Tag Archives: Dean R. Koontz

Demon Seed (1977)

demon seed 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Computer impregnates a human.

Based on an early Dean R. Koontz novel the story centers on Susan Harris (Julie Christie) who is married to Alex (Fritz Weaver) a man who has created a giant artificially intelligent computer named Proteus (voice of Robert Vaughn) as well as installing a computer inside their own home, which does all of their household chores and is fully automated via voice command.  Things seem to be going fine until Proteus starts to question the assignments that he has been given and his unhappiness with being ‘trapped inside a box’. To remedy the situation he decides to use the computer terminal inside the Harris’s home, so that he can overtake the house through his electronic commands and then impregnate Susan to have his child and therefore experience life as a person instead of a machine.

One of the things that got on my nerves right away was the way the film immediately telegraphs where it is going and reeks with ‘70s paranoia about computers ‘overtaking the world’, which was a prevalent fear during that era as computers were just in their infancy and their ultimate place in human society still not fully understood.

The Alex character is too ambivalent towards the warning signs and comes off like the clichéd super scientist with a child-like enthusiasm about his ‘creation’ and not the slightest concern for what might happen if things go wrong and the way he becomes so quickly shocked when the computer does start to behave in a way he had not considered seems almost laughable. Real-life scientists would most assuredly have considered these issues and had safeguards already put in place and the fact that the characters here don’t just doesn’t seem believable.

When the Proteus computer takes over Susan’s home I didn’t find it frightening, but more unintentionally funny for many of the same reasons. I don’t think that I myself could ever get used to a computer running everything for me and doing whatever I said at the sound of my voice. In the back of my mind, and in any sane person’s mind for that matter, I would be worrying about it malfunctioning and the consequences that it would entail, so when things finally do go wrong I found it laughable because anyone could have clearly seen it coming from the start. In fact the only thing that saves this thing from a being a complete dud is Christie’s brilliant performance and the fact that she gets you to see her character as a real human being and someone you care for and want to see rescued.

Spoiler Alert!

The script suffers from a myriad of other logical loopholes as well. One of them is the whole basic premise of how a computer can somehow manipulate human DNA in order to get supposedly his ‘genes’ into the child, so that it fully has his own traits and even his own voice. There is also no suitable explanation for how he was able to speed-up the gestation period from the 9 months to just 28 days. I was also surprised that the husband never bothers to call his wife during that 28-day period. Yes, I realize that they had just separated, but it was a very amicable one and I would still have thought he would’ve called-in at some point simply to check-in. There is also another character played by Gerrit Graham who comes into the house and tries to shut down the computer and is killed in the process making me believe that his disappearance would’ve caused suspicion and others would’ve come looking for him. There is also the issue of her mail, which I’m sure would’ve been piling up at her front door and causing both the mail carrier and neighbors to take notice.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film is full of many colorful graphics and effects although they may no longer be considered as state-of-the-art as they once were. The idea is an intriguing one and Robert Vaughn gives the Proteus character a lot of menace with his voice, but he is still no HAL. The ending is really over-the-top, but in a wildly interesting sort of way even though it does nothing but create more questions than answers.

demon seed 3

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 8, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Donald Cammell

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive)

The Intruder (1977)

Capture 52

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Terror on the road.

Based on a story by Dean R. Koontz and filmed in France under the title Les Passagers the plot centers on Alex (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who picks up his 11-year-old stepson Marc (Richard Constantini) from school and sets off to drive him across France and into Italy where they are to meet his mother Nicole (Mireille Darc). Along the way they become menaced by a strange man (Bernard Fresson) driving a black van that begins following them. At first Alex thinks nothing of it, but when the van tries driving them off the road they go to the police who prove to be unhelpful, which forces Alex to take things into his own hands in order to save both himself and the boy.

The film starts off well with definite hints to Steven Spielberg’s classic Duel. I enjoyed how initially everything is from Alex’s and Marc’s point-of-view where we do not know the identity of the driver in the black van, which is only seen through the perspective of their rear window that gives the vehicle a creepy presence. The banter between the boy and step father is engaging and the fact that the kid is smart and shows a keen awareness of things and not just there to be cute is great. I also liked the bawdy tune they sing together and the shot of the boy driving the car while the father leans out the passenger side window.

There is an exciting moment where the van tries pushing their car off the highway while they’re on a winding mountaintop road that is well photographed and realistic. The two are subsequently forced to ride the rest of the way in a tattered vehicle that has no windshield and looks almost as beat-up as the automobile in Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

I did not like however that fifteen minutes into the movie we are shown the face of the other driver, which takes away from the intriguing mystery angle that is what made Duel so interesting. The bad guy isn’t frightening and comes off as clumsy and careless, which makes him less threatening. The fact that he does not carry any type of weapon and must resort to grabbing a nearby fire ax in order to attack Trintignant’s character when the two confront each other didn’t make much sense.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest transgression though is that its twist ending isn’t surprising at all as the mystery man turns out to be the wife’s psycho ex-boyfriend, which is something I had guessed early on and most other viewers probably will too. It also leaves open a tremendous amount of loopholes like why Alex wouldn’t have been made aware of this boyfriend earlier as I’m sure he would’ve been stalking them long before she got remarried and why the boy wouldn’t have guessed that the stranger chasing them was this man as well as most likely he would’ve known about him too. The police investigation, which gets worked in as a sort of side story proves pointless to the plot and the fact that they end up being quite incompetent makes them seem similar to the ‘comic relief’ cops from Last House on the Left, which hurts the tension.

End of Spoiler Alert!

This film has managed to acquire a small cult following and it has good set-up, but it would’ve worked better had it been done solely from the point-of-view of the father and stepson and only revealed the face and identity of the bad guy at the very end.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Alternate Title: Les Passagers

Released: March 9, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Serge Leroy

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: None at this time.