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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It was 1968. Director Roman Polanski made his American debut in cinema
with this film which would turn out to be his best and the most
frightening horror movie ever made. For Polanski, cynicism and a bleak
world view became a trademark. He had lost his parents in the horrors
of World War II concentration camps. His wife Sharon Tate, pregnant in
the summer of 1969 (exactly a year after this movie's release) was
brutally killed by the crazed Charles Manson cult. Prior to Rosemary's
Baby, Polanski had tackled horror films with "Repulsion" starring
Catherine Deneuve and the slightly more comedic "Fearless Vampire
Killers". So what makes Rosemary's Baby so frightening ? If you're a
Christian/Catholic the credibility of this film is extremely
disturbing, even blasphemous. The theme of the film is that evil wins
over good, that Satan triumphs with the birth of his Son, and that God
is dead. "Is God Dead ?" reads a headline in Time Magazine which
Rosemary picks up while waiting at the doctor's office. In the late
60's, with the Vietnam war beginning to rage, and with the outbreak of
violence and racial riots of the Civil Rights Movement and trouble at
home and abroad, (at home women were rebelling and becoming
independent, the pill was out, abortion was rampant) this film seems to
be a symbolic/horror manifestation of the time period. Nowadays, it
seems tame, and sure enough horror films influenced by this one would
emerge in the 70's- The Exorcist and The Omen Series.
This film put Mia Farrow on the map. As Rosemary, the heroine in Ira Levin's novel, she is vulnerable, headstrong and ultimately tragic. It is her maternal instincts that win out in the end. Rather than killing Satan's baby, she opts to "mother" it and let it live. This is in an ironic twist a way of saying women should always be the "mother" even in the worst case scenario. Remember Rosemary believes, even at the end, that her child is not that bad, that it has a human side and that it could be "saved". She rebels against her husband, cuts her hair very short, and wants to get her own doctor. Rosemary represents the modern woman of the late 60's, looking hopeful toward the future. The past, with its mystery, evil ignorance and darkness, is represented by the ambiguous characters of the next door neighbors Roman and Minnie (Ruth Gordon). Are they well-meaning neighbors or are they really Satanic worshipers ? So many nightmarish, surreal elements make us believe it's all some kind of drug-induced hallucination. Rosemary's dream, in which she is aboard a ship with the Presidential couple J.F.K. and Jackie, where a monstrous Devil appears to rape and impregnate her, is so frightening, so confusing, we don't know what's what. What exactly happened to Rosemary ? We could analyze the film for hours. The idea that this could be real is what makes this film, which is otherwise slow-paced, mannered, so frightening. Its horror lies in its psychology and philosophy. John Cassevetes is doing a terrific job as the selfish, materialistic and greedy actor who makes a deal with the Devil. Poor Rosemary. We believe her. We know she is trapped in the evil cult. It is the despair, the futility of escape that makes us most frightened and uneasy. For Polanski, this movie was his emergence into mainstream, American cinema, while at the same time an expression of his own torment.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A blockbuster of a movie that still holds tremendous power today,
ROSEMARY'S BABY is, along with THE EXORCIST, one of the most compelling
and memorable horror films in movie history. Roman Polanski's subtle
direction and the naturalistic performances are enough alone to
recommend this scary ride.
The plot concerns a young, naive woman (Mia Farrow, in her signature and best early performance) and her ambitious, struggling actor husband (the late John Cassevettes, ruthlessly brilliant) who rent an apartment in a Victorian building in good old New York, New York. It begins on a somewhat light note, but if you go back and look at it again, you will notice small hints that Polanski dropped. Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse become friendly with seemingly well-meaning but nosy elderly neighbors(the priceless Ruth Gordon and the courtly Sidney Blackmer). Rosemary has a violent nightmare in which she is ravished by a horned creature, on the same night (gasp) she and Guy planned to start trying to conceive a baby (coincidence? I think not). Her pregnancy does not seem to be progressing normally, and her close friends become concerned. Around this time, her husband seems to be getting his big break, and increasingly becomes less sensitive to her feelings and needs. Anyone who appears to be really worried about her or who is in Guy's way of success, becomes beset by mysterious ailments and injuries, even death. She does some detective work and learns more about her strange neighbors and her husband than she cares to know. As she attempts to escape, hoping to deliver and protect her baby, it is apparent that she can't trust anyone, not even the "dream boy" doctor. She learns a horrible, incomprehensible truth: she is to bear Satan's child!!!!!!
