Monday, November 14, 2016

"Our Direct Link to...the Supernatural" - Demon Seed (1982) - Part 1 of 3

We now turn our attention to 1982's Demon Seed, as it is titled on Amazon Video. This film is also known as Demon Rage, Dark Eyes, Fury of the Succubus, and Satan's Mistress. (The number of titles is further proof that the quality of a film is highly correlated with its number of alternate titles.) A sophisticated erotic ghost story, it is not to be confused with Donald Cammell's 1977 film Demon Seed, the cautionary tale of computer impregnation.

Unlike our last film, the epic The Visitor, Demon Seed is a finely crafted character study with a small cast and a single major location. In many cases, such films are heralded by critics, but as usual the critics of your universe fail to see the true vision behind this film. For example, on IMDB, ronevickers writes, "The reality is that this is a turgid, slow moving, load of nonsense!" On letterboxd, a reviewer named street writes, "It's definitely super boring but I have a soft spot for horror films that make me feel like I'm crazy or fell asleep and missed something important." The Bloody Pit of Horror says, "By any title, it sucks....a dreary, poorly made bore."

The film is anything but a turgid, slow moving, nonsensical, dreary, poorly made bore, as I hope to prove with the following description of its clearly superior qualities. As always, the description below includes spoilers.

The opening of the film shows a woman in a nightgown standing on a beach in the night. A dark figure looks down on her from the hills above. A man walks toward her. She runs from him, moving in slow motion through the surf. Desperately, she runs toward a beach house with a lighted window. When she reaches the house, a man steps into view, causing her to scream.

Then she wakes up, screaming. It was all a dream.

The woman's teenage daughter enters her bedroom, concerned because her mother keeps having nightmares and waking up screaming. Her mother Lisa, played by Lana Wood, says she will be all right.

Lisa goes to the deck of the beach house to watch her husband Burt, down on the beach, strip off his pajamas to reveal bathing trunks. Burt goes for a swim, leaving his PJs on the sand. This, we find out, is his morning ritual.

After his two-minute swim is done, Lisa tries to talk to him, then she starts to disrobe to try and seduce him, but he is late for work. Lisa is frustrated. They bought the beach house in part to reinvigorate their marital life.

After the main titles, a text paragraph informs us that "The story you are about to see is based on the unusual experiences of a Northern California woman. As passion and love, once the cornerstones of her marriage, eroded, this woman became desperately lonely. There is a growing belief that, in the world of psychic phenomena, the loneliness of a human being may be our direct link to.....the supernatural." This text is superimposed over a pair of eyes starting directly at us.

Lisa's sexual frustration is extremely high. She disrobes in front of a mirror and gets into bed. Wind chimes cause a purple, amorphous shape to manifest in the room and float toward her. An unseen force slides the blanket and sheets off the bed. Lisa is alarmed as the invisible force has its way with her.

The sun goes down.

That night, Burt and Lisa host a dinner party at the beach house. Their friends are Ann-Marie, played by Britt Ekland, and Carl, played by Don Galloway. Carl is an inveterate jokester, while Ann-Marie, a professional psychic, appears genuinely concerned about Lisa's psychological state.

Unexpectedly, a black cat crashes the dinner party. Its meows echo bizarrely. "Declaw the beast," jokes Carl. "We'll have him for dessert."

But Ann-Marie senses something about the cat is mysterious. They call Lisa's daughter Michelle to take the cat out, but the cat scratches Michelle and she starts bleeding profusely. The cat jumps up on the wet bar and strides away.

Later, while Lisa and Burt are in bed, Lisa wakes to see a ghostly face staring at her from the ceiling. She tries to cry out to wake Burt but she is mute. Then the face is gone.

In this sequence, Ms. Wood proves her skill as an actress. Her ability to wordlessly contort her face wildly in all manner of positions expresses her character's fear and confusion.

In the morning, Lisa and Burt are tense with each other. Michelle asks if anything is wrong, but her parents are uncommunicative. Michelle packs her lunch for the day while Lisa wipes down a jar of mayonnaise. As Michelle leaves the house, she sees a bust in the foyer with blood running out of its eye.

Seconds later, the bust is completely clean. Michelle, who already feels there is something wrong with the house, quickly leaves.

Later in the day, Lisa stands out on the deck and watches a man and woman playing in the waves. She addresses them as Dave and Cissy. Despite the fact that they appear to be approaching middle age, they are cutting classes and enjoying the beach. For no reason, Dave breaks into a frankly terrible impression that viewers familiar with 1970s television might recognize as one of Peter Falk as Columbo, though both the words and the voice are barely recognizable as such.

The "young" people retreat down the beach to find a quieter place to "study."

Strange things--even stranger than middle-aged teenagers doing Columbo impressions--continue to manifest in the house while Lisa is alone. A rocking chair in the dark rocks by itself. A man's face appears in the tiles as Lisa showers. The spirit again has its way with Lisa; again she moans and struggles.

When Burt returns home from his job as an architect of shopping centers, he can't find his wife, but he does find Michelle sitting by a roaring fire. Michelle tells her father that Lisa moved out of the bedroom and into the empty room because she needs time for herself.

Immediately after Burt leaves, Michelle looks into the fire and sees the ghostly eyes.

The film cuts to the empty room, now not so empty, as Lisa works on a portrait of the spirit with the eyes (and, it must be noted, the well-developed unibrow).

The portrait is haunting and even slightly disturbing, with the eyes painted ever so slightly closer together than might be dictated by the rules of realism.

Burt enters the room and sees that Lisa has filled it with art supplies. Burt is not particularly supportive. "Here's a woman who doesn't even have to work. Yet she needs time for herself, poor baby. Well, what about time for your family?" He is very upset to have come home to a daughter staring into a fireplace. He pushes over her haunting painting and storms out of the room.

In the hall, he pauses, perhaps reconsidering, but the audience sees the lock turning, accompanied by mysterious music. Burt turns and tries to open the door, but it is locked. When he pulls his hand away, it is covered with blood, but then in the next shot, the blood is gone.

And so we come to the end of Part 1 of our discussion of Demon Seed. Stay tuned for Part 2, where the mysteries will grow deeper.