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This would have made an excellent television series. Robert Culp has rarely been better as Sebastian, a psychic sleuth and expert on the occult. He takes on a case that threatens the world. Not bad for your introduction. An excellent Gene Roddenberry creation. I give it a "7" out of "10."
Spectre is one of Gene Roddenberry's busted pilots.All during the
1970's he tried to repeat the success of Sta Trek only to churn out
pilot after pilot and failure after failure. Most were cliché ridden
variations on a sci-fi theme and probably wouldn't have gone anywhere.
Spectre is the exception to that cycle.
Telling the story of a supernatural Holmes and his Watson this is a very good thriller that might have been the lead into bigger things had it been picked up. More akin to Hammer's The Devil Rides Out than any standard satanist film of the period this film has our heroes investigating a rich English Lord and his family. While not particularly scary, it is extremely entertaining as Robert Culp shows himself to be much more clever than anyone around him.
If you can see this film. Its worth your time.
8 out of 10
What a disappointment to learn that this wonderful occult thriller is
NOT available neither on DVD nor VHS. Gene Roddenberry did this made
for TV movie and it is superb! The best role for Robert Culp and the
superb Gig Young plays the sidekick in a wonderful energy with Culp.
The lovely wife of Roddemberry, Majel Barrett. plays the mysterious
Lilith, housekeeper of William Sebastian. The English settings and a
wondrous cast of British actors make this a really exquisite example of
the genre. The phenomenally talented John Hurt in a standout
performance. This is what American television was capable of at one
Shame on the movie industry for letting this classic of horror and the master Gene Roddenberry disappear. SHAME ON THEM!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spectre was an entry into the horror/fantasy genre that was already
waning on television in the late 1970s. It's a pilot that wasn't sold
into a series, which was too bad, because it was intelligent, spooky,
and for its time frame a bit shocking. Sebastian, the lead character,
was excellently played by Robert Culp and Gig Young was great as his
partner, an alcoholic doctor. Majel Barrett was Sebastian's
housekeeper; heck, it was a Gene Rodenberry production, wasn't it, and
that means she had to have a role. She was actually very well-suited
for the part of combination witch and protectress of her boss and his
friend. We really liked how she cured the doc of his drinking problem
by slipping him a potion that would cause nausea in him every time he
tried to consume alcohol.
The plot was well-written, with nice twists here and there. Sebastian has done paranormal investigations long enough to know to trust nobody. Even the most innocuous-appearing person may be evil or even an evil spirit. When approached by a beautiful and seductive woman, he dispatches her by pressing an ancient holy text (the Book of Tobit) over her heart and changing her back into a hideous succubus. Taking a case is taxing for him; Sebastian alludes to an ongoing thorn in his side, which means he suffers some sort of chronic pain, and his work is draining on him. However, he accepts a difficult case involving a young man who's undergone a marked personality change. To Sebastian, such behavior means either possession or something even worse. When he unravels the mystery, oh, yes, it's something way worse. . .
The effects are pretty good, considering the limitations of both budget and time frame; the smoke and flashes are way better than stuff seen on Dr. Who or Space: 1999. There are also some fairly sleazy scenes at the satanic worship bits which pushed the envelope, somehow making it past the television censors. But the acting still remains the best reason to watch this. The cast, from leads to bit players, all did a great job. The script was intelligent and suspenseful, with a fine twist at the conclusion of Sebastian's investigation and a climatic scene involving an attempt to fix a broken seal. All in all, this was a great movie, whether pilot or stand-alone, and we highly recommend it for fans of spooky horror.
I saw this on TV when I was a kid and thought it was very cool.
Recently, I tracked down a copy online (very hard to find), and watched
it. Guess what? I still liked it. Although it's a 70s show, it still
maintained a good story line, and great acting to keep it alive. It had
everything....monsters, demons, boobs, booze, twisting plots, and women
in S&M outfits. I ask you, does it get better? Well...I guess it could,
but this film was wayyyy ahead of it's time, and reminded me of a
Lovecraftian forerunner to the Xfiles.
I can't wait until this gets put onto DVD, so I can add it to my collection.
Great job Gene Roddenberry! You should remake it, bringing it up to date. I believe it was intended to be a series, but never made it past the pilot episode. Too bad.
From the demise of Star Trek: TOS to the premiere of Star Trek: TNG
Gene Roddenberry took at least three swings at returning to Stateside
prime-time television. None of the broadcast pilots was bought by a
commercial network as a series. I viewed each at first broadcast.
Genesis II (later repackaged and re-tried as Planet Earth) had an interesting pilot, very much a product of Roddenberry and his times, but likely as a series would have become quite weird and not lasted long. The Questor Tapes had a superb pilot, but likely as a series would have been forced by network suits to devolve into The Robo-Fugitive.
