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The Norliss Tapes
Directed by Dan Curtis
Written by Dan Curtis
Starring Roy Thinnes, Don Porter, Angie Dickinson, Claude Akins
Produced by Dan Curtis
Another movie Anchor Bay dug up out of the “Long Forgotten” section of the archives, “The Norliss Tapes” is an interesting mix of events that lead up to a surprisingly satisifying conclusion, though not without its clear and present faults.
So what we have here plotwise is a paranormal investigator, David Norliss, out investigating psychic phenomena and other assorted supernatural hoaxes. Sort of a modern day “In Search Of…,” or even “Fact or Fiction” for my longtime readers, Norliss has amassed hours upon hours of cassette tapes detailing his findings. And when David Norliss mysteriously vanishes one day, all that remains behind are his tapes. What Norliss’ tapes reveal are an altogether alarming story of a woman attacked by her husband’s corpse, and the events surrounding this particular attack.
It sounds really ambitious, especially for a movie with a seventy two minute runtime. The fact that this movie easily predates any of the standard paranormal investigation plotlines (“The X-Files,” “Millenium,” “In Search Of,” and their like) by a good twenty years or more is nothing short of astonishing—“The Norliss Tapes” comes to us from the depths of 1973. There’s even a case that can be made that says “The Norliss Tapes” is the ground from which the John Carpenter title “In the Mouth of Madness” came from (incredible similarities exist, especially in the setups of both).
If anything, the movie’s pedigree suggests that we’ve got a winner on our hands. If you recognize the name “Dan Curtis,” it’s because you probably should. Guy wrote some of the biggest pieces of his era: “Dark Shadows,” “Trilogy of Terror (featuring that bit with the Zuni fetish doll that’s still freaky even up to this second)” and “The Night Stalker (so badass that even Sci Fi remade it).” But the question before us is should it have even been salvaged in the first place?
And the answer is, surprisingly, a qualified yes. Though every jot and tittle of this movie looks incredibly dated—velvet curtains? Light sconces that look like candles? A gun case in the living room stocked to the gunnels with rifles? Lapels so wide you could hangglide with them?—it’s still got enough compression in its metaphorical cylinders to keep a movie running.
Even better, there will be plenty of definitely unintentional laughs as we get a look at the “effects technology” of the early seventies. The “corpse” of the husband I mentioned? Oh man…looked like Lou Ferrigno in blue Hulk makeup. Follow that up with a tussle with a clearly dummy dog—brought to mind shades of an old Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode where Tom Servo cranks out “He’d never killed that big a puppet before.” The shotgun firing into said corpse? Looked like the muzzle flash wasn’t even aligned with the barrel itself—and they didn’t even try to simulate recoil. These incredible effects faux pas all take place in the space of less than a minute, so watch carefully for all the rest.
And though all of these things are there—laughable effects, antiquated costumes, overly dramatic music and dialogue—we still have a more than passable plotline going here, that’s reasonably well executed. If you’re prepared to tolerate the problems I’ve mentioned earlier—godawful though they may be—then you may at least get some enjoyment from “The Norliss Tapes.”
The ending is a bit of a thrill, actually. It’s got some nice suspenseful elements to it and at least a little action going on, so it’s respectible to say the least. At least until the last two minutes, when it makes the absolutely pathetic move of going to the SECOND TAPE. I’m guessing that this was some kind of television series at one point, and this was like the ninety minute pilot episode? Which was apparently the case, according to the IMDB. It was never picked up, but this was, indeed, the pilot.
Damn, I’m good.
The special features include English closed captions and trailers for “The Entity,” “Quicksilver Highway,” “Race With the Devil” and “Bad Dreams.”
All in all, “The Norliss Tapes” wasn’t a bad resurrection for Anchor Bay to work on. Though it’s got some clear flaws and faults to it, it still has more than a few virtues left. If you can stomach the troubles—or if you’d like a good, albeit unintentional, laugh—then you won’t have a problem in the world with “The Norliss Tapes.”
Steve Anderson is a film critic who collects action figures so he can dress them up as his favorite horror villains. He lives somewhere in the United States.
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