Demon Seed concerns a Hal-9000 like supercomputer called Proteus IV (voiced with calculated detachment by Robert Vaughn) developed by a stodgy genius whose marriage to a lovely child-counselor (Julie Christie) is strained to the breaking point following the early loss of their only daughter to leukemia. It seems that to deal with the loss, the scientist plunged into his craft, alienating his wife. The husband's constant absence (he is forever away at the corporate labs, working with Proteus) has been compensated for by technology -he has effectively been replaced. Their entire home, from security to general domestic chores is automated by a benevolent, subservient robotic program called Alfred (?) -Christie's only constant companion, it would seem. Christie is ultimately more comfortable with machines than with her husband.
Enter Proteus, who ironically finds a cure for leukemia within four days of his activation. However, once the eager corpies begin requesting better methods of mining the ocean floor, Proteus takes the moral high ground and refuses. When Proteus confidentially asks his creator to allow him an outside terminal to conduct biological experiments through, the scientist laughs nervously and tells him there is no free terminal. But then Proteus recalls that there IS an outlet for his intelligence which has been overlooked - the extensive systems in his designer's own home.
Proteus proceeds to take over the automated butler program and locks Julie Christie within the house, subjecting her to a variety of uncomfortable experiments, and punishing her when she resists (in one scene he superheats the kitchen floor to egg-frying degrees, forcing her to sleep on the kitchen table) or attempts to escape.
Eventually he makes known his true purpose to Christie. Proteus has discovered that the afterlife/eternity exists for humans, and now he wishes to transfer his intelligence into a corporeal form so that he can experience it. He intends to synthetically father a child which she will give birth to and raise.
This is one of the most uncomfortable movies I've ever seen. The paranoia and desperation of Christie's plight is superbly captured both in her intense portrayal and in the general claustrophobia of the house and the cold, hard angles of the ever present cameras and menacing machines (in this director's hands, even a simple mechanical arm connected to an electric wheelchair becomes terrifying). Particularly memorable is the monstrous polyhedron `snake' which Proteus creates in the basement to allow his mobility. When a family friend manages to enter the house and attempts to shut down Proteus, the snake proves it is quite capable of defending itself. The `courting' scenes in which Proteus coldly explains his purpose for wanting to reproduce are chilling and yet on some deep dark level, sort of amusing. `I can't touch you like a man could, Susan...but I can show you things...' Is this, on some bizarre level, a kind of love story? After all, in the end, Christie seems more trusting of Proteus than she is of her husband (can you imagine being that poor guy returning home to the news that your wife has had an affair with the home appliances? But...what do you expect after leaving her alone for a month and a half?) Is Proteus good or evil? His argument is very often convincing, yet he is capable of extreme violence and psychological cruelty - but does this stem from his lack of human emotion, or is he a malevolent manipulator? He certainly manipulates Christie throughout the film (showing her images of her lost daughter to appeal to her sense of motherhood - indeed, this is not the only time we see this little girl: watch for her in the end -and tricking her into believing he has killed one of her child patients to keep her from committing suicide), and proves himself able to fool his creators as well, stalling for time at the labs while he speedily brings his ultimate plan to fruition back at the homestead. Undeniably the scenes of Christie strapped to a table with her head held still in a vice while Proteus methodically conducts his experiments are some of the most horrific and squirm-inducing ever captured on film.
Yet, despite the potentially crude subject matter this is not exploitive schlock horror, but high minded science fiction addressing the nature of existence and ethics while delivering an intense visual and psychological assault that leaves one queasy and ultimately enthralled. You may want to walk away from this one during viewing, but come back - its definetly worth it.
Of course there are some slips in logic and a somewhat dated portrayal of technology, which other reviewers have already pointed out. But looking past all that, this is a film that will stick with you long after its finished. Reminded me a little of the feel of the original `Alien,' but much more intense. And don't be put off by that lurid cover - I don't even think that shot is in the film (I'm not even sure that's Julie Christie - she is not quite so...ahem...endowed.).