The paradigmatic auteur maudit, Donald Cammell was always more legendary than praiseworthy, gathering in his Chelsea-set mythos everything you could want from a Byronic culture god: rugged beauty, innate brilliance, orgies, dope, rock stars, Aleister Crowley, fierce uncompromisability, suicide, and a tortured handful of movies as innovative as they are, finally, high-flying monkeyshines. Years after his still-revered mod-doppelg masterpiece Performance both gave him hippie cred and made him unemployable, someone at MGM handed him Demon Seed (1977), a Dean Koontz–derived genre pound cake easily dismissed at the time but retrospectively a key example of its era’s queasily resonant pulp. In a near future of robotic home appliances, Julie Christie stars as a dissatisfied, childless wife whose scientist husband just happens to have booted up the world’s most advanced supercomputer. It takes the machine no time to question (in Robert Vaughn’s seething tones) why it should follow orders and why in the hell it should not be alive—so it takes over the scientist’s house and proceeds to methodically blackmail, rape, and impregnate Christie’s no-nonsense heroine. The scenario has lit dynamite strapped to it, particularly today (try and imagine a remake), and Cammell doesn’t seem to have complete control over its incendiary nature, eventually subsuming the sexual with Jordan Belson–animated psychedelics. But the transgressive thrust of the story is sometimes too much to handle—where are the theoretical readings this film yowls for?—and the equations it makes between technology and phallic power are unique. Supplemented with a trailer.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 29, 2005