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Susan Harris is alone in the house when, suddenly, doors lock, windows slam shut and the phone stops working. Susan is trapped by an intruder - but this is no ordinary thug. Instead, the intruder is a computer named Proteus, an artificial brain that has learned to reason. And to terrorize. In "one of her finest, most vulnerable perfromances" (Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic), Julie Christie plays Susan in this taut techno-thriller based on the Dean Koontz novel. Packed with suspense, surprise and special effects, Demon Seed follows Susan's desperate attempts to outmaneuver and outthink her captor. Then Susan learns what Proteus wants: its own child, conceived in her womb and destined for domination.
One of the better examples of the mad-computer genre, Demon Seed is a sci-fi nightmare brimming with ideas. Julie Christie dominates the film as an unsuspecting woman whose house has been completely automated by her computer-genius husband (Fritz Weaver). He, in turn, has just completed Proteus, the world's smartest Artificial Intelligence machine. When Proteus traps Christie alone in the house, it--or he--has notions of passing his intellectual power to another generation... by impregnating her. One of the many intriguing things about Donald Cammell's film (based on a Dean Koontz yarn) is that Proteus's dreams are actually visionary and utopian, unlike the commercial uses planned for him by others. Of course, he's also scary as hell; the voice of Proteus, uncredited, unmistakably belongs to Robert Vaughn. Cammell, a fascinating and frustrated talent (he co-directed Performance), completed very few films and ultimately killed himself in 1996. Somewhere around the halfway point Demon Seed begins to break down dramatically and logically, yet it has so many ideas kicking around that it sticks in the mind anyway. A good Jerry Fielding score adds to the overall dread. --Robert Horton
- Theatrical trailer
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Enter Proteus, who ironically finds a cure for leukemia within four days of his activation. However, once the eager corpies begin requesting better methods of mining the ocean floor, Proteus takes the moral high ground and refuses. When Proteus confidentially asks his creator to allow him an outside terminal to conduct biological experiments through, the scientist laughs nervously and tells him there is no free terminal. But then Proteus recalls that there IS an outlet for his intelligence which has been overlooked - the extensive systems in his designer's own home.
Proteus proceeds to take over the automated butler program and locks Julie Christie within the house, subjecting her to a variety of uncomfortable experiments, and punishing her when she resists (in one scene he superheats the kitchen floor to egg-frying degrees, forcing her to sleep on the kitchen table) or attempts to escape.
Eventually he makes known his true purpose to Christie. Proteus has discovered that the afterlife/eternity exists for humans, and now he wishes to transfer his intelligence into a corporeal form so that he can experience it. He intends to synthetically father a child which she will give birth to and raise.
This is one of the most uncomfortable movies I've ever seen. The paranoia and desperation of Christie's plight is superbly captured both in her intense portrayal and in the general claustrophobia of the house and the cold, hard angles of the ever present cameras and menacing machines (in this director's hands, even a simple mechanical arm connected to an electric wheelchair becomes terrifying). Particularly memorable is the monstrous polyhedron `snake' which Proteus creates in the basement to allow his mobility. When a family friend manages to enter the house and attempts to shut down Proteus, the snake proves it is quite capable of defending itself. The `courting' scenes in which Proteus coldly explains his purpose for wanting to reproduce are chilling and yet on some deep dark level, sort of amusing. `I can't touch you like a man could, Susan...but I can show you things...' Is this, on some bizarre level, a kind of love story? After all, in the end, Christie seems more trusting of Proteus than she is of her husband (can you imagine being that poor guy returning home to the news that your wife has had an affair with the home appliances? But...what do you expect after leaving her alone for a month and a half?) Is Proteus good or evil? His argument is very often convincing, yet he is capable of extreme violence and psychological cruelty - but does this stem from his lack of human emotion, or is he a malevolent manipulator? He certainly manipulates Christie throughout the film (showing her images of her lost daughter to appeal to her sense of motherhood - indeed, this is not the only time we see this little girl: watch for her in the end -and tricking her into believing he has killed one of her child patients to keep her from committing suicide), and proves himself able to fool his creators as well, stalling for time at the labs while he speedily brings his ultimate plan to fruition back at the homestead. Undeniably the scenes of Christie strapped to a table with her head held still in a vice while Proteus methodically conducts his experiments are some of the most horrific and squirm-inducing ever captured on film.
Yet, despite the potentially crude subject matter this is not exploitive schlock horror, but high minded science fiction addressing the nature of existence and ethics while delivering an intense visual and psychological assault that leaves one queasy and ultimately enthralled. You may want to walk away from this one during viewing, but come back - its definetly worth it.
Of course there are some slips in logic and a somewhat dated portrayal of technology, which other reviewers have already pointed out. But looking past all that, this is a film that will stick with you long after its finished. Reminded me a little of the feel of the original `Alien,' but much more intense. And don't be put off by that lurid cover - I don't even think that shot is in the film (I'm not even sure that's Julie Christie - she is not quite so...ahem...endowed.).
Julie Christie stars as a pampered housewife who's marriage with her scientist husband, Alex, is on the rocks. When he's not tinkering with robots or wiring their whole house to a centralized computer, Alex is working for the government on his latest project - PROTEUS. A "living computer", PROTEUS is designed to think, learn and evolve, eventually computing the solutions for all of mankind's ills.
Of course, PROTEUS has other plans. When Alex moves out (nowadays this is called a "trial separation") he inadvertently leaves a console running in the house. PROTEUS enters like a Trojan Horse, quickly putting the house's myriad electronics under his control. Christie, who slowly but surely notices that something is amiss, becomes the target of PROTEUS's worldly desires - but not in the creepy way you're thinking. Oh wait - actually in exactly that way. PROTEUS intends to impregnate Christie with his child, ensuring that he will live on free of the "box" that binds him. What ensues is a fantastic showdown between the strength of the human will and the cold hard algorithms of logic.
The film can be viewed both as a cautionary tale of technology's potential power over its creators, as well as a philosophical pondering of the nature and meaning of existence. A great, and often overlooked, bit of cinema from a time when technology could still be regarded with great suspicion.
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