This movie was intended as a pilot for a TV series of the same name; however NBC didn’t place an option as they saw it as another version of The Night Stalker (1972) (TV Movie). Nevertheless, it’s the person who was behind the creation, that garnishes quite a bit of the attention, Dan Curtis, by 1973 he had one of the most well-known names in Hollywood. He dominated the television screens, and truly redefined the horror genre on the small screen all in thanks to his phenomenal Dark Shadows series, which exploded in every direction possible, books, albums, and even spin-off movies, although his success waned heavily after the famed series ended in 1971. He didn’t vanish, like a ghost rather he had some minor successes, but never regained that notoriety. This brings us to The Norliss Tapes, which languished for a long time in a dusty attic, and has finally achieved some love from those who have rediscovered it pique which their interests; while learning it tried to copy the success of the main character Kolchak, who went to become a hero to the horror fans. Overall it served as the first collaboration between Curtis and screenwriter William Nolan, that eventually lead to three more TV-movies, including his beloved Trilogy of Terror (1975) and one feature release which was Burnt Offerings (1976), Fred Mustard Stewart (The Mephisto Waltz ) also worked on the screenplay. When it did air on February 21, 1973 it came and went as fast a breeze, however, somehow it whipped back around given a few different days to trot it again, several decades later it had a limited released from Anchor Bay on DVD, with a fair presentation. Nevertheless the movie found syndication in 2018 with NBC Universal Television Distribution.
David Norliss (Roy Thinnes (Satan’s School for Girls )) is an investigative journalist exploring the supernatural, in search to debunk all the stories as scams, gimmicks, and other ruses, who got a very large advance from his publisher Sanfod T. Evans (Dan Porter) for a book deal, one small problem David, has vanished , though he left behind a series of audio tapes. The story actually started when Sanford sits down to listen to them in David’s living room, which definitely fits the early 70s. In Norliss’ first outing, he encountered a recently-widowed woman Ellen Sterns Cort (Angie Dickinson (Dressed to Kill )) whose husband, James Cort (Nick Dimitri), returned from the grave. There’s not much of a mystery to the tale, it’s basically a quick connection of dots; her husband’s first screen appearance, shows he’s a true vampire, (which coincidently Dimitri starred in Kolchak: The Night Stalker, episode The Vampire ). In this short pilot/TV-movie, a mere 72-minutes, shows the focus of David and Ellen discovering the details of how James became a bloodsucker, it does show them using the occult to answer their strange questions, such as a guru named Mme Jeckiel (Vonetta McGee (Blacula ). James is diagnosed with a life-ending illness, and not wanting to die (who does) discovered the mythology of vampires and with a bite, crosses over to this frenzied blood craving beast. As women corpses turn up he tries to convince the police, who dismiss it as nonsense and spirals into a bit of police drama versus vampire reality, with plenty of gothic tones. Though the vampire makeup leaves a lot to be desired, James definitely is not a Dracula of nobility nor a Barnabas Collins.
Often when on the smaller television scale budget, one needs either figure a way around the problem or eliminate a scene all together, however, with Curtis at the helm, and master of small screens, he possesses the talents to make portions of a production seem more grandiose that actually appeared. Therefore, since scares, and explicit gore defiantly not available, the only fallback position are layers of atmosphere, and trusty gothic scenic scenes. As previous stated the film is dated, the type of carpet, walls, clothing, though some pass a harsh criticism view of other trappings, once again remember the era, and some situations the locations.
Norliss Tapes does seem familiar while far too similar to Kolchak, it serves as perhaps a precursor to The X-Files, Mulder always sought strange cases, hence the name, from Aliens, to Fluke Man, and even vampires. However, Thinnes’ main character, a tad too one-dimensional, he lacks hardnose journalistic integrity to discover the possibilities, that the role called for, he was not like the Reporter Jack McGee (Jack Colvin, of The Incredible Hulk TV-Series (1977-1982). The storyline a tad too simplistic likely it struggled to find a love from the audience of then, but nice that new fans are talking the time to find these lost television movies.
IMDb Rating: 6.5/10
Baron’s Rating: 6.0/10
Here’s the free movie to enjoy: