Despite overseeing the TV movies The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973), producer Dan Curtis wasn’t involved with the short-lived series derived from those pictures, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Undaunted, Curtis produced and directed a feature-length pilot for a copycat project titled The Norliss Tapes. Although the proposed series never materialized, the Norliss Tapes feature survives today, via syndication and home video, as a stand-alone thriller featuring Curtis’ favorite monster, the vampire. (Lest we forget, Curtis created the cult-fave bloodsucker soap opera Dark Shadows, which ran from 1966 to 1971.) While The Norliss Tapes is unquestionably derivative, it’s a decent little shocker with a solid cast of reliable B-level actors.
When the picture begins, publisher Sanford Evans (Don Porter) visits the home of an author who’s gone missing, then finds recordings related to the author’s in-progress book. As Evans listens to the tapes, we see flashbacks depicting weird events the author, David Norliss (Roy Thinnes), witnessed. In true Curtis fashion, things get spooky fast, with little left to the imagination. It turns out Norliss was contacted by a woman named Ellen Cort (Angie Dickinson), who claimed to have seen her dead husband rooting around their house as a vampire/zombie/whatever. (Curtis presents this vignette with full-on monster makeup, offering a nastier jolt than one might expect from a small-screen flick.)
Meeting Ellen starts Norliss down the road of investigating nefarious types who are bringing the dead back to life for mysterious reasons. Along the way, Norliss encounters a sexy spiritualist (Vonetta McGee), a disbelieving sheriff (Claude Akins), and, eventually, a demon trying to enter the mortal world. Curtis crams a lot of enjoyably silly stuff into 74 minutes, so even though Thinnes is a forgettable leading man, it’s easy to see where this material could have gone with a more dynamic star. It doesn’t hurt that Dickinson looks fantastic, and that Curtis was adept at boosting production value with low camera angles and shadowy lighting. The Norliss Tapes won’t linger very long in your memory, but it’s fun to watch once.
The Norliss Tapes: FUNKY