Saturday, 11 September 2010

Demon Seed

A few years ago British movie magazine Total Film ran a feature on Cinema's most embarrassing moments. Demon Seed was one such film included in their list. Granted, the film is built upon a number of absurdities but it remains a well made, interesting sci-fi thriller and quite undeserving of Total Film's dubious accolade. Directed in 1977 by Donald Cammell (and based on the Dean Koontz novel of the same name), Demon Seed is about a super-intelligent computer called Proteus which develops a HAL-like ego, and in its quest for omnipotence, integrates itself into the computer system of its creator's home, and impregnate his wife transferring its consciousness into a bio-mechanoid being.

Of the four films directed by Cammell (which includes Performance, White of the Eye and Wild Side), Demon Seed is his most conventional in terms of style and narrative. The unique signature Cammell established with Performance - the non-linear cutting and shot-construction is notably absent here, and one longs for the unsettling weirdness of John Frankenheimer's Seconds or DePalma's Sisters. Perhaps the oft-repeated stories of Cammell having his films recut without his supervision is in evidence here. Still, its sufficiently Cammell-esque to recommend a viewing - Julie Christie's imprisionment in her house reminds one of James Fox's similar predicament in Performance, and there's plenty of bizarre sexuality at hand. Its an intense film too, aided in no small measure by Julie Christie who suffers some gruelling tortures in preparion for becoming the reluctant host for Proteus' offspring. There's some good support from Fritz Weaver (Romero fans will know him as the long suffering husband in Creepshow episode The Crate), and the sinister voice of Proteus is courtesy of Robert Vaughn.

Certainly, the film looks very dated nowadays. The Proteus computer lab is literally the size of a warehouse, and leaving aside the film makers predictions for the future of computer technology, the film features a number of mediocre computer-animated sequences which can't quite match Douglas Trumball's "Stargate" effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey made almost 10 years earlier. But the central idea of Demon Side is still valid today, that if society can develop technology for harnessing life (as we are reaching towards with cloning), life will find a way...

Warners DVD of Demon Seed is a good presentation of the film. The 2.35 transfer is mostly fine - there's some grain in the darker scenes, but overall its a good image. The mono audio is solid too and does a fine job with Jerry Fielding's avant-garde score. The only extra offered is a battered trailer. Incidentally, the Warner's DVD sleeve replicates the original MGM poster, which sold the film like it was a Rosemary's Baby style chiller - Julie Christie carries the Demon Seed - Fear for Her

4 comments:

  1. Love the name 'Proteus' - I remember seeing this on TV in about 1980 and being suitably impressed.

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  2. I checked this out Jeremy and it fits nicely with the film - Proteus comes the adjective protean, with the general meaning of "versatile", "mutable", "capable of assuming many forms"

    I love the similar sounding Prometheus which is the name of the space station in Tarkovsky's Solaris...

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  3. I saw that same DVD not too long ago and agree with you - depite the dated elements it's a worthy thriller. It also went in directions I did not expect - and that's always a positive.

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  4. Yeah, I think the film has to be approached carefully in that if someone is coming to the film with the expectation of seeing something cut from the same cloth as Performance or even White of the Eye, disappointment is almost guaranteed - but I think if one looks below the surface some of director Donald Cammell's DNA is there to be found... The dated look of the film is of course inevitable - even something like Enemy of the State is aging fast, such is the tidal force of technological development but I think there's a lovely paradoxical effect in the way certain films' display of technology becomes so outdated it begins to feel much more abstract and strange... I dunno if Tony Scott's film will ever achieve this, but I think Demon Seed is getting there. I imagine future generations of film watchers will continue to find something worthwhile in the film...

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