Spectre (1977)

Directed by Clive Donner
Written by Gene Roddenberry, Samuel A. Peeples
Produced by Gordon Scott, Danny Steinmann, Gene Roddenberry
Starring Robert Culp, Gig Young, John Hurt, Ann Bell, Gordon Jackson, James Villiers, Majel Barrett, Jenny Runacre, Angela Grant


Wealth and clout accrue preternaturally to a debauched financier (Villiers), whose distressed sister (Bell) commissions an accomplished criminologist and occultist (Culp) to investigate whether her sibling’s success transcends nature. Reunited with a bibulous physician (Young), the supercilious spiritist jets tempestuously to England to hazard traps, enticements and demonomagy, and verify what’s been released upon the estate of his suspect’s renovated abbey.


Of his numerous pilots that failed to father a televised series in the ’70s, this is undoubtedly the best penned and produced by Roddenberry antedating the theatrical resurgence of Star Trek. Their intent to hitch a ride on Kolchak‘s coattails moved he and Peeples to present mythologic and thaumaturgic fantasy as criminal procedural, which works well for anyone who’s inclined to brook or relish his theurgic, often lecherous situations. Their story’s brisk as exhibition of its Holmesian protagonist’s interdisciplinary expertise and snappy chaff chirped with its Watsonian deuteragonist, which is never misplaced….even if it all leads to another showdown with another rubbery, biped lizard.


With steely, flamboyant aplomb did Culp throw himself into his conceited mystic, and he’s as magnetic when exchanging persiflage with Young (or, for that matter, everyone else) as when spouting incantations or flourishingly performing other apotropaic rituals. His skeptic foil isn’t at all dwarfed, as Young handily holds his own despite some boozy moments that necessitated an attribution of alcoholism to his character at the 13th hour. Hurt’s in characteristically fine form as a gifted, genial junior brother to imperious Villiers and dowdy Bell, as is invariably reliable Jackson playing a chief inspector whose own enquiry creeps miles behind that of his civilian colleagues. Roddenberry’s spousal mainstay Barrett remotely rounds out this cast in the part of Culp’s magical maid. This production would be nothing of note without a cast who brought to it a sophisticated charisma, even in the course of its silliest kitsch.


It might’ve been the gloriously campy series that revived Culp’s career as a leading man, but instead this dated curio was relegated to a few unnoticed telecasts. Nonetheless, it’s required viewing for fans of the chinny Scotach, Young, Hurt, Jackson, or Roddenberry — especially come Halloween.

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