Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Surprisingly good made-for-TV movie which was a pilot for a series that never got off the ground, which is a shame. Roy Thinnes is an author (the Norliss of the title) who's been working on a book based on his adventures in debunking the supernatural. When he falls way behind schedule, he sets up a lunch with his publisher to explain, but he fails to make the lunch date. All anyone can find of him is a bunch of cassette tapes in which he relates the cases he's been working on. Case #1 involves a widow (Angie Dickinson) who believes she was menaced by her dead husband (Nick Dimitri), returned from the grave as an invulnerable blue-skinned zombie. A string of gruesome murders follow in which the victims' bodies are drained of all blood. Thinnes soon pieces together this story: Dimitri, an artist, was diagnosed with a degenerative disease; he got hold of an ancient Egyptian ring which, when buried with him, would allow him to return to life. The catch: he has to make a sculpture (out of clay made up partly of human blood) of the demon Sargoth that, once completed, would bring the demon into our world. Can Thinnes stop the zombie artist from finishing his work? The plot is grand, right out of an old pulp horror magazine, and reminiscent of 1933's THE GHOUL in which Boris Karloff is buried with a similar ring (the finale, involving the bloody statue, demonic rites, and a flaming magic circle, reminds me of the climax of the Hammer film THE DEVIL RIDES OUT). Thinnes is very good especially in the early scenes in which he looks truly world-weary and afraid of the knowledge he's learned on his cases--the movie wraps the first case up and we hear Thinnes' voice on tape introducing case #2, though as far as I know, that never got filmed. TV stalwarts Claude Akins, Don Porter, and Robert Mandan (Chester Tate on the 70's comedy Soap) appear, as does Vonetta McGee, star of some blaxploitation films, and Hurd Hatfield, who played Dorian Gray in the 1945 film. Visually, it's a step above most TV movies of the era, making effective use of some San Francisco locations and lots of rainy weather. The 70s was a golden era for horror, even on TV, and this is a solid example of that lost era. [FMC]

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