#61 Rosemary’s Baby

(1968, Roman Polanski)

“He has his father’s eyes”

Rosemary’s Baby is frequently held up as one of the greatest psychological horrors ever made, inspiring countless horror franchises since its release, from movies such as The Omen to video game series Silent Hill. But just how good is it?

It tells the story of newlywed couple Guy (John Cassavetes) and Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) as they move into a new apartment in New York. There are numerous tales of mysterious disappearances and suicides in the apartment building, but this fails to discourage them, as the place seems wonderful. They befriend their neighbours, the Castevets, an elderly couple who seem friendly, if a little nosy. However, happy home life fades away after Rosemary gets pregnant mysteriously and Guy’s acting career suddenly takes off out of the blue. Rose begins to question if there’s something wrong with the baby and what the neighbours may be hiding from them.

Rosemary’s Baby is not a perfect film. It’s a fantastic concept, particularly as it plays on a very real source of fear in reality by using pregnancy as the source of its horror. However, the execution is a little dated, and while some aspects of the movie still hold up and work wonderfully, other elements feel like they could do with a dramatic overhaul.

My first issue with the movie came in the opening scenes, which seemed to rush through the exposition of actually getting the couple into the apartment. Much of the acting felt rushed and unemotional, as if the opening scenes were necessary but Roman Polanski just wanted them done with as soon as possible. We’re not given much time to really identify with the characters as a result, but fortunately the movie does recover from this as it progresses.

My second issue may be down to more to differences between standards in the 1960s and now than anything else, and this is down to the discovery of the pregnancy. Following a particularly creepy nightmare where she appears to be raped by a demon and waking to discover that she’s covered in large scratches, Rosemary’s reaction seems incredibly understated. It becomes even more bizarre when Guy claims the scratches are from him, and that he impregnated her while she was passed out. And she is fine with this, simply because they’d been planning on having a baby anyway and he is her husband so it’s somehow allowed. This was actually one of the creepiest scenes in the movie for me, but probably not in the way Polanski intended. Implied marital rape is apparently OK in this world, particularly as Rosemary is very happy to be pregnant following this, and while she and Guy do grow distant, it’s because of his career taking off, not because he apparently raped her while she was sleeping. Seriously? This wouldn’t fly today, and certainly if it were remade, I imagine this implication would be where the horror would really kick off, not when the bigger revelations sneak in later on.

Of course, barring these issues, the movie does succeed at generating a very effective creeping sense of horror and discomfort. Rosemary’s pregnancy is not a pleasant one, and the sense of paranoia that grows in her mind spreads through to the film as a whole. We question character motives just as much as Rosemary does. We’re thrown into as much confusion as she is. And best of all, everything is hinted and left fairly ambiguous, which of course builds suspense.

Not to mention the horrors presented in this movie, Satan-babies aside, are actually very real fears. There are so many things that can go wrong with real life pregnancies that the idea of basing an entire horror movie around one is perfect. But there’s also fears of being able to trust people around you, and the very real possibility that someone close to you might abuse you in some way. By playing on all these fears, the movie does succeed in being very uneasy. It’s not outright terrifying, but it does have a way of getting under your skin.

Ultimately, a movie with a good concept and some very good execution in parts, but feels very dated, and suffers a little from society’s changing values. This is a rare occasion where a remake could be beneficial, rather than unnecessary.

Starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans & Ralph Bellamy
Written by Ira Levin (novel) & Roman Polanski
Produced by William Castle
Music by Christopher Komeda
Cinematography by William A Fraker
Edited by Sam O’Steen & Bob Wyman

Favourite Scene: When Rosemary’s realised that something’s up with her doctor’s explanations and plans to go see someone else, resulting in her arguing with her husband. Definitely one of the best acted scenes in the whole movie.
Scene That Bugged Me: The aforementioned pregnancy explanation. “Oh those scratches. That was me. I raped you while you were asleep.” “Oh OK, honey, what shall we have for breakfast?” WHAT

Watch it if: You believe that babies are the work of the devil
Avoid it if: You’re pregnant

Originally posted on Blogspot Saturday 18 February 2012

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Posted on April 15, 2012, in 1960s, Drama, Horror. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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