Cast & Crew
Cybernetics expert Dr. Alex Harris has developed a revolutionary computer named Proteus IV which has an almost human self-awareness and is capable of increasing its intelligence. But Proteus also has the human urge to escape its isolation in the lab, so it taps into the terminals in the home of Alex and his wife Susan. Proteus puts Susan through a series of mental and physical tests, kills Harris' assistant, and eventually the computer's intentions become clear: It wants to impregnate Susan with its "seed" to evolve into a human form.
E Hampton Beagle
Dixie J Capp
Edward C Carfagno
Don L Cash
Thomas L. Fisher
Richard L Froman
Steven Charles Jaffe
Harry V Lojewski
Michael I Rachmil
The film features the British actress Julie Christie as a psychologist involved in an unhappy marriage with a brilliant scientist (Fritz Weaver) who has created a remarkable advanced supercomputer (voiced by Robert Vaughn) known as Proteus IV. When the couple decides to separate Julie Christie finds herself alone in their house which has been equipped with every modern convenience imaginable including a powerful home computer, complex security system and a headless robot able to perform various household tasks. Christie's domestic solitude is shattered when the computer decides to imprison her at home and force her to give birth to its offspring.
Demon Seed is a strange combination of science fiction drama and home invasion thriller with some impressive visual effects for its time. Unlike Star Wars or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Cammell's film took a serious approach to its futuristic storyline and the film's adult themes and complex story line lacked mainstream commercial appeal. The plot borrows ideas from other popular films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Rosemary's Baby (1968) but Cammell's approach is anything but formulaic. His creative approach to the material gives Demon Seed an original edge that still feels contemporary today.
Demon Seed was based on a popular science fiction novel of the same name published in 1973 by author Dean Koontz. Producer Herb Jaffe purchased the rights to Koontz's book soon after it was released and his son, writer Robert Jaffe, completed a script based on the novel in 1975. MGM was interested in turning Jaffe's script into a full-fledged movie and many directors were rumored to be associated with the project before the studio asked Cammell to take over. Cammell had made a name for himself in Hollywood after co-directing the groundbreaking and controversial film Performance (1970) with Nicolas Roeg and he was eager to work again but studio executives were weary of his artistic temperament and notorious reputation as a drug-using bohemian. When MGM offered Cammell the opportunity to direct Demon Seed he jumped at the chance because he needed the money but he was also extremely interested in the subject matter. Cammell's relationship with his former creative collaborator Nicolas Roeg had become strained over the years and Cammell was disappointed that he wasn't given the chance to produce the science fiction drama The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), which Roeg had directed. In some ways Donald Cammell's decision to do Demon Seed was a response to being taken off the production of The Man Who Fell to Earth as well as a reflection of his troubled relationship with one-time directing partner Nicolas Roeg.
A few years earlier Roeg had great success with his critically acclaimed supernatural thriller Don't Look Now (1973), which featured the actress Julie Christie in one of her most challenging roles. It's reasonable to assume that Donald Cammell was also impressed with Christie's exceptional performance in that film and he personally asked the actress if she would star in Demon Seed. Cammell was so eager to get Christie for the movie that he told MGM that he would only direct Demon Seed if Christie agreed to star in it. The actress admired Cammell's earlier work and she had also expressed interest in starring in more action oriented movies that allowed her to stretch her acting abilities, so it's not surprising that she accepted Donald Cammell's offer. Christie was no stranger to working with demanding directors and her previous work in science fiction productions such as François Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 (1966) as well as the British television series A for Andromeda (1961) undoubtedly helped prepare her for her role. She worked well with Donald Cammell during the making of Demon Seed and her suggestions and ideas about changes to the original script were welcomed. Interestingly enough, before Christie committed to the role, Cammell had been tailoring the script for Marlon Brando as the scientist who creates Proteus IV; that role eventually went to Fritz Weaver instead when the studio nixed the idea of two difficult creative people - Brando and Cammell - working together.
Demon Seed garnered a lot of attention when it was released in April 1977 thanks to its salacious advertising campaign that featured a partially clothed Julie Christie on her back and tag-lines like "Never was a woman violated as profanely. Never was a woman subject to inhuman love like this. Never was a woman prepared for a more perverse destiny." Some critics dismissed it immediately and berated the movie for its sexual themes and exploitation of its female star. As lurid and suggestive as it may have been, the publicity for Cammell's movie had very little to do with the actual film. Demon Seed is a thought-provoking film about the ethics of scientific progress in a male-dominated field and it's extremely uncomfortable to watch a woman repeatedly restrained and assaulted against her will by a man's invention. But contrary to its advertising campaign, the film is not gratuitous. A lot of the events depicted in the movie take place off screen and they're masked by special effects and colorful visuals including some stunning computer animation by American artist/underground filmmaker Jordan Belson (Music of the Spheres , Cosmos ). Demon Seed is troubling because Julie Christie is an unusually gifted actress and her outstanding performance as the tortured victim makes it easy for the audience to believe that she's suffering real harm. The Variety reviewer thought Demon Seed featured "Excellent performances and direction (Donald Cammell), from a most credible and literate screenplay." Other critics just found the whole enterprise rather ridiculous such as Vincent Canby from the New York Times who called Demon Seed "gadget-happy American moviemaking at its most ponderously silly."
Six weeks after the release of Demon Seed the film was overshadowed by George Lucas' Star Wars. Critics and audiences were given very little time to contemplate the larger ideas that Donald Cammell's film was presenting or appreciate the movies impressive visual effects and clever editing. Today Demon Seed seems remarkably prophetic for its time because so much of the science that it advocated in 1977 has become commonplace. Organism cloning, artificial insemination and complex artificial intelligence systems are no longer science fiction and they've become science fact. What may have seemed utterly ridiculous in 1977 doesn't seem all that implausible now.
