The Norliss Tapes

norliss tapes

Shot as a T.V. pilot, THE NORLISS TAPES spends its first ten minutes establishing the back-story on troubled writer David Norliss (ROY THINNES) and what would have been the subsequent episodic structure for a series that was sadly never picked up. In a nutshell, droopy-eyed David goes missing before submitting the manuscript on his anticipated novel about the supernatural. His publisher pops over to his overly wood-paneled bachelor’s pad to find Norliss, but instead finds a series of numbered cassette tapes that each contains a terrifying tale. As the publisher listens intently, the screen does that awesome ‘70s dissolve into the action transpiring on the tape and we are introduced to the recently widowed Ellen Cort (ANGIE DICKINSON) and her late husband, the sculptor James Cort, who is now a blue-faced zombie with an occupational interest in blood. Ellen hires David, an early day Fox Mulder, as a private investigator when her local sheriff (CLAUDE ATKINS) laughs off her claim that her dead husband seems to have a problem with staying buried. In the course of his investigation, Norliss interviews James’ art world associates and meets the mysterious Mademoiselle Jeckiel (BLACULA’s VONETTA McGEE) who eventually reveals that she commissioned James to posthumously sculpt a statue of the demon Sargoth in exchange for immortality. In order to complete the piece, zombie James needs human blood to mix with his clay, so a delightful string of murders are used the keep the action moving between the more tedious scenes of David playing armchair gumshoe. With no help from the stubborn sheriff, Norliss eventually cracks the case and brings James’ artistic afterlife to a fiery end. The scene dissolves back to David’s publisher who pops out the first tape, fires up a smoke, and loads the next cassette into the player. Produced and directed by DAN CURTIS (DARK SHADOWS, NIGHT STALKER, NIGHT STRANGLER), THE NORLISS TAPES provides a nice glimpse of what could have been undeniably interesting appointment television. Each week, a new tape would have brought a different tale perfect for the stable of ‘70s guest stars poached from LOVE AMERICAN STYLE. Although this never happened, the pilot for THE NORLISS TAPES still holds up as an excellent tease.

indelible scenes

  • Ellen’s dead husband tosses around her German Sheppard like a Pound Puppy doll
  • Hider zombie in the backseat of the young shop girl’s car
  • Ellen’s scream-a-thon as she stumbles SCOOBY-DOO-chase-scene-style over the dead bodies in the underground passage
  • The bloody ring of fire used to trap zombie James and Sargoth
  • The zombie’s greatest kills montage incorporated as a bonus in the closing credits
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Amanda By Night
14 years ago

The Norliss Tapes is fantastic. I still get chills when the zombie guy rips off the car door! I am glad this movie got a DVD release but very disappointed that it got some blah reviews. I think when people watch a lot of these movies now they don’t watch them the way they were intended.  Some might call is slow and ponderous, I call it suspenseful.

Thanks for giving this film the much needed love it deserves!