Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Catching Up On The Classics (Again): Rosemary's Baby

I didn't give Rosemary's Baby a fair chance the first time I saw it over a decade ago. For some reason, I just did not like it. I think it was mostly because you don't get to see the baby at the end. And it wasn't scary like I thought it would be. Well, whatever it was, I admit now that I was wrong. Rosemary's Baby is a pretty good movie.

Plot, plot, plot, plot, plot: Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into a fabulous new apartment in New York. Guy is a struggling actor (who, as we're informed SEVERAL times, was in the plays "Luther" and "Nobody Loves an Albatross") and Rosemary just wants a baby to complete their happy little family. They reluctantly make friends with their older neighbors, the Castevets, who become increasingly more involved in their lives. Rosemary has a dream one night that she is raped by a demon, but soon forgets about it when she finally becomes pregnant. The pregnancy is a difficult one, and Rosemary starts to become paranoid about the Castevets and the strange history of the building in which they are living.

The movie starts off with false pretenses. Pretty "la, la, la, la, la, la" music (sung by Mia Farrow) is playing over a sweeping view of New York City, and the titles appear on the screen in a delicate pink script. You think you're going to see some kind of romantic comedy or something. And for the most part, the film is fairly straightforward and normal, with only hints to something more sinister going on beneath the surface. It's not a scary movie by any means (at least not to me) but the mere mention of weird things that are happening around the Woodhouses - their friend Hutch telling them about all the strange occurrences in the building, the secretary hiding the closet door, the other actor going blind, Minnie giving Rosemary those strange drinks, Rosemary's incessant pain and the doctor who won't do anything about it - all make for a constant feeling of eeriness and things just not being right.

This pic is saved in my computer as "looking like shit."
I think that's what I loved the most about the movie. Director Roman Polanski does a phenomenal job of hint-dropping and making these seemingly unrelated events seem not as important as they should be for the moment. The Castevets are too interested in Rosemary's health, and all her concerns about being things not being okay with her pregnancy are pooh-poohed by everyone around her. She is even accused of being rude for wanting to see another doctor who will actually do something about the fact that she looks like complete shit for the first part of her pregnancy. After all, Dr. Sapirstein is supposed to be the best doctor out there. Yet, he doesn't even prescribe true prenatal vitamins for her.

But why all this attention around Rosemary's baby? What is really the purpose of those "herbal drinks" that Minnie makes for her? Why don't they want her influenced by anyone outside their group in the apartment building? Why is Guy suddenly on very friendly terms with Minnie and Roman, when he was the one who didn't want to get too close to them in first place? It's nothing but questions through most of the movie, where you know that everyone is in on it, but you're still not really sure what "it" is.

The devil's love marks.
Rosemary is easily influenced at first by the people around her and ignores the clues that mean danger for her and her baby. The young woman who was living with the Castevets mysteriously commits suicide, even though to Rosemary she seemed happy and grateful for everything the older couple has done to help her. Then Minnie gives Rosemary the woman's bad-smelling necklace filled with something called tannis root that is supposed to be for good luck. This rightfully creeps Rosemary out a little and she refuses to wear it.

This scene of the morning after the devil-rape is the creepiest part of the movie to me. Rosemary discovers ugly scratches on her body, explained away by her husband when he claims to have had sex with her while she was passed out. They had planned on making love that night anyway in the hopes of making a baby and he says that he "didn't want to miss baby night." I knew right then that Guy was a major jerkweed and was not to be trusted. What kind of husband thinks that it's okay to basically rape your wife, and what kind of wife does not get royally pissed when she finds out that her husband had sex with her even when she was unconscious? That's just wrong, even if he is your husband.