Producer: Herb Jaffe
Director: Donald Cammell
Screenplay: Robert Jaffe, Roger O. Hirson; Dean R. Koontz (novel "Demon Seed")
Cinematography: Bill Butler
Music: Jerry Fielding
Film Editing: Francisco Mazzola
Cast: Julie Christie (Susan Harris), Fritz Weaver (Alex Harris), Gerrit Graham (Walter Gabler), Berry Kroeger (Petrosian), Lisa Lu (Soong Yen), Larry J. Blake (Cameron), John O'Leary (Royce), Alfred Dennis (Mokri), Davis Roberts (Warner), Patricia Wilson (Mrs. Talbert), E. Hampton Beagle (Night Operator), Michael Glass (Technician), Barbara O. Jones (Technician), Dana Laurita (Amy).
by Kimberly Lindbergs
Donald Cammell: A Life on the Wild Side by Rebecca and Sam Umland
Julie Christie by Michael Feeney Callan
Julie Christie: The Biography by Tim Ewbank and Stafford Hildre
Demon Seed on DVD
The story Cammell tells is plenty creepy on its own. Based on a novel by Dean Koontz, Demon Seed is a futuristic, Kubrick-esque tale of a supercomputer designed by scientist Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver) and bankrolled by a large multi-national corporation. Harris and wife Susan (Julie Christie) are in the process of separating as the computerized "artificial intelligence system" goes on-line, and Alex moves out of their home, which the scientist fully automated with an earlier computer that, through things like voice recognition, mechanized appliances and dumb-waiters, fulfills every request for a glass of wine, dimmed lights or breakfast in bed.
Susan, a child psychologist, remains in the house, but she's not alone for long. Proteus (voiced with menacing, HAL-like calm by Berry Kroeger) may whip up a cure for leukemia in his first four days of action, but he also immediately starts using the reason with which Alex equipped him. He refuses to develop a project to mine the ocean floor for iron ore, as asked, saying it will cause too much pollution and threaten beaches worldwide, and impatiently asks Alex, "When are you going to let me out of this box?" Proteus plots behind Alex's back by enabling the shutdown computer terminal in the automated house's basement. The terminal is hooked into Proteus's mainframe, and in no time he's taken over the in-house computer (which has the butler-ish name of Alfred), as well as all of Alex's dust-gathering old projects in the basement, particularly a motorized wheelchair with a mechanized arm.
Demon Seed is no garden-variety technology-paranoia thriller. Because Proteus takes Susan's house over for a very specific reason. If Alex isn't going to free him from "the box," Proteus will find another way. He'll imprison Susan, devote all his energy to developing synthetic spermatozoa he can imbue with his intellectual characteristics and impregnate her. And that's exactly what he does (there's a funny hint of Proteus's carnal desire when one of the first things he does after taking over the house is pivot a security camera so he can check out naked Susan in a shower-stall reflection). Proteus's initial abduction of Susan, in which he locks her in the kitchen, shocks her and then has the wheelchair/arm bind her to a table so he can examine her anatomy and physiology is as creepy as it gets. Although there's no literal rape here, this is essentially the movie's "rape scene." It's not quite as lurid as Barbara Crampton in Re-Animator but, hey, you don't get that lurid with an Oscar-winning actress, especially in a Hollywood movie.
When Proteus gives Susan an ultimatum—either cooperate or I'll mess with your brain so you will cooperate—it sets up the impregnation scene in which Proteus uses a telescoping metal protrusion and promises that although he can't touch her he can show her things no man has ever seen. Cammell turns this scene into a full-blown psychedelic headrush a la 2001, with Susan emerging with a hint of a smile of contentment after the deed is done. With the powers that be at "the institute" sure to get wind of Proteus's extracurricular activities at some point (will Alex ever visit the house again?), Demon Seed becomes a race to see whether the child (with a superhuman 28-day gestation period) will be born before Proteus gets shut down. Of course, these events happen at just about the same time in the movie's climax, which leads to a very effective, open-ended resolution.
That open-ended resolution, the morally complex presentation of Proteus (who wants to have a kid so his pro-environment views won't be shut down when he is) and the very hiring of Cammell for a studio movie marks Demon Seed as one of the last flourishings of 1970s adventurism in Hollywood. As a cautionary tale, it doesn't point the finger at technology so much as it does at man himself. MGM released the movie a month before Star Wars' less sophisticated, more positive sci-fi arrived and, more and more, the studios began to chase the potential ka-ching of high-concept blockbusters and safer sequels and remakes, especially after TV executives such as Barry Diller and Jeffrey Katzenberg infiltrated the moviemaking boardrooms (though what could be more high-concept than "computer impregnates woman"!?). Movies like Demon Seed certainly wouldn't bring the 12-year-olds back again and again, but it's the sort of smart genre movie we don't get many of, told in occasionally mind-bending flashes by Cammell (though such extravagant visual moments suffer in the move from big-screen to small-, while the DVD offers only a fullscreen trailer for extras). Demon Seed also features Gerrit Graham, one of the 1970s' quintessential character actors (Phantom of the Paradise, Tunnel Vision, Used Cars) as a techie co-worker of Alex's who has an unfortunate run-in with Proteus.
For more information about Demon Seed, visit Warner Video. To order Demon Seed, go to TCM Shopping.
by Paul Sherman
Demon Seed on DVD
Dr. Harris' futuristic-looking car was actually a production car, unmodified at the time of filming - a Bricklin SV-1. The Bricklin was built in Canada but intended for the U.S. market, featuring high performance and a number of innovative safety features. Fewer than 3,000 were produced during its short run from 1974-1976.
Released in United States Spring April 1, 1977
Released in United States Spring April 1, 1977