Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #521
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: April 8, 1977
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $2,000,000
Running Time: 94 minutes
Director: Donald Cammell
Producer: Herb Jaffe
Screenplay: Roger Hirson, Robert Jaffe
Based on a novel by Dean R. Koontz
Special Effects: Tom Fisher
Cinematography: Bill Butler
Score: Jerry Fielding
Editing: Frank Mazzola
Distributor: Metro Goldwyn Mayer
Stars: Julie Christie, Fritz Weaver, Gerrit Graham, Berry Kroeger, Lisa Lu, Larry J. Blake, John O’Leary, Alfred Dennis, Davis Roberts, Patricia Wilson, Robert Vaughn (Voice)
Suggested Audio Candy
 Jerry Fielding “Speaking Room”
 Jerry Fielding “End Credits”
Where would we be without technology? Nowadays, you’re considered a dinosaur if you don’t purchase your groceries online and less than zero if you don’t possess at least one new-age gadget. I’ve got mixed feelings about moving with the times and only recently made the transition from DVD to Blu-Ray as it took me over a decade to mourn the passing of VHS and I couldn’t see the benefits of switching allegiances once again. For the record, I now realize what I was missing out on but that doesn’t change the fact that ignorance was bliss for a number of years. Call me old-fashioned and I’ll ride to town on my penny farthing, but I would still choose the authentic crackle of vinyl over remastered CDs any day of the week.
I was fine until I discovered what Cyberdyne were planning. You see, future technology is all well and good but not when it falls into the wrong hands. There are currently over seven billion people on our planet and a fair few rotten eggs amongst us. All it takes is one criminal mastermind to get ideas above their station and we’re all harvested for resources. Take the friendly domestic robot for example. While having your slippers retrieved by an affable android may seem agreeable to begin with, at some point said cyber buddy is bound to malfunction and the novelty will soon wears off once it asphyxiates you in your recliner. Maybe it’s just paranoid ramblings but I guess time will tell.
If I appear pessimistic then allow me to explain where these doubts stem from. I was around ten-years-old the first time I was introduced to Donald Cammell’s Demon Seed on late night television. Certain films from your childhood stick with you for one reason or another and something about this particular movie really unsettled me. Watching it again after all these years, it seems ludicrous that it courted such perpetual night terrors and soiled bed linen as it would be fair to say that it’s a little long in the tooth by today’s standards. However, it certainly performed a number on me back in the day and I will remain forever in its debt for administering such a generous case of the willies. Between this and Jack Starrett’s Race With The Devil, it’s a miracle I ever got a single wink of sleep.
The irony is that Cammell never set out to scare his audience witless and intended Demon Seed to be a comedy, despite Roger Hirson and Robert Jaffe’s screenplay being based on an original novel by acclaimed horror author Dean R. Koontz. As was repeatedly the case during a career plagued by frustration, his best-laid plans were soundly thwarted and, on this occasion, it’s hard to argue that the decision to play it straight wasn’t an astute one. While the director was considered by many as something of a loose cannon, his keen eye for visual detail was never in question and his involvement elevated the source fiction to a whole new level.
Scientist Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver) is on the verge of a technological breakthrough, having designed Proteus IV, a radical super computer possessing a level of artificial intelligence the likes of which have never been seen. For as much as it appears that Alex has many reasons to be cheerful, his marriage is suffering as a result of his exhaustive research. His child psychologist wife Susan (Julie Christie) is growing increasingly concerned that his work is dehumanizing him and the cracks in their once happy marriage are starting to show. Since losing their only daughter to leukemia, Alex has become obsessed with his initiative, believing it can be put to use for the good of medical advancement.
The state-of-the-art Harris home is fully automated, boasting all manner of hi-tech gadgetry and convenient technological perks to help make their lives easier. Unfortunately for Susan, Proteus IV has become a little too smart for its own good and begun to question humanity. When Alex denies its request for an open terminal from which to observe mankind further, it decides to take matters into its own hands and perpetrates their home system, placing it on secure lockdown and trapping Susan inside in the process. With the scientist away on extended business and any contact with the outside world refused, she becomes a prisoner in her own home. Even more disconcertingly, Proteus intends to impregnate her in order to fashion its very own AI progeny.
Naturally, the idea of leasing her womb to a maverick computer isn’t one that Susan relishes particularly and her reluctance to play mommy doesn’t bode at all well with Proteus. As punishment for her insolence, it pulls out all the stops to make her life a living hell and, when she continues to resist its advances, resorts to brute force and brainwashing techniques to plant its demonic seed. Her only hope appears to be Alex’s colleague Walter Gabler (Gerrit Graham) who smells a rat and heads off to the Harris house to check on her well-being. Needless to say, such meddling doesn’t go down well with the rogue computer and the programmer’s welcome is far less than warm.
Christie is simply magnificent as the tormented tenant and reveals all sides of her game, evolving from traumatized victim into resourceful heroine effortlessly. Weaver is also on-point as the all work, no play scientist while Graham offers typically solid support as gallant nerd Gabler. However, the real star of the show is the house itself and Cammell wrings every last drop of tension out of his stifling setting with the assistance of Bill Butler’s suitably claustrophobic cinematography. The visual effects may well have dated considerably over the years but that is only to be expected as technology waits for no man. The bottom line is that, almost forty years on, Demon Seed still serves as a potent reminder that mankind may one day pay the ultimate price for getting ahead of itself.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Grue is surplus to requirements here although one moment is all it takes and the image of a single inspired decapitation will be burned onto my psyche forevermore. Meanwhile, you can’t blame Proteus IV for getting a little frisky with Christie as she happily flaunts her assets on more than one occasion. Even super computers need to find their kicks somewhere.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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