Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Other Night Stalker: The Norliss Tapes

Anchor Bay is about to release on DVD – in fact, for the first time ever on video, as far as I can determine – the 1973 Dan Curtis TV movie, The Norliss Tapes.

This obvious pilot film starred Roy Thinnes (The Invaders, The X-Files) as David Norliss, a San Francisco investigative reporter working on a book debunking the supernatural. A year after taking the publisher's advance, he calls his editor to tell him that he cannot write the book. A few days later, Norliss mysteriously disappears. When the editor shows up at Norliss' home looking for him, he instead finds a pile of numbered cassette tapes. Playing the first one, he hears Norliss relate a terrifying story about his investigation of strange events in Carmel County involving a wealthy widow, her apparently undead spouse, a strange sculpture, and some bloodless corpses....

The movie plays out very much like Curtis' Night Stalker telefilms, with first-person narration by an investigator who is at first a skeptic, but is soon caught up in unexplainable events. William F. Nolan's teleplay follows the same structure and beats of Richard Matheson's Stalker scripts, the minimalist musical score is again provided by Robert Cobert, and Curtis has even cast Claude Akins in a lawman role nearly identical to the one he played in the original Kolchak movie.

The biggest difference though, is that The Norliss Tapes is essentially humorless. Thinnes' David Norliss is obviously a very serious, brooding sort of guy, where Darren McGavin's Carl Kolchak was a wise-cracking wiseass with a lot of charm. This may have hurt the pilot's chances of becoming a series back in the early Seventies. On the plus side, though, The Norliss Tapes co-stars the 1973-model Angie Dickinson, and that's a very good thing.

The DVD (which goes on sale on Oct. 3), is a bare-bones affair with a full-frame (the original aspect ratio) transfer and a few trailers for other Anchor Bay/20th Century Fox horror titles. The transfer is solid and clean, and looks fine; the mono soundtrack is clear and strong.

While not quite as memorable as the Night Stalker films, Norliss Tapes does have a good, original story and an intriguing set-up. Too bad there was never a series or sequels. And since it rarely airs on TV anymore (outside occasional showings on Fox Movie Channel) it's great to have it on DVD.

Now if someone could just dig up and release Gene Roddenberry's 1977 Spectre pilot film on disc, I'd be a very happy horror fan. And for that matter, where's The Invaders?

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