Spectre was not your average Roddenberry product and wasn't even science fiction. Its concept was decidedly original and very well wroughtwhat if, just What If?, everything you suspect and fear about the occult is true and a world-renowned criminologist who KNOWS that sets out to right the purposive wrongs of some mighty nasty perps who must be called by their true names out loud? If this sounds familiar, mind you, this is the Stateside television pilot I recall after 30-plus years
Robert Culp is at his certifiable creepiest. And he's the good guy. This is not the DC Comics Spectre, he's no Doc Strange, John Constantine or He(ck)boy, less Sherlock Holmes and more Manly Wade Wellman's John Thunstone (with the apparent trappings of wealth) or John the Balladeer (without the southern mountain accent or music). William Sebastian quite literally has a bone to pick with an antagonist that has a very long memory and reach, not to mention staying power. By the end you want to know more about Sebastian, how and why he knows what he knows, and what compels him to know and do more.
A fine supporting cast, John Hurt, Gordon Jackson, James Villiers and Gig Young in particular. Good production values in a fittingly English setting. Well-paced with genuine suspense in the right places. And, for Stateside prime-time in the Seventies, a knockout confrontation with some truly evilthingsthat, as best as I can recall, were not enhanced with anything other than makeup, clever editing, a hypnotic chant, and lots of fire.
Had this become a series we likely would've seen less of "Ham" (more Dr McCoy than Dr Watson, and certainly less of poor Gig Young) and more of Lilith. A section of the viewing demographic that also thought Mr Spock a satanic influence would probably get a little wound up and publicly take offense. I am told the theatrical release with respectable box office overseas is marginally longer and adds to that knockout confrontation some truly evildistractionsthat don't need makeup at all. I'd like to think it could have done better on Stateside television simply because it would have HAD to leave something to the imagination and NOT explain everything.
So here's a pitch: Given today's audience, if Someone Out There is still watching, consider the possibilities!
Take the basis of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, bring them forward 100 years and instead of crime, have them battle spiritual evil... A great idea, but unrealized here. A slightly ridiculous plot only saved by the talented Robert Culp who plays it straight down the line. A criminologist who specializes in the occult and battling evil. Gig Young was at the end of his carreer and shortly following this outing, his life as well. A sad loss of a fine comedic actor who usually didnt get the girl but did get all the best lines. Though in this film, Young basically sleep walks through the movie... Almost as if he was on sedatives. Culp and Young are recruited by a beautiful woman whose brother has recently undergone a personality change after doing some archeological investigations on his English country estate. So, off they all go to England to get to the bottom of things. This movie has a real Gene Roddenberry flavor to it. If you have seen any of Roddenberry's post Star Trek TV movies (basically, failed pilots)... Well, you'll know what I mean. But, bottom line is I liked this when I saw it in 1977 and it is still fun to watch. Not scary, but fun never the less. Look for it on The Fox Movie Network as it gets shown there often....
**SPOILERS** For the first time in his life brilliant detective and
world renowned criminologist William Sabastian, Robert Culp,is scared
and unsure of himself in solving an unsolvable, for anyone else but
him, crime a crime involving the supernatural. William had dabbled in
the supernatural before and ended up almost losing his life. His heart
was literally ripped out his chest but with the help of his faithful
maid Lilith (Majel Barrett), who has a deep knowledge of occult
practices, saved his life but William was left a very weak and frighten
Calling his friend Dr. Ham Hamilton, Gig Young, over to go with him on a case in the UK William feels that he'll need him if anything goes wrong in a case, of the bizarre and supernatural, he's investigating there involving the Cyon House headed by Sir Geoffery Coyn, James Villiers. Sir Geoffery's sister Anitra, Ann Bell,feels that there's strange and evil goings on in and around the Coyn Esatae and that her brother Geoffery is the cause of them and that her life is now in danger.
Willian and Dr. Hamilton arrive in London and go to see a friend of his, Quellious, at the Marlin's Mews but find the place on fire with Mr. Quellious dead viciously clawed by some unknown animal in the middle of a giant Pentagram that was on the floor. William knowing what the Pentagram stands for, The Devil's Sign, get's himself and Dr. Himilton to stand in the middle of it and thus prevent themselves from being burned alive. William also finds a journal on Quellious written in ancient Coptic that if deciphered explains what evil is really going on at the Coyn House and who's responsible for it.
Later at the Coyn House William and Dr. Hamilton meet the Coyn's including young Mitri ,John Hurt, a professional pilot who flew them to England from the USA. William senses that these's a strong presence of the Devil there but, besides the Coyn's also their staff of maids and male servants, who exactly is he or she? Using his skills as a top crime investigator William deduces that all this horror that struck the Coyn House centers at the Stonehenge-like site on the estate called the "Fire Pit". The "Fire Pit" was excavated by Sir. Geoffery some three years ago and since then all hell broke loose. Thats when these strange and weird events, that according to Anitra, began to happen. William also finds out that all the workmen who were part of that excavation mysteriously died.
