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NORLISS TAPES (1973)
Published by Film Fanaddict on 2006/10/30 (1968 reads)
Directed by Dan Curtis
Review by Chris Barry
Released by Anchor Bay
Running Time: 72 minutes
Color format: Color
Audio/Subtitles: English, Dolby Digital 1.0
Region Code: 1 NTSC
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
16:9 Enhanced: No
Special Features: N/A
Trailer Online: No
Dan Curtis’ real claim to fame was the creation of the haunted soap opera DARK SHADOWS, which scared daytime television viewers throughout the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. Looking at DARK SHADOWS today, it’s easy to dismiss it as underbaked, stilted and silly but, from 1966-1971, it was pretty gripping stuff. In fact, DARK SHADOWS was so popular; Curtis brought the concept (twice) to the big screen with HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970) and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS (1971). HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS upped the gore quotient and still works pretty well as a vampire thriller while NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS is an abstract hallucinatory ghost story that’s almost as disturbing as Dario Argento’s INFERNO.
Curtis hit pay dirt again in 1972 when he produced THE NIGHT STALKER – a made-for-TV modern day vampire movie that still has the ability to scare audiences despite the limitations of TV, especially in the early 70s when movies made for this medium were basically filler for commercials. Curtis also directed the edge-of-your-seat TRILOGY OF TERROR, a boob tube omnibus horror with the final part dedicated to an African Zuni fetish doll that comes to life only to terrorize Karen Black with an oversized butcher knife. Believe me, this was some weird shit on TV back in 1975.
That said, during the 1970s, a whole spate of horror-for-television films hit the airwaves, including the creepy BAD RONALD (1974), with Scott Jacoby as a psycho hiding in the attic of a house recently purchased by a cute newlywed couple; CROWHAVEN FARM (1970), a TV take on the supernatural starring Hope Lange; and Steven Spielberg’s excellent DUEL (1971), which holds up today as an example of how terror should play out on TV.
Compared to the stuff on the tube now, many early 70s excursions into TV horror barely register on the fright-o-meter; and can hardly be considered camp, they’re so bad.
One of the worst offenders was Curtis’ THE NORLISS TAPES (1973), a nonsensical movie involving voodoo and the undead. A newspaper publisher (Sanford Evans) finds tape recordings of investigative reporter David Norliss (Roy Thinnes), who disappeared while researching the supernatural and paranormal activities for a story. Norliss’ recordings tell how he got involved with a widow, Ellen Sterns Cort (Angie Dickenson), and her investigation of the disappearance of her husband, James (Nick Dimitri).
The convoluted plot links the husband to an ancient Egyptian god called Sargoth and Norliss determines that James Cort, who is a sculptor, has been using human blood to mix with clay to form a sculpture to resurrect Sargoth. Curtis throws psychics, zombies, blue monsters, muted colors and a dreary Southern California into the mix, chopped up into 10 minute segments to squeeze in space for commercials.
I couldn’t keep track of all the hoodoo voodoo and found the whole affair cold and off-putting. And Thinnes as Norliss was as bloodless as Cort’s victims. But that’s not to write off THE NORLISS TAPES completely – there is a worthy concept buried in there somewhere not far off THE NIGHT STALKER model, which had developed into a full run TV show for a season (1974-1975) under the name KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER.
It’s not surprising then that THE NORLISS TAPES was originally developed as a pilot for a series. Fortunately, it was never picked up by the networks.
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