Demon Seed (1977) Blu-ray Review: Artificial Intelligence Meets Artificial Insemination

The kooky, slightly kinky '70s sci-fi horror hybrid featuring the talents of the late Fritz Weaver and Robert Vaughn receives a beautiful makeover from the Warner Archive.
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Released just a few months before Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind would become science fiction movies to end all science fiction movies, Donald Cammell's 1977 horror hybrid Demon Seed really isn't the easiest movie in the world to fathom. Not without some combination of drugs or alcohol, at least. Based on an early story by Dean Koontz, the tale finds Fritz Weaver ‒ no stranger to either genre ‒ as a computer genius who builds the supercomputer to end all supercomputers. Little does he know, however, that his latest, greatest invention may actually turn out to be the one that will end it all.

By all outward appearances, the intimidating and ginormous (because it's the '70s) machine known as Proteus IV has been designed by Alex Harris (Weaver) and colleagues to benefit mankind. Immediately after bringing his circuit baby online, Harris' contraption develops a treatment for leukemia that surely signals a change for the good. Proteus IV, on the other hand, has other ideas ‒ especially once it starts to examine its creators and their long bloodied history of bizarre and violent behavior. Realizing it will never be able to truly understand man unless it becomes human itself, Proteus IV starts to hatch a diabolical plan.

Meanwhile, Alex's estranged wife Susan (as played by Doctor Zhivago and Far from the Madding Crowd star Julie Christie), who has been staying in the technologically advanced home her husband had built ‒ complete with a never-ending assortment of automatic gadgets and voice-activated computer programs ‒ discovers she isn't alone. Proteus IV has crept into the home's network to examine Susan and subsequently impregnate her with a sort-of "DNA cocktail" of his own design. Proteus IV has even built a metal multi-sided robot thingy kind of a thing that assumes a variety of shapes and sizes to handle tangible tasks.

Like I said, Demon Seed isn't the easiest motion picture to wrap your head around. Undoubtedly too advanced for audiences of 1977, who just wanted to see guys with laser swords and their furry space ape companions, Demon Seed's underlying message is all too plain to see in this contemporary era where we everyone is walking around with their eyes glued upon the face of their smartphones, so I think it might be fair to say the parable of this Dean Koontz adaptation went without much notice. (We can only assume it was all Proteus IV's doing, as he was a naughty little supercomputer like that.)

Yet, no matter how funky and weird it truly may be, Demon Seed remains a remarkably well-constructed thriller at its operating core. Its lead human performers appear to be quite comfortable in what had to have been one of the oddest fantasy stories committed to celluloid at the time. Sadly, the film became lost in cyberspace after the more popular sci-fi movies of '77 premiered ‒ although it may have provided a fair bit of inspiration for the multitude of Alien rip-offs which would later ensue, many of which featured some sort of similarly-themed extra-terrestrial impregnation motif (Inseminoid, anyone?).

Boasting some pretty nifty special effects (for a movie from the late '70s that wasn't Star Wars and was set in the "real" world), Demon Seed's human co-stars include Phantom of the Paradise cult hero Gerrit Graham as a geeky programmer who makes the fatal mistake of trying to help out our damsel in distress. Barry Kroeger, Lisa Lu, and Larry J. Blake also appear, as does ‒ interestingly enough ‒ one of Graham's Phantom of the Paradise co-stars, comedian/actor Peter Elbling (aka Harold Oblong). There's even an early bit part by future Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Michael Dorn for you Trekkies.

But Demon Seed's true star, boys and girls, is the late great Robert Vaughn, who provided the voice of Proteus IV. While the movie may have been made long after his iconic starring role as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ended (and shortly before his agent decided he should appear in every single movie and television show ever made), Vaughn's contribution to Demon Seed may not have warranted an on-screen credit, but it most assuredly commands your attention. His distinctive sonancy automatically elevates the movie's coolness factor, proving to be both coital and creepy at the same time.

When originally released to VHS in the early '80s, Demon Seed was inexplicably missing some of its more graphic footage (the actual on-screen death of Gerrit Graham's character being one of them), which was thankfully reinstated by the time Warner Bros. released the original widescreen version of the film to DVD in 2005. Well, here we are, several months after Fritz Weaver and Robert Vaughn both left us in November of 2016 (just 15 days apart from each other, at that), and now the Warner Archive Collection has unveiled this strange ‒ but never boring ‒ cult classic to Blu-ray in an all-new, thoroughly restored 2k scan.

Presented in a truly beautiful 1080p transfer, Demon Seed now looks better than it probably ever meant to. The Panavision photography by Jaws and Grease cinematographer Bill Butler looks exquisite, and the very colorful palette and set design are pure gold (as is that goofy-looking creature thing at the climax of the feature, which looks way too much like Spaceballs' Yogurt for my own very colorful palate). The mono soundtrack has been remastered from original magnetic elements, receiving a new DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono makeover here that is nothing short of superb. English (SDH) subtitles are also included.

When Demon Seed made its digital home video debut in 2005, most of the major studios were still taking the time to produce new special features for old catalog releases. Alas, Demon Seed wasn't one of the titles to receive any such treatment: a trailer was all we got. And that one and only extra has been ported over to this new Warner Archive Blu-ray ‒ awkward narrative attempts to sell the film and all ‒ now also remastered in 1080p. It might not sound like much, but then, the same can be said for a film marketed with such a classy, classic tagline as "Julie Christie Carries the Demon Seed. Fear For Her."

But hey, I liked it just the same. Give it a whirl just to honor Fritz Weaver and Robert Vaughn if nothing else. And, of course, just to see another gloriously outrageous Gerrit Graham death scene.

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