Thirty years of horror: Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Title Thirty years of horror: Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Author Tom Chick and Chris Hornbostel
Posted in Movie reviews
When October 9, 2013

Tom: Here's where it starts: I can no longer associate myself Rosemary sees that written on a page left out by the previous tenant, who has died..

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I don't know why, but the line that always stuck with me from the ending is Roman shouting, "It is the year one!" Somehow it's where the sinister is allowed to show its maniacal, almost goofy side. It's weird that it works, but it does.

I wish I liked this movie more, but it falls into the category of respect for me, or "A for effort." And the problem is totally me, because there's a few things that I just can't get scared about. One is Japanese ghost girls who walk as if their joints won't bend with their long hair over their faces and another is the devil. You guys are right to call out the acting and the interesting study in what's going on in MIa Farrow's head, but when it comes to watching a slow descent into madness I prefer Catherine Deneuve in Repulsion, personally.

Greatest pure acting moment in the entire movie? At the end, when Rosemary's broken through to the Castevet's apartment and sees the crazy reception thing going on. She's holding a knife and in disbelief. She drops the knife and it sticks in the floor. Eventually she goes to sit down, and Ruth Gordon comes over to retrieve the knife sticking out of the floor, wets a finger and rubs it on her precious hardwood.

That was incredible.

One of the few movies to scare the bejesus out of me. I was sick and alone in a big, foreign city and had to just find a drugstore to get some meds. That trip was one of the scariest things in my life. You are weak, confused, don't know your way around or anything. When Mia Farrow is bumbling about New York trying to get to the other doctor (Charles Grodin)'s just heart wrenching.

Yep, that's exactly the moment I called out my write-up. I like to think that's where Ruth Gordon won her Academy Award. She did win an Academy Award, didn't she?

But it's not a slow descent into madness. It's actually happening. It's a slow descent into being impregnated by Satan. :)

All that goofy yelling at the end really teeters on the edge of being silly, doesn't it? Which is why I like how it ends with Rosemary and Roman talking more level headedly. If this had been a Twilight Zone episode, it would have ended with the goofy "hail Satan" stuff.

But Tom Chick, everyone knows that Satan doesn't exist, and everyone who says he does is mad goofy. Ergo, anyone who enjoys the fantasy of someone else getting impregnated by Satan, as if it is any different than someone who is just going nuts, probably has a screw loose. Or bad taste. Or no taste. It's like getting raped by a Real Doll. The end of the world? Is that like worse than dying? Yawn.

Just to clarify the point about the Real Doll: if you have an active imagination, it's creepy. You might even be able to make an atmospheric and evocative movie about it, if you're as good as Roman Polanski. But now imagine that the Real Doll is made of cheese. Satan approves of your fetish, and your active imagination, but Satan stopped being cool a long time ago. About the time he stopped being scary. Nobody cares about that guy.

My real point, to be even more clear, is that this movie works, and The Ninth Gate works, because Polanski lived through the Holocaust, and because of other things about him and his experiences that give him a little bit of insight into the reality of evil that most people don't have. Yes he can tell a story and make a picture, but that is very much secondary. That's not why it works. There are lots of people who can tell a story and make a picture about nothing. Talking about the actors or the movie as a thing in itself, or something that only references other movies and common experiences like childbirth, misses the point.

Potayto, potahto. Still, I concede it's been a while since I actually saw this movie, I'm kind of coasting on memories here. You guys are hard to keep pace with.

I knew that! ;) I may or may not have had a few celebratory beers this evening...

One of my favorite movies. I love all the shots, which are very much like Hitchcock (particularly the phone booth shots), an I love how the movie is a sort of timepiece of how New York looked then. I have over the years heard people criticize Cassavetes, since he seems too dark right from the start, but I think he is perfect. In fact, I think the cast as a whole is perfect. I love how Polanski uses a lot of wonderful old hollywood actors. I have watched this movie many, many times, and it never gets old to me.

Wow, that's some writing, Tom. (in a good way).

Cardinals FTW!

I'm glad someone else commented to that effect here! When we're writing these, we kind of split the duties for who writes first, who riffs off of that, etc. In this case when I read what Tom had written I almost just wrote "Yeah, that."

This is such an awesome film, so sophisticated, subtle, and utterly horrifying without being terrifying. There are so many great aspects to Rosemary's Baby...Mia Farrow's performance, Ruth Gordon, the oddly intimate tone of it all, the surprisingly sensitive exploration of pregnancy and women's relationship with men during the most female part of the life cycle...really stunning stuff, top to bottom.
But one of the things that I find particularly striking is that it's such a _modern_ film. When this film came out in 1968, it wasn't that there weren't previous horror films with modern settings. It's that there wasn't anything that was set in a modern city like this but with very old fashioned gothic horror elements, even if most of them are off-screen. I mean, this is a picture about modern day witches in NYC. But it's handled without camp or kitsch. There is no old spooky castle, there is no quaint pan-European village. It's the landscape of apartments and highrises. And the most scary thing is not knowing what is going on behind the walls separating flats.
There is one prior film that I like to mention when Rosemary's Baby comes up, one of the RKO horror pictures that Val Lewton produced. The 7th Victim. I think it has a lot in common with Rosemary's Baby, and I wouldn't be surprised if Polanksi and Levin were specifically influenced by it. It's also a devil worship story set in a contemporary NYC, and it's also very much a woman's story.
To finish up with this one, a fond memory...when I was a kid reading about horror movies more than I was actually getting to see them, I read about this one. I always wondered what the baby looks like, and I had it in my mind that they showed it at the end- red eyes, wings, horns, tail...the whole nine yards. I asked my mom about it, and she told me that yes, they show the baby at the end and they tell Rosemary "he has your eyes". Of course, she was mis-remembering it (or deliberately misleading me) years later, when I saw it, I was sort of let down that it wasn't some ridiculous demon baby. I take that back- I was glad, because that would have spoiled the suggestiveness of the scene.

I wish the shot of the baby's eyes wasn't in there. I love the implication of "he has his father's eyes", especially if I just let my imagination play off Mia Farrow's reaction. But at least Polanski shows it only briefly, and even superimposed over another shot.

That's cool that you first experienced this through your mother's memory! My mother recalls refusing to see Rosemary's Baby because she had just had my sister and she said it would have freaked her out too much.

Barnes, have you seen Orphan? You keep recommending all these older obscure films, so I feel the need to return the favor with something more modern. Orphan doesn't have a lot in common with Rosemary's Baby, but as far as a movie about the psychology of parenthood, Orphan is a unique take.

Yeah, Cassavetes is doing some great stuff in this movie. He doesn't strike me as dark so much as, well, little. He's not evil. He's just vain and easily seduced. Weak. Human, in fact. I love that Chris called out the moment with the phone call, which I didn't appreciate as much until Chris' explanation above.

Why are we discussing the Vatican's legislative body?