Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy
By Steve Anderson
February 1st, 2007

The Norliss Tapes

Directed by Dan Curtis
Written by Dan Curtis
Starring Roy Thinnes, Don Porter, Angie Dickinson, Claude Akins
Produced by Dan Curtis
72 mins

Another movie Anchor Bay dug up out of the "Long Forgotten" section of the archives, "The Norliss Tapes" is an interesting mix of events that lead up to a surprisingly satisifying conclusion, though not without its clear and present faults.

So what we have here plotwise is a paranormal investigator, David Norliss, out investigating psychic phenomena and other assorted supernatural hoaxes. Sort of a modern day "In Search Of...", or even "Fact or Fiction" for my longtime readers, Norliss has amassed hours upon hours of cassette tapes detailing his findings.

And when David Norliss mysteriously vanishes one day, all that remains behind are his tapes. What Norliss' tapes reveal are an altogether alarming story of a woman attacked by her husband's corpse, and the events surrounding this particular attack.

It sounds really ambitious, especially for a movie with a seventy two minute runtime. The fact that this movie easily predates any of the standard paranormal investigation plotlines ("The X-Files", "Millenium", "In Search Of", and their like) by a good twenty years or more is nothing short of astonishing--"The Norliss Tapes" comes to us from the depths of 1973.

There's even a case that can be made that says "The Norliss Tapes" is the ground from which the John Carpenter title "In the Mouth of Madness" came from (incredible similarities exist, especially in the setups of both).

If anything, the movie's pedigree suggests that we've got a winner on our hands. If you recognize the name "Dan Curtis", it's because you probably should. Guy wrote some of the biggest pieces of his era: "Dark Shadows", "Trilogy of Terror (featuring that bit with the Zuni fetish doll that's still freaky even up to this second)" and "The Night Stalker (so badass that even Sci Fi remade it)".

But the question before us is should it have even been salvaged in the first place?

And the answer is, surprisingly, a qualified yes. Though every jot and tittle of this movie looks incredibly dated--velvet curtains? Light sconces that look like candles? A gun case in the living room stocked to the gunnels with rifles? Lapels so wide you could hangglide with them?--it's still got enough compression in its metaphorical cylinders to keep a movie running.

Even better, there will be plenty of definitely unintentional laughs as we get a look at the "effects technology" of the early seventies. The "corpse" of the husband I mentioned? Oh man...looked like Lou Ferrigno in blue Hulk makeup. Follow that up with a tussle with a clearly dummy dog--brought to mind shades of an old Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episode where Tom Servo cranks out "He'd never killed that big a puppet before". The shotgun firing into said corpse? Looked like the muzzle flash wasn't even aligned with the barrel itself--and they didn't even try to simulate recoil. These incredible effects faux pas all take place in the space of less than a minute, so watch carefully for all the rest.

And though all of these things are there--laughable effects, antiquated costumes, overly dramatic music and dialogue--we still have a more than passable plotline going here, that's reasonably well executed.

If you're prepared to tolerate the problems I've mentioned earlier--godawful though they may be--then you may at least get some enjoyment from "The Norliss Tapes".

The ending is a bit of a thrill, actually. It's got some nice suspenseful elements to it and at least a little action going on, so it's respectible to say the least. At least until the last two minutes, when it makes the absolutely pathetic move of going to the SECOND TAPE. I'm guessing that this was some kind of television series at one point, and this was like the ninety minute pilot episode? Which was apparently the case, according to the IMDB. It was never picked up, but this was, indeed, the pilot.

Damn, I'm good.

The special features include English closed captions and trailers for "The Entity", "Quicksilver Highway", "Race With the Devil" and "Bad Dreams".

All in all, "The Norliss Tapes" wasn't a bad resurrection for Anchor Bay to work on. Though it's got some clear flaws and faults to it, it still has more than a few virtues left. If you can stomach the troubles--or if you'd like a good, albeit unintentional, laugh--then you won't have a problem in the world with "The Norliss Tapes".

