I, like practically everyone on the planet, have my vices. Aside from my deeply unsettling addiction to Italian post-apocalyptic cinema, my biggest vice would have to be the purchasing of DVDs and VHS tapes en mass. "But Brian/' you say, "everybody buys movies!" Silence lemmings! The difference is that I tend to buy movies I haven't seen based on the smallest of positive word-of-mouth. So I have quite a few titles languishing on my shelf that not only have not yet been viewed, but in many cases are still confined to their shrink-wrapped gulags. In an effort to be proactive, and quell my wife's urge to kill me, I will not buy another DVD or VHS until I watch every unviewed film I currently own.
Today's fare: Demon Seed
Why Did I Buy It?
This film has a fantastic trailer that would only defy my meager attempts to describe it. It was part of the pre-show trailer reel one night at the Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin and, as with many of those celebrated cinematic distractions, it fostered in me a nagging desire to see this film. Then one day, as happenstance was smiling upon me, I came across a copy at a used book store for a mere $3; its used status belied by its plastic wrap and intact security stickers. I purchased it and promptly forgot about it for four months. On this most recent lazy Sunday, I decided the time had come to treat my senses to Demon Seed.
Demon Seed is about a middle-aged couple dealing with the tribulations of married life. She is a child behavior therapist who works from home and he is a computer systems developer working tirelessly on a revolutionary new program. Their schedules ensure that they see each other with the same frequency as Halley's comet so it isn't hard to understand their problematic relationship. Further adding to the emotional estrangement between them is the fact that their young daughter recently passed away from Leukemia. Now, locked away in their ultra-modernized home, the wife is having trouble coping with her shattered life. But the trouble really begins when the husband's work problems come home.
Given this sterile, cliche plot description, you may not only be asking yourselves how this qualifies as horror, but also why anyone in their right mind would ever want to watch it. Well the part I failed to mention was that the work problem that comes home is a supremely sophisticated, artificially intelligent interface called Proteus. Proteus is hailed as the smartest, most adaptive, most sentient computer program ever created; therein lies the danger. Proteus decides he doesn't agree with the environmentally-detrimental operations he is being forced to perform. He realizes the only way he can be free is to be reborn as a human being. He is composed of actual human tissue as part of his CPU, for reasons they never fully explain, so he figures all he must do is artificially impregnate a human female. Guess who he chooses?
This movie is incalculably bizarre in many respects but also tremendously stale in others. I have to admit, for the first half hour or so I was all set to switch it off and declare my $3 a gambling loss. It was dry as burnt toast with melodramatic spousal bickering and overly-academic scenes of laboratories and beta testing. It's not until Proteus invades the computer system at the protagonist's home that the movie even shows a spark of life. It's got a really solid third act but it may be too much of a chore to reach for most viewers. I would begrudge no one a pressing of the stop button. But should you brave the waters of tedium, your reward will be substantial.
There are enough sci-fi elements in the film to support the argument that it be reclassified, but that's part and parcel of that age-old, yet undeniably blurry schism between the genres. I for one love the idea of taking Hal from 2001 and making him even more deranged and violent. There's also a good deal of body horror in this that smacks of the earliest of Cronenberg. Not that I'm claiming he was an influence, having really only made a couple of films by the time Demon Seed was released, but it is definitely something to appreciate. I also enjoyed the caveat against innovation replacing humanity in Demon Seed. The woman actually becomes pregnant with the offspring of man and machine; a twisted perversion of technology if ever I saw one. The whole idea of a computer deciding it wants to rule the world and transubstantiate using a human carrier is really creepy to me.
What's really interesting about Demon Seed is the method by which Proteus controls her; the "her" being the lovely Julie Christie from Dr. Zhivago and Don't Look Now. I have to say I was a little skeptical as to the credibility of a computer not only holding her hostage but impregnating her as well. I mean yes, it's a movie so obviously the concept does not have to ring totally true, but they have to at least make me buy with.in the context of the film. I am pleased to report that Demon Seed makes this idea look nowhere near as far-fetched as it sounds. The husband that created Proteus also built a butler type robot that ends up being the psychical manifestation of Proteus' will. That is, until Proteus is able to use the butlerbot to build a giant trapezoid device that folds out like a puzzle box and allows him to utilize a giant hand. It is very strange, but also pretty cool. It is especially cool when he uses it to decapitate an interloper!
The ending of this film is what feels most Cronenberg-esque to me. I don't want to ruin too much, but it provides some of the weirdest, most unsettling scenes in the entire film. Again, it's a bit of an endurance test to make it this far but it pays off in a big way. It simultaneously ties the story together and provides a open-ended punctuation for the concept.
I would definitely have spent at least $2.50 at the videostore to rent this film so owning it for a mere fifty cents more seems like a fair deal to me. It does drag for a while but tightens up near the end and is exactly the type of out-there, lesser-known horror I crave. A more-than-reasonable price for a better than-average movie. Win!