Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Demon Seed

Four-time Academy Award nominee (and winner for DARLING) Julie Christie may have given the screen performance of her life in this literate and underrated science fiction movie with a daring premise. Based on a Dean Koontz novel, DEMON SEED is a computer-goes-rogue story in the tradition of COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT and hundreds of other films, stories, and television shows as far back as Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN. However, it’s directed so intelligently by Donald Cammell (PERFORMANCE) and given such visual and dramatic flourish that it plays like a true original.

Fritz Weaver (BLACK SUNDAY) co-stars as Alex Harris, a scientist developing an artificial intelligence called Proteus IV. Advanced enough to cure cancer, Proteus is advanced enough to want — and what it wants is Harris’ wife, Susan (Christie). Living alone after Harris’ obsession with Proteus broke up their marriage, Susan becomes trapped in her home by Proteus, which has taken control of the entire house with plans to impregnate Susan and live forever in human form.

The actors and the screenplay by Robert Jaffe (MOTEL HELL) and Roger O. Hirson (THE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN) take the outrageous premise seriously — wisely so, as any hint of humor would blow the film apart. Though serious, the plot is also sloppy at times with a few annoying questions left unanswered (for instance, what happens to a car belonging to one of Susan’s visitors?) The special effects, particularly a snake-like tetrahedron that represents one of Proteus’ physical forms, are imaginative, and the orchestral score by Jerry Fielding (THE ENFORCER) is impressive.

Because DEMON SEED is basically a two-hander, it’s important that Christie play off an impressive foe, and she does — not just the mechanical effects representing Proteus, but also the uncredited Robert Vaughn (THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.), whose voice is perfectly menacing and controlling. Weaver is believable, Gerrit Graham (USED CARS) is an effective sacrificial lamb, and Berry Kroeger (BLOOD ALLEY) gets to be a good guy in his final film.