TV Terror Guide: The Norliss Tapes (1973)


Air Date: Feb. 21, 1973 (NBC)

Production Companies: Dan Curtis Productions, Metromedia Producers Corporation (MPC)

Running Time: 72 min.

Available on: YouTube

Written by: William F. Nolan

Story by: Fred Mustard Stewart

Directed by: Dan Curtis

Cast: Roy Thinnes, Don Porter, Angie Dickinson, Claude Akins, Michele Carey, Vonetta McGee, Hurd Hatfield

Dan Curtis has always used and re-used plot elements and stories among his various productions; however, few have been as evident as those recycled in The Norliss Tapes, which aired on NBC just over a month after The Night Strangler aired on ABC. David Norliss (Roy Thinnes) is a copy of Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) from The Night Stalker made on a machine with a low toner cartridge. Nevertheless, The Norliss Tapes is a terrific TV movie.

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Where Norliss/Thinnes lacks in the charisma and character of Kolchak/McGavin, the movie compensates with a strong story. Norris is also a writer, but of books, not newspaper articles. He also has a demanding, editor Sanford T. Evans (Don Porter), similar to Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland.) In this alternate universe version, though, Evans discovers the cassette tapes chronicling Norliss’s supernatural adventures after he disappears.

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It’s got a slightly better “hook” than The Night Stalker. Both share frequent narration by the lead character; however, having Norliss vanish following an unknown event that leaves him first terrified, then lying disheveled in bed not answering his phone, gives a long-term destination if the movie were to become a series. I don’t know if that was ever a possibility, but I assume it must have been. Otherwise, it may have chosen to resolve the disappearance subplot at the end.

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How Norliss gets from point A to point Z is similar to how Kolchak does the same. However, the “monster of the week” seems a little more substantial than some of those in the Kolchak TV series. What exactly is Ellen Sterns Cort’s (Angie Dickinson) dead husband risen from the grave? A vampire? A zombie? A ghoul? I liked the clever amalgamation of monster qualities combined to create the creature.

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The creature looks good: simple and scary. The atmosphere is moody; Curtis is a master, especially when using Robert Cobert for the music. Cobert's melodies this time are familiar, but don’t seem to be lifted directly from Dark Shadows. The running time feels perfect, and the pace doesn’t drag, even though it’s not necessarily breakneck speed. There are some scary moments. Kolchak is better, but I enjoyed Norliss quite a bit.

Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Norliss Tapes as well as all the great movies from this series...

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