Based on Dean Koontz’s 1973 novel, DEMON SEED was released as film by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1977, meeting with mixed reactions from both moviegoers and critics. With a far-fetched sci-fi storyline that strays from the literary source, Scottish-born Donald Cammell directs for the first time since the compellingly weird PERFORMANCE (released in 1970, but shot in '68), and the film would be re-edited from under him. Though very much a product of its time in some respects, the film has a keen sense of foretelling how vital—as well as damaging—computers would become in our everyday lives but perhaps not to the fiction-sense extent explored here.
Dr. Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver, CREEPSHOW, JAWS OF SATAN), a brilliant government scientist, designs and constructs a voice-activated supercomputer called Proteus IV, with a purpose of helping mankind and finding a cure for leukemia (the disease he lost his daughter to the previous year). Almost immediately, Proteus develops its own personality, communicating with a human voice, questioning the commands it’s given and making requests. Meanwhile, at Alex’s home, his estranged wife Susan (Julie Christie, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD) lives under a futuristically automated, computer-run household security system. Proteus infiltrates the system, and begins to disrupt Susan’s life, terrorizing her in the process. Proteus keeps her captive in the house against her will, telling her he wants her to bare his child in order to carry out his existence.
The script by Roger Hirson and Robert Jaffe has a computer speaking in human tongue, making demands and trying to overtake man, much like HAL in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. But as clichéd as that sounds, it also borrows from the devil child ilk of ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE OMEN. That said, DEMON SEED does have some intelligent, original ideas, but is mostly an unpleasant, unremorseful viewing experience, so those who appreciate deep and grim science fiction pictures will likely relish it, as it's easy to see why this has a sizable following. Though some of the dynamics are dated, such as the “Short Circuit” type wheelchair robot, the glitzy new age visuals and the bulky floppy disks, the frightful themes of machines controlling man can still be gripping some 40 years after it was made. Director Cammell, who took his own life less than 20 years later, keeps a suitable amount of suspense on hand throughout, as well as the unconventional visual flare he was known for in the all-too-small handful of features he directed.
The distinct voice of Robert Vaughn (uncredited) provides the voice of Proteus, and he does so in a chillingly effective manner. Julie Christie – a fine actress who had the good sense to pick superior exploitation projects like DON’T LOOK NOW and this – gives a strong, vulnerable performance as the terrorized woman eventually impregnated by something unworldly. The late, vastly underrated Fritz Weaver is perfectly cast as sort of a mad genius, and Gerrit Graham plays a geeky scientist who arrives to the house to save the day, only to get assaulted by a laser beam! Graham’s PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE co-star Harold Oblong (aka Peter Elbling) can be seen briefly, and veteran creepy character actor Berry Kroeger (NIGHTMARE IN WAX, THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT) plays a background scientist in what turned out to be his final film role. Before it’s show in human form, the mechanical-looking newborn is played by Felix Silla (“Cousin Itt” from “The Addams Family” TV series, among countless other parts).
After a full frame VHS pre-record tape, Warner first released DEMON SEED on Blu-ray in 2005 and again in 2011 as made-on-demand disc as part of the Warner Archive Collection, and that banner is now carried over to this Blu-ray. The film is presented in 1080p HD in its original 2.35:1 Panavision aspect ratio and the new transfer looks exceptional. Although a subdued palette of colors are on display, they are still vibrant and distinct here, and the skintones are like-like. The image is extremely sharp with no evidence of any dirt or film noise, the light filmic grain structure is maintained well and the black levels are perfectly deep. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is also very solid, with no signs of hiss, and dialogue is clear throughout, with the score by Jerry Fielding also showing excellent range. Optional English SDH subtitles are included, and the original trailer (upgraded from the full frame one on the DVD, as it’s now widescreen and 1080p HD) is included. (George R. Reis)
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