Spectre (1977 TV Movie)
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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
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.
Shame on the movie industry for letting this classic of horror and the master Gene Roddenberry disappear. SHAME ON THEM!!
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 wrought—what 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 evil—things—that, 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 evil—distractions—that 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!
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.
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!
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.
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
William Sebastian (Robert Culp, I Spy, The Greatest American Hero) used to be a criminologist but now he studies the occult so that he can explain why humanity is evil. On one of his past adventures, the demon of lust Asmodeus cursed him, leaving him with a heart in need of constant medical attention from his live-in nurse and housekeeper Lilith (Majel Barrett, Nurse Chapel from Star Trek and Roddenberry's wife). He asks an old colleague, Dr. "Ham" Hamilton (Gig Young, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?) for help with a case.
A woman claiming to be Anitra Cyon comes to tell Sebastian that her family no longer requires his services. It turns out that she's a succubus, or a demon who basically sexually devours men to death, and he defeats her using the Apocryphal Book of Tobit. Then, Mitri Cyon (John Hurt, The Elephant Man, Hellboy) takes them to London, but not before their plane almost gets taken out of the sky.
In London, they discover that Dr. Qualus, one of Sebastian's associates, has already been killed. His house was on fire, he was mauled by wild animals and his body was found partially inside a pentagram. Then, they are rebuffed by Sir Geoffrey Cyon (James Villiers, Asylum), who has turned Cyon Manor into place of sex, drugs and devil worship.
Mitri gets attacked by dogs and when our heroes go to investigate the Manor, they come to believe that Asmodeus has taken over Geoffrey's form. The truth is that Mitri is really the monster and that Geoffrey is his pawn who will sacrifice his sister. Of course, Sebastian stops the ritual and the curse is removed.
The Cyon family gives Sebastian a painting as a way of saying thank you, but the symbol of Asmodeus shows up in the corner of the piece, proving that his fight against evil is not finished.
But sadly, it was. This was intended as a pilot for a TV series. However, an extended theatrical version was released in the UK with additional footage that includes nudity during the Black Mass finale. There was also a novelization published in 1979.
Much like Ed Sanders' book The Family, Sebastian believed that Charles Manson, Richard Speck and the Boston Strangler were all connected by invisible forces. Plus, every occult reference you can think of gets crammed into this. Also, there's a lot of exploitation in here, as two demon women (one a dominatrix and the other a schoolgirl) call Ham daddy and try to hump him to death on a waterbed!
I would have liked to have seen what would have happened had this become a series. Within five years, Satanic panic would descend on America and movies and shows that took the 1970's view of the occult would be passé. This is kind of a time capsule of that era.
Spectre isn't available outside of YouTube and the grey market. That said, you should hunt it down. How else will you ever see John Hurt, one of the most talented actors of any generation, turn into a giant lizard man?
Many years later, I managed to find the film starring Robert Culp, Gig Young and John Hurt. The film was produced by Gene Roddenberry and also written by him and Samuel A Peeples. It was meant to be a pilot for a television series but for some reason, was rejected. A pity as I think it would have become a cult classic. The film is first rate with some brilliant acting and dialogue. The scenes with William Sebastian (Robert Culp) who is a former criminologist who now studies the occult and Dr. "Ham" Hamilton (Gig Young) who is something of a Dr Watson to Sebastian's Sherlock Holmes. They are summoned by Anitra Cyon (Ann Bell)who is concerned about her brother, Sir Geoffrey Cyon (James Villier.) A succubus arrives at Sebastian's house in the guise of Anitra making him realize that something evil is afoot. After being picked up by younger brother Mitri Cyon (John Hurt) they arrive at the Cyon home to discover that it has been turned in to a den of iniquity. That is when the fun really begins. The pair begin their investigation and discover that an ancient evil that has taken over the family. I won't give away the rest, I will only to say that it is a great movie, a little over the top at times, but the cast give their all and it is clear to see that they are enjoying themselves. Majel Barrett makes an appearance as Lilith, Sebastian's housekeeper who seems well versed in the magical arts herself. All in all, Spectre is a good film and worth checking out for horror buffs or people looking for something a little different.
I liked the concept of this show, but I felt that Culp underplayed his role too much and was too wooden - remake this with Kevin Costner. Both Culp and especially Gig young were too old to play their roles - Gig was not very attractive.
The plot made little sense as noted above. Culp was more of a see what's happening sort of guy, I would have preferred a Mandrake the Magician or Dr. Strange war of magical forces.
Much as I like the female form, I had my son watch the movie with me and was not happy about the surprise nudity.
SPOILER ALERT: I still like the movie, but ripped it to an MP4 and made my sin a PG copy by cutting out the few seconds of nudity and more importantly the aborted incest/sister rape, which I did not feel was appropriate in a TV movie.
The Zuni warrior episode of Trilogy of Terror and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark were much scarier TV movies.
I actually came here because someone was marketing a Spectre 2 movie. has anyone heard about it??