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Demon Seed (1977)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/14/2017
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/15/2017
When people discuss 80s nostalgia, they often bring up music or fashion. As someone who lived through the 80s, I remember many other things. Some of my fondest memories are trips to the bookstore, as this was a time when stores like Waldenbooks and B. Dalton (how's that for a flashback?) had a designated horror section. I loved perusing that area and all of the gruesome black covers. During this period, the shelves were dominated by Stephen King and Dean Koontz. It felt like everything that King published was made into a movie (and this isn't far from the truth), but Koontz, who has sold 450 millions copies over the decades, didn't have the same exposure. However, a little research shows that before he became a household name, Hollywood adapted one of his novels with Demon Seed.
Demon Seed is set in an unspecified future. Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver) has created a computer called Proteus, a learning computer which will be capable of independent thought. While Alex has had success in his career, things aren't so great at home, as he and his wife, Susan (Julie Christie) are getting separated, and Alex will soon be moving out of their mansion. While this is not a good time, Alex feels comfortable with this, as the security and details of the house are overseen by a computer named Alfred. Meanwhile, Proteus is becoming more self-aware and wants to branch out of the lab. It discovers a computer terminal in the basement of the house, and through it, begins to watch Susan. It doesn't take long for Proteus to trap Susan in the house and begin to terrorize her. It soon becomes clear that Proteus wants to do more than observe Susan.
As someone who read a lot of Koontz's output from the late 70s to the early 90s, Demon Seed certainly doesn't have the sort of "vibe" that he's known for. Not just because of the science fiction aspect (which does crop up in some of Koontz's work, such as 1989's Midnight), but because some of the story comes across as mean-spirited and arguably sexist. Koontz's later work is often populated with strong female characters, but Susan, though defiant at times, is certainly a damsel in distress.
The Koontz analysis aside, Demon Seed's narrative is very unbalanced. The first act is fairly straight-forward; we meet Alex, Susan, and Proteus, learn about the relationship between Alex and Susan, and we get the idea that Proteus is up to no-good. From this point on, the movie essentially becomes a siege film, as Susan is trapped inside the house with no hope of escape. She challenges Proteus at times, but she also spends a great deal of the time anesthetized. A movie in which a computer hold a woman hostage, isnít exactly family-fare, but the first half of Demon Seed does feel pretty tame. So, when Proteusí plan is revealed and put into place, itís somewhat shocking. And this perfectly personifies the odd aura of movies from the 70s -- we get casual nudity, one gruesome death, a taboo-shattering plot twist...and a bunch of mundane drama.
Which brings us to why Demon Seed doesnít work. In short, the movie is boring. This was only Director Robert Cammellís second work, as heís previously worked with Nicolas Roeg on the Mick Jagger project Performance, and he doesnít seem to have an idea of how to handle the pacing or suspense. The movie should be a roller-coaster ride, as we move from the pressure-cooker notion of Susan being trapped in the house to the bizarre reveal of how Proteus plans to continue its development. Instead, we are simply treated to one slow-paced seen after another of Susan either yelling at Proteus or being man-handled by the one-armed robotic wheelchair (I know, right?) which Proteus controls. Even the finale, which should be shocking, feels amazingly flat. The movie also canít rectify its own plot-lines, as we understand that Alex and Susan are separated, but the fact that he never comes to check on her just doesnít feel realistic.
After watching the film, the first question which comes to mind is ďIs that title appropriate?Ē. I get the reference, but it still feels inaccurate. The novel was written in 1973, so maybe Koontz was tapping into The Exorcist influenced zeitgeist of the period. I can say that I was impressed with the filmís production design, most notably the odd contraption which Proteus constructs that looks like a geometry teacherís nightmare. I had actually thought that Iíd seen Demon Seed before, but it didnít take me long to realize that I hadnít. And while it was interesting to see a film based on Dean Koontzís early work, I now know that I wasnít missing anything.
Demon Seed is oddly prophetic on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Archive. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 37 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a trace amount of grain and no defects from the source materials. It's been a while since I reviewed a Warner Archive title, but kudos to that group for taking the time to make this transfer look good. The colors are very rich and true, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The depth is notably good, as older films can often look flat when given the HD treatment. I did note some video noise during camera movements, but otherwise, I was impressed. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2-channel track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track doesn't provide any truly dynamic effects, but we get enough stereo action to create a sense of atmosphere and the film's score never drowns out the actors.
The lone extra on the Demon Seed Blu-ray Disc is a TRAILER for the film, which has been letterboxed at 1.78:1.
Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long