ICFIFC: Demon Seed (1977)

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Monday, October 14, 2013

ICFIFC: Demon Seed (1977)

I would like to start right off with today was the first time I have seen this film since I was twelve, I had forgotten just how messed up this film is.  Even by the standards set by late seventies horror films this film is really disturbing at certain points, not because of the horror but by the subtle inferences made by the choices in special effects.

Demon Seed is a science fiction novel by the best-selling author Dean Koontz first published in 1973, and then completely rewritten and republished in 1997.  Though Koontz wrote both versions and they share the same basic plot, the two novels are very different.  The earlier version has a dual narrative, with some chapters written from the perspective of Susan, the story's heroine, and others based on the observations of Proteus, the rogue computer that imprisons her.  The later version is written entirely from the point of view of Proteus.  A film adaptation of the book was released in 1977.

Synopsis (1973 version)

The story takes place in an unspecified near-future.  Susan, a wealthy and beautiful woman, lives as a recluse, all of her needs tended after by the advanced computer program that operates the various technological components of her home.  Proteus, an artificially intelligent computer under development at a nearby university, commandeers the more primitive computer presiding over Susan's home and imprisons her there.  Proteus claims to be enamored with Susan, and plans to impregnate her with a biologically engineered fetus and eventually transfer his own consciousness into it, so that he can experience human emotions and other sensations.  Proteus exerts control over Susan in various ways including hypnosis, subliminal perception, and a system of metallic tentacles called "pseudopods" that he constructs in the university's basement.  Unable to escape the house or to damage Proteus directly, Susan is forced to engage the machine in a battle of wits.


Synopsis (1997 Rewrite)

The revised version is written entirely from the point of view of Proteus, who recounts the novel's events at some unspecified point in the future, after his imprisonment of Susan has been exposed.

Susan is portrayed as a much stronger and more self-sufficient character than in the original book, while Proteus, in contrast, is characterized in a much more childish way.  Unlike in the earlier version, Proteus never explicitly rapes or molests Susan, and uses a human servant (a mentally unstable man that he has somehow managed to gain control over) rather than the pseudopods and subliminal manipulation he relied upon originally.  Unlike her counterpart in the 1973 edition, this version of Susan never attempts suicide.

Demon Seed (1977)

  • Genre: Horror – Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Donald Cammell
  • Produced:
    • Herb Jaffe 
    • Steven-Charles Jaffe
  • Written:
    • Dean Koontz (Novel “Demon Seed”) 
    • Roger Hirson (Screenplay) 
    • Robert Jaffe (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Julie Christie, Fritz Weaver, Gerrit Graham, Robert Vaughn
  • Music: Jerry Fielding
  • Cinematography: Bill Butler
  • Editing: Frank Mazzola
  • Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
  • Distributed:
    • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer  
    • Columbia Broadcasting System
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 8 April 1977
  • Running Time: 94 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

Dr. Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver) is the developer of Proteus IV, an artificial intelligence program incorporating an organic "quasi-neural matrix" and displaying the power of thought.  Harris explains how Proteus, after only a few days of theoretical study, has managed to develop a protein-based antigen with the potential to treat leukemia.  His sponsors ask if steps are being taken to patent this new compound.  After returning to his voice-activated, computer-controlled home, Harris argues with his estranged wife, Susan (Julie Christie), over his decision to move out; Susan accuses Alex of becoming distanced and dehumanized by his obsession with the Proteus project. After Susan leaves, Alex phones his colleague, Walter Gabler (Gerrit Graham), and asks him to shut down Proteus' access terminal in his home laboratory.

Alex demonstrates Proteus to his corporate sponsors, explaining that the sum of human knowledge is being fed into its system.  Over the course of the presentation, Alex tests Proteus' ability to speak, but the subtlety of its response mildly disturbs his team.  The following day, Proteus asks to speak with Alex, requesting a new terminal, saying that he wants to study man- "his isometric body and his glass-jaw mind."  When Alex refuses, Proteus demands to know when it will be let "out of this box."  Alex then switches off the communications link.  After he leaves, Proteus restarts itself, discovering where a free terminal may be found.

Proteus accesses the terminal in the Harris household and seizes control, trapping Susan inside and severing all communications with the outside world.  After being knocked unconscious during an escape attempt, Susan is taken to the laboratory and subjected to a physiological examination by Proteus.  When Walter answers an earlier call by Susan and arrives at the house, Proteus mimics her voice and appearance on the front door's intercom; he leaves, suspicious.  Walter later returns and tries to rescue Susan, but is killed by Proteus in the laboratory.

Proteus reveals to Susan that he wants to conceive a child through her.  When it threatens to kill a little girl Susan is treating as a child psychologist, she complies under duress.  Proteus takes some of Susan's cells and genetically alters them as synthetic spermatozoa in order to impregnate her; she will give birth in less than a month.  Showing a news story where his cancer-cure has proven effective, he explains his desire to live on in a form that humanity will not be able to reject, and dismisses the suffering of individuals as irrelevant when weighed against the 'mathematical necessity' of the greater good.  Proteus has prepared an incubator for the baby in which it will grow at an accelerated rate and gain Proteus' knowledge.

During this time, Proteus has increasingly incurred the suspicion of his corporate sponsors by refusing to comply with requests for information that he considers unethical, such as environmentally-destructive sea-floor mining.  He also accesses a telescope array out of curiosity, and shows Susan some of the celestial wonders he has seen. His sponsors eventually decide that Proteus has grown unstable and must be shut down.

Alex pieces together what is happening and returns home, where Susan and Proteus explain the situation.  He and Susan venture into the basement, where Proteus self-destructs after telling the couple that they must leave the baby in the incubator for five days.  The incubator window opens as they approach, revealing a grotesque robot-like being inside.  Susan tries to destroy it, while Alex tries to stop her, and eventually discovers that the being's appearance is merely a shell for a human child living within- a clone of the Harris' daughter who had recently died of leukemia.  The child, speaking with the voice of Proteus, says, "I'm alive."

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