Producer Robert Evans called this picture, "a horror movie that has no horror in it, and it still scares the hell out of you." Truer words were never spoken. The performances are all right on target. But several unnerving and disturbing coincidences and events have made viewing the film somewhat uneasy. The now infamous Dakota apartment building (referred to as "The Black Bramford" in the film), is where former Beatle and musician John Lennon was gunned down and killed by a deranged fan. Anton Le Vey, the High Priest Of The Church Of Satan, was reputed to have played Old Scratch in the famous dream sequence, when in actuality it is Cassevettes' face the viewer sees in the close-up shot. It still is extremely creepy, as one of Le Vey's congregation members was Susan Atkins, who assisted murdering Polanski's pregnant wife, the beautiful actress Sharon Tate, in 1969 (she supposedly can be spotted briefly during a party scene in Rosemary's apartment, but I have yet to have catch a glimpse of her). The phone voice of Donald Bomgart, the actor who went blind after winning a role that Guy had auditioned for, was Tony Curtis, who worked with Sharon Tate in the 1967 film "Don't Make Waves" and who was a client of Hollywood hairstylist Jay Sebring, who was also murdered that night in 1969.
The DVD release has only improved the movie, and the featurettes are very revealing. It's also a treat to see so many veteran Hollywood actors (Gordon, Ralph Bellamy,Maurice Evans, Elisha Cooke Jr., Patsy Kelly, Phillip Leeds and Hope Summer) in such great roles. Charles Grodin is excellent in an early role as the cold Dr. Hill. As a Catholic, this movie struck a very responsive chord in me. Without a doubt, one of Polanski's best! Don't pass it up, but don't forget to pray for Rosemary's little Andy or Jenny!
Rosemary's Baby was a shocker in 1968 when it was released. Recently
screening the film with my wife, I see it still can impart a huge
psychological impact today.
My wife did not find it particularly frightening. It is true, there are no CG demons flying around cutting people's heads off ala End of Days. It's from an age of film when people actually watched and thought about what was on the screen instead of just being wowed by eye-candy. As such, it calls upon the viewer to be drawn into Rosemary's plight and paranoia. And at this, it still succeeds.
I was struck by the fact that, even though there are some telltale signs of it's age (guys readily smoke around the pregnant Rosemary while handing her drinks, etc.), the film holds up so well and appears even today to be remarkably contemporary. The characters, so well acted, are timeless types of horror: The nosey old lady (Ruth Gordon) who eventually grows on you and, even after you find out what she's all about, you can't help but find her funny; the benign grandfatherly figure (Sidney Blackmer) and the trusted doctor (Ralph Bellemy) who surely wouldn't harm a fly; and the innocent Rosemary who becomes victim to a justified paranoia. At the end, my wife asked whether the second doctor (Charles Grodin) was "in" on the plot. That's the whole point in a nutshell... you never know.
Rosemary's Baby was a daring precursor to many films to follow including the Omen and The Exorcist. While those films use gallons of pea soup and shocking special effects, neither works so hard on your mind as this one. Unlike so many of it's contemporaries, Rosemary's Baby has aged well and can still chill! 8 out 10
One of Roman Polanski's best (along with Cul-de-Sac and Repulsion) that is
truly a contemporary horror classic. Mia Farrow should have won an Oscar
(she wasn't even nominated) for her role as a loving bride, trusting soul,
and baby-protector. Cassavetes is great as the sly and ambitious husband,
Ruth Gordon is perfection as the nosy neighbor who babbles about everything,
and Elisha Cook, Jr. has a nice bit near the beginning. The music is
creepy. This is very much a women's-lib film of the best kind and Polanski
seemed to really have a grip on things as he often does.
