful villagers under the thrall of the Tall Man... excuse me, Hendrick, the town's Big Hat. He's the guy in the poster above and geez, what a performance. His resemblance to the Tall Man from Phantasm is unnerving, but Hendrick is a happy fellow, no Scrimmian growls of "BOYYYY".  In fact, he's positively delighted that we've come to visit him in his weird little village with its weird little customs.   This is the first clue that our intrepid leads should run away screaming, but then we wouldn't have this disturbing tale to revel in.

It's a lot like 70's Doctor Who in style - plot-heavy, talky, lots of running back and forth to the same few sets, few FX, mood-heavy - but it's still enjoyably creepy and really well done. I have to give special bonus points to the soundtrack, which is composed entirely of human voices - it's a chorus doing moaning and wailing and multi-level harmony, rather than the usual instrumental music, and it works great to give the whole thing a really disturbing feel. Here's the music from the intro and the first few moments of the series opener, which nicely sums up the feel of the whole show:

Much is made of the old Doctor Who shows sending kiddies hiding behind the couch, but I never found them scary.  This, on the other hand, is a little unsettling even to me as an adult, and despite being marketed as a YA show, in many ways it's perfectly enjoyable for adults also...  In fact, probably more so, because I doubt you could get modern kids to even sit still for this, given how slowly it moves.  ADD teens will nod off during the long scenes of characters standing in the library and talking - Static cameras, puzzle-solving, debate, etc.  Imagine, if you will, The Wicker Man recreated as a miniseries for children...  with perhaps a bit of Stepford Wives stirred in.  The village's "Happy Ones" are Prisoner-eerie, and the mix of science and folk magic and space/time distortions give it a prototype-Lost ambiance.  I'd definitely recommend this to anyone who's a fan of off-kilter television such as old Who, Twin Peaks, and the like. 

And as a tidbit of personal info, I was much inspired by the show's logo shot when I designed the title graphic for our workshop's Ligne Bretagne pipes - Spot the similarities!

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