Robert Culp as a modern Sherlock Holmes with his Dr. Watson-like friend Dr. Hamilton have their hands full in this suspense/thriller. With them stumbling upon the place where the Demon Asmodious, the Lord of Lechery, has his home-base the secretive " Hell Fire Club". It's there where those in power and high office, in both England as well as in the world, were members of.
Wild and fiery ending with the demon worshipers and their Idol Asmodious thrown back into the bottomless pit by a courageous and revived, back from his heart-ailment, William Sabastian during an orgy of sex and human sacrifices. The very graphic orgy sequence in the film must have been cut when "Specter", a made for TV movie, was first broadcast on NBC Television back in May 1977 but is in the cable TV version of the film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spectre was no doubt the best of Gene Roddenbery's 1970s TV-pilot
films, and the only one which dealt squarely with the supernatural.
Like many others here, I still recall watching it back in May of '77,
and being both thrilled by, and rather creeped out by it at the same
time. NBC has had a long history of passing on worthwhile
science-fiction-fantasy-horror projects, and this was one of their
worst(or best?) examples of doing so. If this great little film isn't
available on disc yet, it certainly needs to be! A brief summary,
William Sebastian(Robert Culp in an excellent performance) along with
his sidekick, Dr. Ham Hamilton(Gig Young in one of his final
appearances, regrettably) are a Holmes and Watson-like team who
investigate occult goings-on. Summoned to England by the sister of a
highly-placed English Lord, the suspenseful plot reveals that the
ancient demon Asmodious, the Lord of Lechery, has been released from an
ages-long imprisonment, and is at work once more. This film also
features a bevy of lovely women most in a semi-dressed state, various
minor demons, and related phenomena, all leading to a wild, fiery
climax. The identity of Asmodious' human host is something of a
surprise, and it's made clear at the very end that he's still active,
despite being wounded by a sort of holy bullet Culp shoots him with at
It's remarkable Roddenberry got by with as much as he did for an NBC showing in 1977, although no doubt some(maybe all?) of the orgy scenes were heavily edited, or cut out of the original showing. Asmodious true form is still fairly-creepy even today, I think. Shame on NBC for not green-lighting this one, but many of us here know how they mishandled so many other series, the original Star Trek, Buck Rogers, etc. al. Highly recommended!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Spectre" is one of my guilty pleasures.
Dr. Hamilton, (Robert Culp) visits his old friend Sebastian, (Gig Young) a private detective, at his request to help out on a weird case that he can't figure out. With both being expert criminal psychologists, they are intrigued by the case, even when Annie, (Ann Bell) their reason for the meeting, visits them to cancel their appointment. This makes them even more curious when it turns out the woman is a succubus, a mini-demon made to lead men astray for lust. They head to London on the case, not battered by the strange coincidence they witnessed when they left. When they land in London, they are witnesses to a strange event: an old friend of Sebastian's is found, clawed to death in the middle of a pentacle inside of a fire threatening to destroy his library. Taken back to Mitri's (John Hurt) house, Annie's brother, they discover that she was right all along about a weird force possessing her brother and they use their combined knowledge to put an end to the whole affair.
The Good News: This is one of my favorite films, but it falls into the category of a guilty pleasure. It is quite different from the other occult films made at the same time. This is a Hammer film that isn't made by Hammer, if that makes any sense. The large interiors, the Gothic designs of the buildings, the style and flair in the camera movements, and a mysterious first half joined by an action-packed second half. That latter reason maybe the real reason why I like this movie. Almost every single event in the beginning of the movie is a creepy event, but one mainly bears repeating. When they arrive at the burning house, they hear a strange demonic growling coming from inside the house, so they lock the door and get inside the pentacle. Once inside, they see an animal-ish hand break slowly into the room, then the door flies open and a monstrous form is seen standing in the doorway, obscured by fog. It growls some more and then finally it disappears. That was a great scene, and it only mildly beats out other great scenes like the exploding dinner glasses, the breakaway guardrail and the gusts of wind in the bedroom scenes. The ending is the real highlight, as Dr. Hamilton and Sebastian confront the devil and his disciples in a large cave during one of their ceremonies. Just about everything in the scene is a real pleasure to watch. We get everything in the scene: creepy sets, lavish photography, lots of action, and a few twists and turns. Add to that an ancient Druid ceremony and an appearance by the devil, which looks like a lizard/turtle in human form. It looks completely freaky for the time, and it makes the scene seem better than it should.
The Bad News: There is only one thing that I can think of for people to not like this movie: there is no explanation given for why the events are happening. There is a flimsy explanation given that this is caused by a Druid ceremony, but there is no reason said why they are targeting the people in the film. There's no other else bad in the movie.
The Final Verdict: I'm surprised more people don't know about this movie, as it is a very entertaining film. There are plenty of winks to Hammer films, and this one came in right at the end of their reign. It is recommended for those who love Hammer films and the type that came out at that time, and for those who love seeing an obscure Druid/occult film.
Today's Rating: R: Occult themes, Violence, sexual content and imagery and Nudity
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