Made -for-TV Monday – The Norliss Tapes (1973)

(In the interest of full disclosure, what follows is a re-worked version of a post that originally appeared here in 2015. I would usually reserve this kind of thing for Throwback Thursday, but the post I’d originally planned for today just didn’t quite work out. Don’t worry, though, I’ll be back next week with an all-new TV-Movie – well, the post will be all-new, the movie will be some 30-40 years old – for you.)

nt5Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of Dan Curtis and especially of his TV series Dark Shadows and The Night Stalker. As a matter of fact, a few years back I wrote extensively about the latter, covering not only  the original Made-for-TV movie and it’s follow-up The Night Strangler, but also an episode-by-episode recap of the  TV series that sprang from them. Of course, those shows were far from the only ones that the prolific Curtis produced for television, and that brings us to the subject of today’s post.

So here’s what apparently happened: when it was announced that  that Curtis wasn’t going to be involved in ABC’s Night Stalker series, he was courted by NBC to create a slightly different show for them Thus The Norliss Tapes was born. As was typical at the time, he created a made for TV movie which would run an hour and a half and serve as an undeclared pilot for the series.

nt4To call The Norlisss Tapes a rip-off of The Night Stalker is a bit unfair (can you really rip yourself off?), but there are certainly similarities between the two. Instead of being an investigative reporter like Stalker‘s Carl Kolchack, Tapes‘ protagonist David Norliss (played by Roy Thinnes, at the time probably best known for his role in The Invaders) is a book writer researching – and along the way debunking -the supernatural. They both show an inclination for recording/narrating their adventures on audiotape. They both run afoul of disbelieving lawmen, etc. etc. The biggest difference between the two is that whereas The Night Stalker had a more lighthearted – at times almost comedic – sense to it, Norliss plays the horror straightforward, definitely going for the chills.

I guess you could call it Stalker‘s more serious cousin.

nt3Anyway, just to touch a bit on the plot, the movie opens with a telephone call between Norliss and his publisher during which the titular character begs him for a meeting. When Norliss doesn’t show, the publisher becomes worried, and when it becomes obvious that he has disappeared, he decides to investigate. Upon arriving at Norliss’s house, he finds a series of tapes, supposedly containing the narration of the book, and he decides to listen to them in order to try to find out what might have happened to the missing writer.

All of this, of course, is merely set-up to get us into the actual story.

nt2The always lovely Angie Dickinson plays a woman who awakens to find her home being invaded by a figure who appears to be her dead husband. He has already killed her dog, and begins to come after her. Fortunately she’s able to grab a shotgun, and in a very explosive P.O.V. shot shoots him at point blank range. However when the police get there, the only thing they find is the dead dog. Not only is there no other body, there isn’t even any other blood.

Norliss is called in to help investigate the mysterious goings-on, and it of course turns out that the dead husband is actually a… well, it’s kind of unclear what he is. Though he mostly looks and acts like a vampire, and the victim of his bodies are drained of blood, he doesn’t seem to be drinking it, instead, he’s mixing it into clay that he’s using to make a statue of the demon Zardoth who is temporarily inhabiting his body, but wants to use the statue as his new earthly body.

nt1In the end, it’s pretty easy to see why NBC wound up taking a pass on making this into an ongoing series. Thinnes’s Norliss really doesn’t display any of the charm or personality of Darren McGavin’s Kolchack, and the show in general just seems flat compared to a lot of Curtis’s other offerings. As a one-off it’s okay, but mostly forgettable, (which may be why it’s mostly forgotten today) and with The Niight Stalker already on the air and covering what would likely be most of the same ground that Norliss would pursue – let’s be honest, there’s only so much that can be done with a monster of the week show, though it would have had the advantage of the overarching “What’s actually happened to David?” subplot – it seems like it wouldn’t be long before the show simply ran out of tapes and ran aground.

Still, if you’re a fan of The Night Stalker and/or Dan Curtis it’s certainly worth checking out, which you can do below. (And just for the record, the entire movie is currently available on YouTube.)

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