Night of the Dead (Leben Tod)

Directed by Eric Forsberg
Written by Eric Forsberg
Starring Louis Graham, Gabriel Womack, Joey Jalalian, Lola Forsberg
Produced by Karen Forsberg, Eric Forsberg
89 mins

Somewhere, in the massive landscape of horror movies, the original and best reanimator, Dr. Herbert West, is smirking at Eric Forsberg. That cool, implacable, unflappable badass of science has seen this before, and knows how it ends.

And while West chuckles, "Night of the Dead" marches on--"Re-Animator" on a low budget and a couple of odd twists, but without the sheer joy of Jeffrey Combs. A pregnant woman is being held essentially prisoner at the Dr. Gabriel Schreklich Institute For Life Extension, where her husband is serving a medical internship with his uncle Gabriel (same guy). The Institute has developed a serum that allows reanimation of the dead, and of course, it's not going to end well. Not for the horrendously named Dr. Schreklich, not for his puppy-eager nephew, and not for his pregnant young niece-in-law, who'll be largely dependent on reanimated ghouls to help her escape. In a bit of an interesting twist, Schreklich's serum is almost meant as a death vaccine, designed to be taken before or at the moment of death. West's was designed to be a full reanimation after death, so there are at least some differences here.

Watching the reanimated frog bit in the first five minutes somehow manages to be both sad and insulting, all at the same time. And even worse is when you can actually visibly tell the moment at which the woman and daughter getting hit by the car just after the frog bit convert to mannequins. Seriously--work your frame advance button at five minutes thirty four seconds and watch the fun as a woman suddenly transforms into an enormous conglomeration of plastic and cloth. It might have helped if they hadn't telegraphed the punch earlier on. While you're working the frame advance, watch as the mother shields her daughter from the car by pulling her close...and then, suddenly doesn't? It's amazing, but they went from holding hands, to clutching close, BACK to holding hands. And then they brought in the mannequins.

So anyway...Forsberg's already laboring under a monster disadvantage. The effects are a low-budget nightmare and the plotline's been done already--not to mention better--elsewhere, if only in part. That, and Forsberg seems to be laboring under the mistaken assumption that fake blood will make his low-budget knockoff better, so he dumps buckets of it into as much of the movie as possible. It's a wonder there wasn't a packet of it included with the movie, so we could get the full experience. One scene actually has a character holding up a drop cloth so as not to get any on him. It's that bad.

Which isn't to say it's ALL bad...we've got to give some kudos to Lola Forsberg, who turned in another great performance in "Night of the Dead"--not to mention her earlier work in "Alien Abduction" and "Snakes on a Train". The little girl knows her creepy. You remember that sequence from the "Dawn of the Dead" remake with the little zombie girl? Lola Forsberg has that beat. Seriously. And Forsberg's script has at least a few distinctions from its much better predecessor, the Re-Animator series. Even better, Forsberg manages to throw in a couple of pretty well-charged action sequences along toward the end.

The ending is, sadly, the same blood-soaked mess as the rest of the movie is. Not to mention a plot crevasse--for crying out loud, they hooked the natural gas line to the sprinkler systems! This should fill the entire building with natural gas, making it a powder keg that one spark would set off. And yet, there's enough shotgun blasts going on to start a small war. That hospital should have exploded long, LONG, before it did. Though I'll admit...there's a fantastic twist ending. A real out-of-left-field twist that would be really difficult to see coming.

The special features include filmmakers' commentary, a making of featurette, an original short film "It Took Guts", a music video for the song "Feel The Disease", and trailers for "Dragon", "Snakes on a Train", "The Straun House", and "Night of the Dead".

All in all, Eric Forsberg's "Night of the Dead" makes a horrible, hollow, blood-soaked, low-budget mockery out of the zombie film. The genre is cheapened by its mere existance. Despite a few very solidly done facets, it's impossible for "Night of the Dead" to be anything more than a pale imitator.