Norliss Tapes, The (US - DVD R1)
Gabe listens to some mysterious tapes, but doesn't hear anything he likes...
Investigative journalist David Norliss disappears while investigating the occult and supernatural. Specifically, Norliss was investigating a woman's claim that her husband had returned from the grave and attacked her. Meanwhile, folks in the area have been found dead, drained of all their blood. Norliss' publisher finds his notes, which are on tape, and listens to them in hopes of gaining insight into his disappearance. Was it a zombie, a vampire, or perhaps a zombie/vampire paying back a debt owed to a powerful demon?
There are only a few made-for-TV movies that've gone down as classics (John Carpenter's Elvis, ...And The Band Played On, and Spielberg’s Duel, off the top of my head), and even fewer directors that've thrived and made names for themselves in the area. The only two examples I can think of are Mick Garris and the director of The Norliss Tapes, Dan Curtis. The popularity these directors share most likely have just as much to do with their genre of choice, horror/thriller, as it does with their actual talent.
Curtis is most well regarded for Trilogy of Terror, and his two Night Stalker films. The shared problem of most of his films seems to be the fact that they live and die by their concepts alone, as Curits doesn't have an overactive sense of visual flare. The Norliss Tapes begins with a decent concept, one straight out of a Ray Bradbury or Richard Matheson short story. The idea of recovered text, or in this case audiotapes, which may or may not reveal the story behind a narrator's disappearance is now a horror movie staple, thanks to the memorable excesses of Cannibal Holocaust, and the creepy mystery of The Blair Witch Project. As the film progresses, it seems that perhaps this particular story should've stayed on the page.
The problem here isn't one of incompetent writing, directing, or even acting, but a lack of real content. Basically, the filmmakers have padded out a ten-page story with a series of stalk-and-chase scenes featuring our antagonistic undead artist. What's worse is that the final act isn't very exciting, and thus not really worth our time.
Curtis does a nice job of leaving the zombie/vampire's kills to the audience's imagination (though this may've had more to do with 1970's TV restrictions than a stylistic decision), but blows it by actually revealing the final act demon in full close up. This is when the restraints of a TV budget really hurt the film, as well as some awful design ideas. The demon looks like a red Incredible Hulk wearing a pair of boot-cut blue jeans, a children's Dracula costume cape, and no shirt.
The film's age should be taken into consideration, of course, but The Norliss Tapes is not exactly a fond look back on the era of bell-bottoms and polyester, as much as a painfully dated one. There is nothing here to suggest a genius at work, especially not one that would foresee the popularity of such modern television hits as The X-Files and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (to which I see Dark Shadows as the logical precursor). The box art will have you believe that "Before The X-Files, there was The Norliss Tapes", but the truth is that it is Curtis' Night Stalker films that really inspired that series. See those instead.
This is pretty much the best a 1973 released TV movie will ever look. The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and has been cleaned free of any obtrusive artefacts or film damage. Colours are bright, sometimes too bright if the shade of the blood spilled to trap the demon at the film's finale is any indication. There is plenty of grain, but nothing unexpected or overtly unattractive. As per the norm, Anchor Bay has put some time and love into this transfer.
The film's original mono soundtrack has been cleaned, and only minimal damage is audible. Dialogue is clear and understandable, and the music, one aspect of the film's dated nature that I actually enjoyed has been given some low-end enhancement. There is some distortion during particularly loud moments, and a lack of fidelity and depth, but nothing too objectionable.
Being a made for TV movie, The Norliss Tapes doesn't have a theatrical trailer, but you'd think that there'd be some promo spots or something. Alas, there is nothing here but a series of trailers for other Anchor Bay releases.
The Norliss Tapes is really only for Curtis fans and DVD collectors that may've seen it on television during its initial showing. I was not impressed with the film on any technical, nor historical levels. Those with an honest interest in the inspirations behind The X-Files should really just pick up The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler. They're better films to boot. Anchor Bay deserves the usual accolades for making the film look and sound great, but gets a finger waging for not supplying any extra material.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 3rd October 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono English
Easter Egg: No
Director: Dan Curtis
Cast: Roy Thinnes, Don Porter, Angie Dickinson, Claude Akins, Michele Carey
Length: 72 minutes
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