The Norliss Tapes (1973)

Greetings, readers! After being disappointed by CREATURE this morning, I decided I needed a pick-me-up; something to get the taste of swamp-incest out of my mouth. This 1973 made-for-TV movie, directed by Dan Curtis, best known for his role in creating the Dark Shadows TV show, as well as Kolchak: The Night Stalker. THE NORLISS TAPES follows in Kolchak’s footsteps, featuring a journalist investigating the occult and finding more than he can handle. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Spoilers ensue.

Meet David Norliss (Roy Thinnes), an investigative reporter who has garnered a fairly large advance for a book debunking the supernatural; false mediums, phony fortune-tellers, etc.  A year into the project, Norliss calls his publisher and says that he can’t write the book; he’s not even sure he’ll be around to discuss it further.  He won’t elaborate, but tentatively makes a lunch-date with his publisher tomorrow to explain, and deliver a series of cassette tapes detailing what went wrong.

Norliss does not make it to the date, and cannot be reached by phone.  Finally, his publisher hires a private detective to find out what happened to David Norliss.  The PI begins to listen to Norliss’ tapes…

Norliss’ investigation into the occult brought him into contact with Ellen Cort (Angie Dickinson), a woman who claims to have been attacked by her ex-husband.  Not so strange, perhaps? Except their marriage had been ended by his death, and now he’s a blank-eyed, gray-skinned ghoul! She blows him away with a shotgun, but the body is gone by the time the police arrive.

Before long, bloodless corpses are turning up.  Norliss suspects a link between these exsanguinated bodies and Ellen Cort’s assailant, but this theory is pooh-poohed by the local law enforcement.

As Norliss tracks down leads and interviews people who may be involved (including the lovely Vonetta McGee, of BLACULA fame), it soon becomes apparent that he’s being tracked down as well…


While excellent in its own right, I think THE NORLISS TAPES suffer some from necessary comparison to the two Kolchak films.  In concept, THE NORLISS TAPES almost feels like a third Kolchak movie; in execution, if you replaced Roy Thinnes with Darren McGavin in a rumpled seersucker suit, it would be a third Kolchak movie.

Heck, this film’s themes of vampirism, satanism and the quest for immortality even borrow heavily from similar themes which appear in THE NIGHT STALKER and THE NIGHT STRANGLER.

That being said, THE NORLISS TAPES is still excellent.  With the short running time of a TV horror film, the pace is by necessity quick-moving.  The scares are laid on hot and heavy, ensuring that viewers kept coming back after commercial breaks.  Watching THE NORLISS TAPES, or GARGOYLES, or KILLDOZER — Damn, I miss the 1970s made for TV horror movies!

Final Analysis: Solid suspense and some good surprises make THE NORLISS TAPES a valuable and worthwhile addition to the canon of TV horror films, and horror film in general.  They don’t make ’em like this too often any more, folks.

Overall, I give THE NORLISS TAPES (1973)…


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