Friday, October 24, 2008
The Norliss Tapes
I’ve gotten a lot of good horror movie recommendations from folks based on my Hammer and Robot Monster posts. Paul Rogers’ recommendations can be seen in the comments for the Robot Monster post (though I’ll be steering clear of Weasels Rip My Flesh, thank you Paul.) I’ve seen all but Weasel multiple times. The one recommendation I haven’t seen before was from Leanne Hannah. She told me about a British made-for-TV movie called The Woman In Black that I absolutely can’t wait to check out. I watched a clip on YouTube and it really creeped me out. So I’ll definitely be watching that. Thanks, Leanne.
I thought I’d return the favor and recommend a good Halloween movie I remember from my childhood. Often, when I revisit films I really liked as a kid, I’m sorely disappointed. For instance, I remember being terrified by a low-budget flick called Let’s Scare Jessica To Death. I saw it on my grandmother’s tiny black and white TV sitting in her kitchen late at night. Her house was very old and there were often spiders crawling in the most inconvenient places. She was always finding ways to save money so, when we stayed with her, she would turn out all the lights when she went to bed and you’d have to blindly navigate the claustrophobia-inducing hallways to the back bedroom and I would always swear I could hear the spiders skittering after me in the dark. So it was with that journey ahead of me that my seven-year-old self watched Jessica and it was no wonder I suffered from nightmares for weeks afterward. Flash forward 30 years and I’m renting the just-released video on NetFlix. I practically jumped up and down in anticipation as I put the disc in the player. Suze was out of town for the weekend and I had the house to myself. I turned out all the lights in the house and curled up on the couch with a bag of popcorn, looking forward to ninety minutes of spine-tingling delights. Not to be. The movie turned out to be an acid-trippy, hippy-infested borefest. There's even a musical number. Granted, there were a few chilling moments (including a show-stopper at the lake) that made it worth checking out but it was nowhere near the thriller I remembered. I was sorely disappointed.
Fortunately, that is not the case with The Norliss Tapes.
This Dan Curtis-produced TV movie featuring Roy Thinnes and Angie Dickenson was made by the same team that brought us the original The Night Stalker movie starring Darren McGavin. And you can tell. All the elements are there: the writer protagonist, the story revealed by the playing of audio tapes, the mute, snarling creature in a suit and tie nobody believes exists. Heck, Claude Akins even shows up as the doubting sheriff. While certainly dated (an aspect not helped by the funky 70's soundtrack) the film holds up well has some genuinely creepy moments, not the least of which is the scene depicted in my sketch above. That's the shot that stuck with me all these years. A young woman staying in a motel room can't shake the feeling she's being watched. As a storm rages outside, she slowly, reluctantly forces herself over to the window and, with one quick jerk, yanks open the curtain to reveal that blue, blank-eyed face.
This movie was another film that plagued me for years (along with Gargoyles, Agent from H.A.R.M. and the aforementioned Giant Claw and The Creeping Terror)and I was so relieved when some deft Googling finally revealed not only the title but the fact that it was available on DVD. Netflix to the rescue. It does suffer from a hokey ending but it has some really good performances (especially Thinnes and also Nick Dimitri who wasn't given much to do but seemed to have a great time doing it) and quite a few chills. If you can get past the pasty blue makeup, I think you'll really enjoy this one.
Now, if I can only figure out what that movie was with the headless female ghost haunting the old Victorian mansion...
Posted by Matt Wieringo at 11:36 AM