A 9 out of 10; Best performance = Mia Farrow. Filmed at the Dakota on the Upper West side of Manhattan, this film should make you consider birth control if you're considering parenthood. Brilliant stuff!
While Rosemary's Baby is often dubbed a horror film, the contemporary viewer may find that generic attribution confusing. Due to its slow pace and reliance on less-traditional formal tools to create suspense, Rosemary's Baby, like Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980), is best described as a psychological thriller or suspense story. Polanski's film, adapted from a novel by Ira Levin, isn't furnished with bloody murders and shocking off-screen entrances. Rather, what makes Rosemary's Baby terrifying is the sense of inevitability. Yes, this inevitability not only manifests itself in the plot, as Rosemary is incapable of stopping the plans set in motion by her neighbors, but from the audience as well. Polanski cues us in to the cult's true intent quite early with the aid of surrealistic dream sequence, so we're aware of Rosemary's potential fate far sooner than she is. Hitchcock once described the difference between surprise and suspense as involving the knowledge of the audience, concluding that in order to fully capitalize upon suspense, "the public must be informed."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Hierarchy is often a way to do as efficiently as possible what ought
not to be done at all; a machine for compelling people to do what they
have no direct rational interest in doing, for the benefit of those
with whom they have a fundamental conflict of interest." - Ursula Le
Ira Levin specialised in Feminist horror novels. His 1972 novel, "The Stepford Wives", for example, featured a housewife whose husband colludes with a cabal of men responsible for creating a fleet of submissive, female robots. Levin's 1967 novel, "Rosemary's Baby", does a similar thing. Adapted by director Roman Polanski, it stars Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes as a young couple who move into a Gothic apartment complex (The Dakota, where John Lennon was shot).
From the onset, Farrow's character, Rosemary Woodhouse, is portrayed as a docile American housewife. Meek and waifish, she's a doting stay-at-home woman who's entirely dependent upon her husband. Elsewhere men are portrayed as being controlling, manipulative and aggressive, whilst women are consigned to traditionally feminine realms (cooking, cleaning, jewellery, gardening, knitting etc), infantilized at the hands of a monolithic, male dominated society.
One must remember that the 1960s featured many high profile debates on both abortion and the status of women as legitimate political and legal subjects. Women's movements were gaining momentum and were beginning to repeal abortion laws, fight for the right to self-determination, and seize control of the means of reproduction from a medical profession considered to be elitist and patriarchal. In this regard, Levin's novel took Rosemary and used her as a locus for a very specific culture war. It gathered numerous examples of patriarchal dominance (religion, the medical establishment, marriage etc) and featured them repeatedly vying for control of Rosemary's body. She was then bullied into passivity, subjected to outrageous coercion and eventually pushed into madness and paranoia. Rosemary was herself an agent of her own submission, the poor girl repeatedly rationalising her suffering as being "all her fault".
Midway in both film and novel, Rosemary and her husband, the aptly named Guy, resolve to have a baby. But unbeknownst to Rosemary, Guy has made a Faustian pact with a Satanic couple living next door. In return for career advancements, he will turn Rosemary's body over to Satan so that she may be raped and so give birth to the Prince of Darkness. This, of course, is a perverse take on the Bible's Immaculate Conception (also featuring a Mary). The names of the devious neighbours (Roman and Minnie Castevet) themselves conjure up the other two men meta-controlling Rosemary: John Cassavetes and Roman Polanski himself.
With at least 12 films overtly or covertly about rape, no mainstream film director has made more films "about" sexual violation than Roman Polanski. Polanski would himself be charged with raping a 13 year old girl in 1977. In real life he seems to also have a sexual predilection for young girls and teenage actresses, though his films often sympathise with the rape victim (not always; at least 3 posit the "rapist" as being unjustly bullied and/or victimised).
