Saturday, August 08, 2015

Drive-In Saturday: 'The Norliss Tapes' still scares

(Continuing our look at the occult detectives that influenced my thinking...)
(NBC - Feb. 21, 1973)
Starring Roy (The Invaders) Thinnes, Don Porter, Angie (Police Woman) Dickinson, and Claude Akins; directed and produced by Dan (Dark Shadows) Curtis; screenplay by William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run) from a story by Fred Mustard Stewart.
This backdoor pilot, presented as a TV movie, owes much to Curtis’ better known effort, The Night Stalker, as it has many of the same characteristics, from the cinematography to the music, to specifics of the plot and how Norliss narrates when supporting characters are about to meet their grisly fates.
Thinnes is writer David Norliss (in this case a journalist who writes non-fiction books and has set out to debunk the supernatural) who, like Carl Kolchak, dictates his work onto a series of tapes; he has disappeared after a cryptic call to his editor, who later breaks into Norliss’ beach house to discover the tapes. The story at hand unfolds as the tape unspools...
Norliss is called to investigate when the widow of a rich and famous sculptor finds her dead husband at work in his studio. He’s sculpting a giant, demonic figure out of clay mixed with human blood. She barely escapes from him. Cops think she’s nuts, of course. There’s a subplot involving an Egyptian scarab ring, tunnels under the property, and an empty coffin. The sculpture is meant to become a living receptacle for a demon lord, who begins to manifest in the fiery climax of the tale.
And as the first tale ends, the editor begins playing Tape No. 2... a story we’ll never know now, as the there were no sequels to the film.
Somehow I watched this movie in my Grandmother Simmons’ living room, on her old TV that was hidden inside a wooden cabinet. It’s possible the adults were watching something else in another room, or just sitting around and telling old family stories. I don’t really remember. What I do recall is hiding behind the couch each time the ashen-faced vampire showed up.
The film is now available on DVD here. The entire film is also on YouTube in a grainy, low-resolution and pixelated format, but is still watchable — and still quite spooky.
There's one shot as a woman opens the curtains at her hotel room that made me jump when I rewatched the movie for the first time in 42 years — and I knew it was coming. I still recalled it, thanks in part to my Uncle Joe having done the very same thing to me about a year or two before the movie came out: I heard a noise at my window one night and looked out, and he jumped up from behind the azaleas to scare me.
Er, "Spoiler alert"?
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