The worst husband in the world ever.
My first instinct at Rosemary's handling of the whole situation surrounding her strange pregnancy was to be pissed off at her because she was so stupid. Why trust a doctor who basically calls you an idiot for being worried about having severe pain during pregnancy? But Polanski manages to make you feel like Rosemary is truly trapped in her limited social circle. Her pain makes her not go out anymore, probably caused by Minnie's daily concoction that Dr. Sapirstein wholeheartedly stands by. For when she stops drinking it, the pain disappears, and she starts to feel better about her situation. Plus, Hutch was the only one who seemed genuinely concerned about how she was being treated, and wouldn't you know it? Hutch mysteriously falls into a deep coma just when Rosemary is supposed to have an important meeting with him. Guy seems to care less about her problems, so it really seems like she has no one else to turn to.

Honestly, I'm not that big a fan of Mia Farrow, mostly in her later years as a actress. She just doesn't seem to emote in any real believable way to me; however, I much enjoyed her in Rosemary's Baby. Her rant to Dr. Hill about witches, and Dr. Sapirstein, and her fear for her baby is heart-breaking to me. She sounds deeply frustrated and scared, but also like a total nut and you just know that Dr. Hill is not going to believe her - when he is her last hope for help against the witches. Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevet is the perfect nosy and annoying old lady, and John Cassavetes perfectly plays the selfish but also self-conscious husband.

The bad part about this movie is that everyone already knows before they've seen it that Rosemary is having Satan's child. I think this might hurt the viewing experience for some audiences who are expecting much more exciting things to happen, with a dramatic conclusion including the reveal the devil spawn. I know I said earlier that I at first hated the movie because you never get to see the baby, and that is perhaps the reason why most others don't like it either. Now I realize that that is stupid thinking. The movie is not about getting to see the baby, but about everything leading up to the final scene. It is a superb tale of paranoia, pregnancy fears, and people who will do the unthinkable to get what they want. So I can say now that I don't hate Rosemary's Baby, and I am very ashamed about all the bad things I've said and thought about it over the years! There's so much more to discuss about this film, but this has run long enough already. Excellent film.


  1. Glad to hear you had a change of heart! That happens to me too with various movies upon rewatching them, and not just horror. Sometimes you're in a different spot emotionally, or you just gain some maturity, or your tastes change. Whatever. ROSEMARY'S BABY is, for me, one of the top three or four greatest horror films ever made--and one of the funniest. Old folks chanting "Hail Satan"? Priceless.

    The only movie I've seen in which Farrow gives as good of a performance as here is in HUSBANDS & WIVES.

  2. It is very at funny at times, isn't it? I forgot to mention that.

  3. I enjoyed it a lot, but for me, it'll always be second to the book because that's what I read first and I ADORE Ira Levin. Still, it was a very decent flick. As for the humor...agree. Not to plug Ira Levin too much but he's really a funny writer!

  4. I also love this Polanski film, its got that paranoia feel all over it, like you say, you constantly feel like something is just not right.

    If you enjoyed this one, I highly recommend you check out another Polanski film called Repulsion, its a psychological horror film, black and white, but so effective! Its similar to Rosemarys Baby because it also has a female for a lead character, it also takes place mostly inside of an apartment, and its filled with Paranoia, and nightmarish images as only Polanski can do it.

    Highly recommend it, and also, if you want to complete watching Polanskis "Apartment Trilogy" then I also recommend The Tenant. I reviewed these two films on my blog if you are interested in checking out the reviews, both excellent films.

  5. You know what? Yes, it is boring, I'll totally give you that. It's not a mindless movie that you can just pop in when you're bored, and I don't know how much replay value it really has (only seen it twice now). You do have to pay attention to watch it because nothing all that exciting happens.

  6. This film is the kind of movie that grows on the viewer. The first time I saw it, I was in high school and thought it was dull as dishwater. Then, I saw it again in my late 30's and realized what a brilliant, terrifying, and, at times, funny, movie Rosemary's Baby is. You need to watch it from an adult's perspective to truly understand the gnawing horror under the surface. I think it's a classic...and Ruth Gordon practically steals the show as Minnie!

  7. a wonderfull alltime classic, a terrific horror highlight - but don't dare to watch the horrid sequel "Look What's Happened To Rosemary's Baby", which is so bad it hurts.