Friday, October 26, 2012

The Norliss Tapes (1973)

NetFlix 2.9/5
IMDB 6.5/10
My Rating: 7.5/10

I haven't featured a guest review in a while, so I thought it was time for another - Especially since I've been so incredibly busy lately with work and the KFP web comic that I haven't had time to keep up with the movie reviews as I'd like.  This KFP guest review comes to you from my friend Joel Schama, and he managed to pick one of my favorite 70's made-for-TV horror flicks to kick off with.  I'll drop in a few comments of my own, and put my commentary in green...  and now, over to Joel!

The Norliss Tapes, circa 1973, directed and produced by William F. Nolan of Dark Shadows fame (and directed by my childhood favorite, Dan Curtis!), is a Night Gallery meets Kolchak: The Night Stalker pastiche. The story begins with David Norliss (Roy Thinnes) being unable to even begin a book he has been commissioned to write one year prior. Following David’s disappearance, his publisher finds stacks of tapes upon which David recorded the events of his investigation. Hoping these will provide clues as to Norliss’s whereabouts, his publisher begins to listen to the first tape.

The story unfolds following David’s descent into the realm of attempting to debunk certain paranormal activities, only to find himself within a situation that his skeptical mind finds most difficult to believe. Norliss’s character narrates the film throughout, juxtaposed with scenes of the actual events. Much in the same way Kolchak: The Night Stalker presents itself.

(The key...and unfortunate... difference for me between this and Night Stalker is in the main characters. Norliss Tapes was a terrific movie but it never had the cultural impact of Night Stalker, and I put a lot of that down to Norliss vs Kolchak - Roy Thinnes gives a good performance in a fairly dry and serious role, and that's his problem.  Kolchak the character was one of horror's all-time greats.  He was a loud, raucous, scenery-chewing loser you just had to cheer for, and IMO that made him a lot more fun to watch than Norliss, alas...)

In his attempt to debunk the occult, his research leads him to a wealthy widow (played by Angie Dickinson) who believes her husband no longer resides within the crypt within which his body was entombed. Her husband’s final wish was to be buried with the scarab ring of Osiris; a ring bought from an antique dealer specializing in the occult, which he believed would help grant immortality. Left only with Norliss’s tapes, his publisher continues to search for reasons for David’s disappearance.

Throughout the movie, the widow Ellen’s undead husband is seen only by his victims; victims later found by the sheriff (Claude Akins) to have a pale pallor, the explanation of which can only be attributed to the complete and total lack of blood!

The scarab purchased by Ellen’s husband, it is later shown, was for the purpose of allowing him to rise from the dead in order to finish his sculpture of Sargoth. By combining the blood of his victims with the clay, the Sargoth would gain entrance into our world and grant him immortality. Or so he believes.

(And just as an addendum, I saw this when it first aired, when I was only a wee little 7 year old Kentucky Fried Popcorn.  It scared me senseless.  One of my most frightening memories of the film was the underground tunnel lair of our vampire, which was strewn with the pale corpses of his victims - Heady stuff for a TV movie!)

We, as viewers, are left at the end not knowing what really happened to David Norliss, or what was to come after the Sargoth was brought forth into our dimension. However, if you enjoy 70’s made for television horror movies, and don’t mind an ambiguous ending, then this is one you must not miss.  

Ask me for my favorite 70's TV horror films and you'll get a list of three - Night Stalker, Norliss Tapes, and Spectre.  There were plenty of other good ones, but those are the Big Three to my mind, and every one is something I can watch again and again and still enjoy.  In fact, I think I'll go dig out my DVD of this now...