Mike’s Review: Demon Seed (1977)

★★★★ out of ★★★★★

Directed by Donal Cammell

The Demon Seed is one mighty mashup of technological/sociological concepts. Freedom of choice, meets man’s desire to concur his natural surroundings, meets the infallibility of the god complex, meets sexual politics, meets the ecology movement, meets the military industrial complex, meets a horrifying faux 2001 psychedelic freakout. Yes, it’s all here on display in a 1970s groove.

The Demon Seed, directed by Donald Cammell (a ton of U2 videos and not much else), is a high-tech horror show involving a scientist’s benevolent desire to concoct artificial intelligence in a controlled setting. The scientist, Alex (Fritz Weaver: Creepshow, Jaws of Satan, and Friday the 13th TV series), is in the process of creating an entirely new form of techno-lifeform, Proteus. Focused almost entirely on controlling his surroundings and the creation of this new technological beast, his marriage to Susan (Julie Christie) has fallen by the wayside

Alex conveniently leaves Susan their robot-controlled house and all its mechanized trappings and continues to concentrate on getting Proteus up and running. Alex, and his military/corporate benefactors are anxiously awaiting to see what Proteus can offer them and their oppressive view of the world. Once the diabolical-sounding Proteus, voiced by the perfectly-cast Robert Vaughn (A-Team, Towering Inferno, and the Man from U.N.C.L.E.) comes on, it’s clear that Proteus has his own agenda and his artificial intelligence has evolved far past Alex’s wildest dreams. In a fit of 1970s environmentalism, Proteus refuses to conduct undersea mining calculations for crooked corporations hell-bent on raping the earth’s resources. Proteus is having none of their childish world domination games. No, Proteus is after something much more grand — ETERNITY!

As his powers grow and the obsequious Alex further panders to his business buddies, Proteus creates a secondary profile and infiltrates Susan’s techo-abode. Proteus, not much for emotions and thoughtful dialogue, traps Susan in her own home. He turns ever single device and mechanism against her. She unsuccessfully fights and comes to the realization that much like Alex has become a servile wimp, she too must kowtow to Proteus’ whims. Sadly, what Proteus is offering is not a weekend psych experiment. Quite the opposite. Proteus is proposing, or rather demanding, that Susan have HIS child! A computer having a child with a human woman? Is that even possible? Don’t worry, Proteus has all the lewd answers.

ATMOSfx! Woo!
This is not the midwife I was promised.

Hot on the heels of 1974’s landmark reproductive rights Supreme Court decision, Row vs. Wade, the Demon Seed has a definite opinion on these questions. Whether filtered through some techo-horror prism, or with a prescient political axe to grind, the Demon Seed brings many troubling questions to the table. Ultimately, because Proteus is manmade he is not infallible. In his quest for legitimacy and eternity, Proteus eventually gets sloppy and falls in to a seriously flawed god-complex-trap, but not before the birth of PROTEUS Jr.!

This criminally under-seen film, scored by the incomparable Jerry Fielding (Straw Dogs, Escape from Alcatraz, the Wild Bunch), brings a wonderful tapestry of cosmic questions to the table. The Demon Seed doesn’t ruminate too long on any of them, but allows each question just enough space to naggingly puzzle the audience. These are all difficult questions with some rather heady consequences, but it’s up for you to decide whether Proteus and his know-it-all omnipresence will save us or KILL us!

The Demon Seed is Rated R is streaming for free on Tubi.

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  1. Cool poster for a freaky film!

    • I love the old posters from the 1970s. They really spent some time and energy with some seriously cool designs and they’d do three of four versions of the posters, half sheets, and lobby cards! Miss the days of over the top marketing.

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