Man has created a machine. Now the machine wants to create a man.
Based on a novel by Dean Koontz, Donald Cammell’s The Demon Seed (1977) is a science-fiction thriller that places the future of horror right back within the everyday space of the house.
After her estranged husband Fritz leaves for work, Susan (Julie Christie) becomes imprisoned and eventually impregnated by Proteus IV, an artificial intelligence system designed by her husband that contains organic materials and, get this, the power of thought. Proteus wants to be free so he escapes the lab finding the one available portal to him – Fritz’s house. The future of power over women is here.
And where best to attack a woman (even one that’s clearly as smart and empowered as Susan)…the house. Much like in the confined spaceship of Alien, Susan is trapped within the claustrophobic environment of her own house dealing with a monster she cannot see. The domestic interior space of the house is supposed to function as a safe haven, one that Gaston Bachelard calls, “It is body and soul. It is the human being’s first world” . However here, Susan’s “world” has been turned inside out, what was once familiar is now very much a threatening landscape.
Probably most importantly The Demon Seed addresses what it means to be human and to become human. For Fritz and Susan, it’s about dealing with each other after the death of their child. For the world, it’s about negotiating an ever-growing reliance on computers. For Proteus, it’s about, in the most Deleuzian sense, becoming human as Anna Powell says on Demon Seed, “The machinic horror film melds software and hardware, human flesh and technology. Rather than being celibate, the super-computer Proteus IV…seeks sexual connection with a woman in the process of becoming-human.”
Proteus’ attempt at humanity doesn’t last long for him but his impact is seemingly permanent. There is a child, an reminder of life moving forward and suggesting the birth of a new world. And as the home becomes more of a refuge in this mad mad universe (one where life occurs in secret, children are conceived, and horrors can exist unknown) we can reference Bachelard again, “…the house is a world in itself”. Horror and sci-fi films know best how to exploit this world, The Demon Seed does it better than most.