Spectre is an especially rare American TV movie/pilot (for a show that wasn’t picked up) in that it could have fit in with any Euro-horror of the seventies; especially, I’d imagine, when it was shown theatrically in Europe with extra nudity added. Alas, I saw the American version, so no boobs and butts for me. But even puritanized, Spectre inspires all the fascination of any movie where smartasses (played here by Robert Culp and Gig Young) try to find a demon and uncover, yes, a demon possessing one of the people they’re investigating. The surprise is, it isn’t who they think it is, or even what. There’s also a cult of worshippers and a pretty intricately designed and ancient worship hall located beneath an English stately home.
If you think this pilot would get grounded on American TV of ’77, home of Three’s Company and Charlie’s Angels, you’ve just earned your cynic wings. Even Gene Roddenberry as producer couldn’t get Spectre made into a show, and the pilot is rare. I happened to catch a version that was taped off of TV in ’96, hosted by Robert Englund and a mummy he keeps cuddling with (for reasons you understand late in the film).
But the fact is I did see it, and loved it. Because of these TV Tuesdays, I’ve discovered the ultra cool Culp and am now actively seeking his work. He’s in wonderful form here as a psychologist and genius named William Sebastian who travels the world with his more skeptical business partner Ham Hamilton (Young). In the case they’re investigating in this story, they must help an English lady (Ann Bell) find out what the hell is going on with her two strange, secretive brothers (John Hurt and James Villiers) when their aristocratic home abruptly turns to a swingers’ paradise and she begins to fear for her life. But are any of the siblings what they appear to be? For that matter, is Sebastian? He certainly knows a bit of magic, and may even have been a demon-worshipper at one time. And speaking of magic, what kind of spell did his housekeeper, played by Roddenberry’s wife Majel Barrett, work on Ham?
Culp and Young battle a succubus, trick a demon, fend off seductive and possibly murderous prostitutes, and even succumb to a bit of black magic, although temporarily. The only thing this movie has in common with most of its TV brethren is its happy-ish ending. And in liking that, I’m USA all the way.