Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Friday Night Late Movie: Robert Culp as a Modern-Day Sherlock Holmes in "Spectre"

Gene Roddenberry produced and co-wrote this 1977 made-for-TV supernatural thriller that borrows liberally from Dark Intruder (1965) and The Devil Rides Out (1968). Robert Culp plays William Sebastian, a criminologist with a unique medical condition—part of his heart is missing as a result of an occult encounter. Sebastian summons old friend (and alcoholic) Dr. "Ham" Hamilton (Gig Young) to accompany him to an English country estate on a case of possible demonic possession.
Before they even reach their destination, they encounter a beautiful woman who turns out to be an evil succucbus (fortunately, Sebastian knows how to destroy her with a holy book). But things really get strange when they arrive at the estate of Sir Geoffrey Coyn (James Villiers) and his sister Anitra (Ann Bell). Our intrepid heroes have to deal with a mysterious murder, a human-like beast with a hairy hand, exploding dinner glasses, and a creepy ceremony in a cave. Is Sir Geoffrey really possessed as his sister claims? Or is there a more fiendish plot afoot?
As made-for-TV movies go, this is a stylish affair that takes advantage of its atmospheric British locations (it's almost as if Hammer Films had made a movie for the small screen). Culp and Young are good as a modern-day Holmes and Watson…though with issues. In some of Culp's films, his intensity bordered on being overpowering, but he's very much in control here. Young doesn't have a lot to do, but the supporting cast of veteran British actors--including John Hurt and Gordon Jackson (from Upstairs, Downstairs)--is in fine form. Roddenberry's wife Majel Barrett (Nurse Chapel on the original Star Trek) has fun as Sebastian's witchy housekeeper.
Spectre was a pilot for a TV series that, sadly, never materialized. It's too bad that Sebastian's "hip" clothes and groovy pad date the movie, but that's really just a minor distraction in an otherwise engaging supernatural picture. It was released theatrically in Britain with some additional footage.
Young, who was a real-life alcoholic, died shortly after filming Spectre.

(If you're a Robert Culp fan, click here to read a review of his best Outer Limits episode.)


  1. This movie sounds like something I would really like, but I never saw it. I always liked Culp, and I love movies about the supernatural, occult, vampires, etc. if they are done well. I wish I could see this one. Great article, Rick!

  2. Rick, i'm with Becky. This movie sounds really good. Culp is so handsome. i hope to see this made for TV movie soon.

  3. Alas, SPECTRE is one of those entertaining 1970s made-for-TV films that's unavailable on DVD or video. However, I taped it from TV a few years Sci Fi Channel (or whatever they call it now), so maybe it will show up again.

  4. I remember the scene with the woman who is destroyed with the book in "Spectre." I have also seen, and was really quite pleasantly surprised, at how good "Dark Intruder" was. Very informative post, Rick!

  5. Rick, as of today, Dec. 13, 2009, it's SyFy. Thanks for the review. I always enjoy reading about a film that's unavailable on DVD or VHS (or BluRay, for that matter). It's a shame that I'm not able to see it, but it's great that I can read about it. One of the many wonderful things about the Café.