LOST TV WEEK: The Norliss Tapes (1973)

Occult investigator Norliss has disappeared but left behind a series of tapes (get it?) that tell the stories of his many adventures, like when he met a widow and her undead artist husband. Originally produced as a series pilot by NBC, it ended up airing as a TV movie on February 21, 1973.

Written by William F. Nolan (Logan’s RunTrilogy of TerrorBurnt Offerings) and produced by Dan Curtis (Dark ShadowsKolchak: The Night StalkerCurse of the Black Widow and pretty much any TV horror you’d see in the 1970’s), this was originally entitled Demon.

Sanford Evans is listening to the tapes left behind by David Norliss (Roy Thinnes, Airport 1975, TV’s The Invaders) that explains why he’s disappeared.

A recent case concerned Ellen Cort (Angie Dickinson of TV’s Police Woman), whose husband has come back from the dead. It turns out that before his death from a mysterious disease, he had become involved with Mademoiselle Jeckiel (Vonetta McGee, Blacula) who gave him a scarab that he was buried with. Sheriff Tom Hartley (Claude Atkins!) doesn’t believe any of this, even when James keeps draining the blood of young women and a gallery owner who tries to break into his coffin and take his ring.

Bullets won’t stop the undead man. And he’s also created a sculpture made of human blood that will bring the Egyptian deity Sargoth into our world. Our hero, Norliss, is kind of ineffectual, as the undead artist ends up killing Jeckiel, killing Ellen’s sister and raising the demon. He finally stops the monster by setting the studio on fire with everyone inside, which is the dictionary definition of pyrrhic victory.

That’s when Evans finishes the tape and wonders if this is Norliss’ last adventure. Nope. There’s another tape, even if the series never happened.  That didn’t stop this TV movie from running in syndication and on the CBS Late Movie.

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