Air Date: May 21, 1977 (NBC)
Production Companies: 20th Century Fox Television, Norway Productions
Running Time: 98 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: Gene Roddenberry
Directed by: Clive Donner
Cast: Robert Culp, Gig Young, John Hurt, Gordon Jackson, Ann Bell, James Villiers
Rating: 6 vintage televisions (out of 10)
Four days before Star Wars opened in theaters to eventually change the landscape of genre film and television forever, NBC broadcast Spectre (1977.) The timing is coincidental, yet appropriate, because, just as monsters and horror were about to move to the back seat and let spaceships and science-fiction drive, Spectre feels like the end of an era.
The timing is also ironic, because the pilot for the series that never came to be was created and written by Gene Roddenberry, the man who created Star Trek. While fandom for that show has never gone away, it at times has certainly been overshadowed by the fandom for Star Wars. People sometimes like things shiny and new.
If Roddenberry gave us grown-up, intelligent science fiction with Star Trek, then he gave us grown-up, intelligent horror with Spectre. I wouldn’t say I found it boring, but it was hard for me to watch. Part of the reason may be that it was filmed in England; at times it has the pace of a movie that came from another country. It’s just… different.
Another reason may be its look when compared to other TV movies of the era. It has a more cinematic quality than most of those. While it’s another story about a supernatural hunter for hire, it feels more self-contained. Had I not known it ahead of time, I’m not sure I would have realized that William Sebastian (Robert Culp), was intended to have other adventures.
My biggest problem with the plot is that, while I knew clearly what was happening, I didn’t always know why. If you read a synopsis of it almost anywhere, it sounds straightforward. Either I missed an explanation, or I was intended to piece it together myself, but I never understood why exactly Anitra Cyon (Ann Bell) summoned Sebastian to help.
I usually try to separate the lives of the actors from their roles, but it’s hard to do so with Gig Young in Spectre. He plays Dr. Ham Hamilton, Sebastian’s colleague whose drinking problem is an ongoing plot point. In real life, Young was an alcoholic who, a year after this was made, shot and killed his wife of three weeks and committed suicide in their New York City apartment.
My last complaint, for this review at least, is that during the climactic scene in which the villain transforms into a human-sized lizard, we never get a good look at the “monster.” He’s either slightly out of focus or obscured by something in the scene. You can find decent pictures of it almost anywhere and I don’t think it looks so bad that it should be hidden.
It may have been too little too late for me. When the movie started dragging, I remembered that the “lizard scene” was coming. I anticipated it, but it was anticlimactic. I realize all this sounds like I have no love for Spectre, but it’s not awful. It just doesn’t play to my sensibilities. If I watched it again, I might like it more. The problem is, I don’t really want to watch it again; at least, not anytime soon.
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Spectre as well as all the great movies from this series.