I’m a sucker for a good occult/supernatural detective yarn! Whether you’re talking William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder, Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence, Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin, Manly Wade Wellman’s John Thunstone, Joseph Payne Brennan’s Lucius Leffing or even an old J. Sheridan Le Fanu story. How ’bout M.R. James’ “Casting the Runes,” filmed as Night of the Demon (starring Dana Andrews as an occult gumshoe)? The tried and true tradition of the supernatural detective ran rampant in the shudder/weird menace pulp mags of the 1930s and 1940s like Thrilling Mystery, Horror Stories, Dime Detective, Dime Mystery, Mystery Novels and Short Stories, etc. Tons of truth-seekers investigated supposed supernatural spookiness, only to discover a perfectly logical explanation to the entire affair at the conclusion. Frank Belknap Long wrote at least a dozen weird menace pulp potboilers. Not to mention several “modern gothic” novel for blue-haired old ladies in the late 1960s to early 1970s under the name Lyda Belknap Long (his wacky wife’s name was Lyda Arco Long).
If you were to trace my love for this type of tale back to its grasshoppa origins, I could even cite Scooby Doo and his psychedelic fun-bus crew. Always on quests to debunk hauntings and strange phenomena. Shaggy and the Scoobster got the mean munchies, and always seemed to unmask the disgruntled caretaker or sacked employee posing as a ghost or goblin. Maybe in a future entry Dr. Monstrosity or your dark ‘n’ dreary ole “boid” might talk about some comic book supernatural shamuses.
Did it take me long to discover more “adult” supernatural detective stories on the small or big screens or in books? Nah! I caught the Kolchak bug as a not-so pimply adolescent. Kolchak the Night Stalker was one of my big fave series when I was a kid, along with The Invaders. Oh yeah, I had soft spots for Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Gallery, but I’d rather not digress. Man, oh man, was my mind blown by Dan Curtis’ two feature-length Kolchak flicks (scripted by beloved horrormeister Richard Matheson) and the subsequent series! Problem was there weren’t too many episodes, not nearly as many of The Invaders, which I watched religiously. Now… What if Dan Curtis hired Bill Nolan of Logan’s Run fame to write a TV series pilot like The Night Stalker or The Night Strangler with all the trimmings that made Kolchak such a smashing success? And, let’s take it a step further, shall we? How ’bout if we snag Invaders and Satan’s School for Girls leading man Roy Thinnes for the title role? Sound like a match made in heaven? How ’bout hell? Hell ain’t a bad place to be! Enter The Norliss Tapes (1973), a made for TV masterpiece of the highest order!! It works as a stand-alone vehicle. Without a doubt it would’ve captivated crowds of glass teat-sucklers had it eventuated as a series too. And, taking it a step further, it leaves you wanting more.
The action centers around David Norliss (not David Vincent, but nonetheless portrayed by powerhouse actor Roy Thinnes), an investigative author who has decided to write a book debunking the occult. At the outset of the flick, ole Roy contacts his editor and is seen trying to write his first page. We then see him passed out drunk, no doubt after a long battle with supernatural forces. The editor goes by Norliss’ pad only to find the author missing–a mere sentence typed, but a collection of numbered cassettes containing the contents of the book. As the editor listens to Norliss’ voice, we are ushered into the crux of this creepy little tale of a man trying to cheat death through a demonic pact involving an Egyptian scarab ring, and an evil entity called Sargoth. Along the way we are treated to some nifty appearances by character actors we’ve all seen in various old horror, crime and SF programs (Claude Akins reprises his Night Stalker role as a skeptical irate cop), not to mention some cool scenery as Norliss’ speeding Corvette cruises around Carmel, Big Sur and Monterey.
The only thing that’s missing? Well, it was made for TV, so you won’t find gobs of gore or tons of tits ‘n’ ass. Instead, how ’bout some classic cheesecake pix of the actresses I’ve been yapping about, eh?