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Category:    Home > Reviews > Horror > Thriller > Mystery > Supernatural > TV > The Norliss Tapes (Horror Telefilm)

The Norliss Tapes (Horror Telefilm)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: C-     Telefilm: C+



The late Dan Curtis was best known for Dark Shadows and the original Night Stalker telefilms, but actually made a career of ambitious and different Horror adaptations and new programs throughout his career.  After Night Stalker and Night Strangler were made and were both huge hit TV movies, Curtis skipped the Kolchak: The Night Stalker series and went out on his own to do more of his own Horror projects.  One of the non-literary projects that followed was The Norliss Tapes, an ambitious 1973 telefilm he directed right after Night Strangler in an attempt to launch his kind of TV Horror series.


This time, a book writer named David Norliss (Roy Thinnes, best known for the Irwin Allen Sci-Fi series The Invaders) had approached a publisher (Don Porter) about doing a book on all the fraud behind supernatural gimmicks and psychic rip-offs.  He promises to deliver a great piece of journalism that will blow the lid off of the victimizers and make a great read.  Sanford T. Evans (Porter) agrees and even gives him a big advancement knowing the sales potential.  However, just over a year later, Norliss is not well and it looks like he has found things he never dreamed existed.


The two talk on the phone with Norliss needing to see Evans ASAP.  Reluctantly, Evans goes to Norliss’ place, only to find him gone.  However, he has left behind a pile of analog audiocassettes and Evans beings to listen, starting with tape one.  This telefilm is the first story as a widow (Angie Dickinson, just before Police Woman hit) who swears she saw her dead husband kill their pet dog and has disappeared again despite shooting him with a shotgun.  Norliss knows her sister Marsha (Michele Carey) and that is how he gets involved, much to the chagrin of the local Sheriff (Claude Akins, in a far from comic role) who wants to keep the bizarre events explainable and inoculated to causing public panic.


The film tries to do a severe variation on the Night Stalker films, but the film only did so-so ratings, leaving NBC to reject a series intended to follow leaving it never produced.  The idea is that the publisher would listen to each tape and that would be an episode and piece of the puzzle.  Writer William F. Nolan had written the Logan’s Run novel, which was about to become a big budget film and he did try to do something different with the teleplay based on the Fred Mustard Stewart story.  It is not dumb or too jokey, but smart, though still to derivative of the Kolchak films.


Vonetta McGee (Blacula) plays a woman who knows a key clue to what is going on, Robert Mandan (Soap) plays Norliss’ attorney who also wonders what has happened (also intended as a regular for a series), Stanley Adams does another one of his memorable character cameos and stuntman Nick Dimitri is not bad as the monster.  Though this moves more slowly than the Kolchak films and series, it has its moments and holds up nicely, especially after so many Kolchak and X-Files imitators.  For those who suffered through the recent, miserable Kolchak revival, they will find it a breath of fresh air.  Thinnes is not bad, but maybe a bit more energy in his performance would have helped the film, including on those voiceovers.


The 1.33 X 1 image looks good for its age, though the print is not as amazing as those on the MGM reissue of the Kolchak telefilms, yet Cinematographer Ben Coleman does a nice job here.  He had also lensed Curtis TV projects like Frankenstein, The Picture Of Dorian Gray and The Turn Of The Screw, all shot on NTSC analog video.  This film was shot in 35mm film and that helps.  He also did solid work on crime shows like McCloud, Dan August, Barnaby Jones, Switch, Quincy and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, plus Sci-Fi shows Buck Rogers and the original Battlestar Galactica.  We get some great moments of color, depth or field and even detail that shows up the current digital and digitized junk we see too often, especially in this genre.  Ironically, Anchor Bay had issued the Kolchak films among their earliest DVD product.


The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono has some distortion here and there that is unfortunate, but it is clear for the most part, featuring yet another Horror score by Curtis’ longtime composer/conductor Robert Cobert.  It is too similar to the work he did on the Kolchak telefilms, but has its moments.  There are no extras, but the film is worth seeing in what is easily the best playback available to date for the film.  It harkens back to a time when telefilms were more literate and challenging.  Too bad NBC was not convinced the publisher listening to each supernatural run-in would not work.  ABC went forward with Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which was not initially a big hit, but a big influence in the long term.  Who knows what would have happened if NBC had went with the show.  That might have made both shows bigger hits and who knows what influence Norliss could have had on the genre.  Oh well.


For more information on the original Kolchak on DVD, try the following links:


Night Stalker/Night Strangler Double Feature (MGM)



Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75 original series)




-   Nicholas Sheffo


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