"The Norliss Tapes"
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
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
Directed by Dan Curtis
Written by Dan Curtis
Starring Roy Thinnes, Don Porter, Angie Dickinson, Claude Akins
Produced by Dan Curtis
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