Saturday, February 12, 2011

Demon Seed (1977)


Taking the crazed-computer menace of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in a depraved new direction, this strange thriller is based on a Dean Koontz novel, but bears the unmistakable signature of its director, Donald Cammell, notorious for co-directing the perverse cult classic Performance (1970). Even within the confines of a big-budget Hollywood movie, Cammell lets his freak flag fly throughout Demon Seed, which features an anguished Julie Christie as a woman who gets imprisoned, tortured, and impregnated (!) by a sentient computer. The source of her misery is her scientist husband (Fritz Weaver), who creates a supercomputer called Proteus IV; the computer’s desire for physical life prompts Christie’s artificial-intelligence insemination. Much of the movie comprises two-character scenes with Christie and Proteus, which mostly manifests as lava-lamp patterns on computer screens, so Christie’s main costar is unseen actor Robert Vaughn, who provides Proteus’ voice without much vigor. Adding a hallucinatory feel are long electronic-animation montages by Frank Mazzola, and Proteus’ eventual physical manifestation as a weird cube/diamond thing that extends long tendrils of geometric shapes. These trippy sequences are like Yes album covers come to life. However the movie suffers from idiotic plotting and long dull stretches, plus the miscasting of two behind-the-scenes players: Jaws cinematographer Bill Butler and frequent Peckinpah composer Jerry Fielding both contribute great work that belongs in a different, less bizarre movie. As for Christie, she flails through scenes that would be impossible for anyone to play, and seems embarrassed by her surroundings. So although Demon Seed is pretty damn weird, grounding elements like Butler’s crisp cinematography, Christie’s emphatically expressed anguish, and Vaughn’s overly explanatory voiceovers tether the movie to earth when it clearly wants to drift into even weirder territory.

Demon Seed: FREAKY

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