Last year I ran a series of posts on the late Gene Roddenberry's aborted 1970's science-fiction television pilots. If you will recall, post-Star Trek, Roddenberry produced and/or wrote Genesis II, Planet Earth, Strange New World and The Questor Tapes in an effort to launch another ongoing TV series. For one reason or another, all of these efforts failed to take off, but one final attempt by the "Great Bird of the Galaxy" was made to initiate a show and this time it was set within the world of the occult detective sub-genre. If you ever have an opportunity to see this terrific obscure film, it will be well worth your time.
Spectre may have been the best of Gene Roddenberry's busted television pilots. By abandoning his efforts to repeat the success of Star Trek, Spectre became the exception to his earlier cycle of cliche ridden variations on sci-fi themes. Interestingly, Spectre's lead characters William Sebastian and Dr. "Ham" Hamilton were originally meant to be played as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Despite this being changed before going to air, one of the strengths of Spectre is how effectively the action immediately picks up at the start and then continues unabated until the film's conclusion. The exceptional teleplay was written by Roddenberry and his former Trek partner, Samuel A. Peeples.
Renowned criminologist and occult investigator William Sebastian (Robert Culp) has been cursed on one of his adventures, leaving him in constant need of medical attention. Sebastian recruits his old friend Dr. Hamilton (Gig Young) to aid him in his current case, investigating strange happenings in England involving a mysterious Satanic cult and the demon Asmodeus. Anitra Cyon (Ann Bell), the sister of prominent British businessman Sir Geoffrey Cyon (James Villiers), has summoned the famous pair in order to determine if her older brother is dabbling in the black arts. In turn, Sir Geoffrey claims that she is mentally unfit. As Sebastian and Dr. Hamilton travel to the Cyon estate to investigate the matter, they are repeatedly attacked by dark forces. Complicating the issue is Sebastian's debilitating heart condition that was induced by his own early experimentation's with the black arts. The cast is rounded out by recognizable character actors John Hurt as Mitri Cyon, Majel Barrett as Lilith (Sebastian's housekeeper & a practicing witch who cures "Ham" of his alcoholism through a spell of aversion therapy) and Gordon Jackson as Inspector Cabell.
The story is a really entertaining supernatural thriller in the classic Hammer Films mode from director Clive Donner. Of note is that after its rejection by American television, an extended version of Spectre was released in the United Kingdom as a theatrical film with additional footage that included nudity during its black mass finale. This additional footage built upon scenes shot within the Cyon Estate where numerous buxom women were utilized as maids or sexual appendages of Sir Geoffrey's hedonistic lifestyle.
The cinematography was also above par for a standard 1970's telefilm and it's too bad that this never went to series. There was much to like about Spectre, and it should have been better received. This was also the last significant role for Gig Young before his tragic death the following year.
I highly recommend this film to anyone who is willing to track it down and gladly thank Catacombs visitor Jeff McFadden for sending me a copy to watch and review.