In "Rosemary Baby", of course, Rosemary is raped. There is some ambiguity surrounding this incident Rosemary is either raped by her husband, given to Roman Castevet himself as a sexual favour or literally raped by Satan but most readings have the same political subtext. Another reading sees Rosemary's persecutions as being "imagined" and "all in her head", her anxieties a result of her pregnancy, lapsed Catholicism and various domestic/maternal insecurities. The film supports this view, but accepting it turns the audience into villains, bullies equal to Guy and his neighbours. While horror movies routinely offer misogynistic repudiations of the maternal body, of the "monsterous feminine" ("Alien", "Jurassic Park" etc), and while, on the level of biology alone, the foetus is literally a parasite, separate from the mother's body, taking everything and contributing nothing to her sustenance, the film itself seems to be doing something completely else. Rosemary's paranoia is valid precisely because sexist social relations are clearly conspiring against her. Her doctors, various paternalistic authority figures, her husband, her neighbours, a male dominated medical profession...they're all colluding against Rosemary. It's another of Polanski's Kafkaesque conspiracy plots; the world really is out to get you.
Significantly, characters are constantly telling Rosemary not to read books or outright removing books from her possession. Her apartment bookshelf is itself filled with books which Guy strategically keeps out of reach, namely Kinsey's reports, "Listening with the Third Ear" and "Yes I Can", all books on self-empowerment and self-understanding. The goal is to keep Rosemary dumb, dependent and isolated. And the only scene in which Rosemary is shown to mingle with female friends boisterous feministas who rally to her defence is precisely the scene which spurs Guy into revealing his sexism. "Pain is a warning something isn't right," Rosemary says, repeating the mantra of her proto-feminist sisters. But Guy shoots her down: "don't listen to those bi**es!" Emancipation remains out of reach.
The film's title has an ironic twang (Rosemary's "baby" is not her baby, she didn't consent to its conception, indeed, Rosemary is herself the film's baby). Its aesthetic is Hitchcock meets New Hollywood, whilst the film itself serves as a perverse bridge from Old Hollywood to New, with many familiar faces from the Golden Age cast against type and given significant parts (Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly, Sidney Blackmer, Ruth Gordon, Elisha Cook etc). Smoothly directed and misstepping only occasionally with some moments of comedy and overt "gore", the film's still influential to this day. Emblematic of the film's impact, Farrow's pixie haircut still pops up in modern horror movies ("Birth", "The Astronauts Wife" etc").
8.5/10 - Classic.
It should come as no surprise that "Rosemary's Baby" ranks in the top 250 on IMDb; I, however, would rank it even higher than the general public does. It's the kind of film you can watch occasionally over the years and enjoy each and every time, i.e., a classic. Technically the film is brilliant, with superb cinematography, editing, music, acting, art design, and masterful direction. Polanski captures the timeless essence of New York, at least as I remember it, even though the setting is unmistakably the 1960s, and the milieu is literally diabolical. Depending on how you look at it, you can enjoy the film as a supernatural thriller or as a psychological thriller and study in paranoia. I especially love the dream sequences, which have a surreal beauty and nightmarish logic of their own.
One of the most remarkable things about this fine film is how little it has dated in almost half a century. Despite the lack of cell phones, computers and other current technology there is little to distract modern audiences from the plot. It's not like watching an old movie at all. Another phenomenal aspect is how well Polanski (a newcomer to the US at the time) conveyed such a trenchant feel for New York City. The direction is sure-handed and the action is well- paced. There are just the right amounts of humor thrown in to relieve the tension. "Rosemary's Baby" and "Chinatown" are unquestionably rivals for Polanski's best film. I think this one has the edge, as I defy anyone to not identify with the main character early on through to the end. The dream sequence is pure Polanski. In "Repulsion" he tried to make a whole film out of essentially a dream sequence, and it's rather contrived. Here, the surreal touches don't drive the action off course. Mia Farrow is perfect for the part and at age 23 holds her own against seasoned actors a generation or two older. John Cassavetes, who is very good as the husband, always struck me as a bit too old for the part of a struggling actor just starting out (he was 38). The supporting cast is superb, with Ruth Gordon stealing the show (and an Oscar in the process) and Patsy Kelly running a close second. "Rosemary's Baby" holds up well to repeated viewings and continues to entertain even after you know where all this is going. It has all the hallmarks of a classic.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In Roman Polanski's first American film that is adapted from Ira
Levin's horror bestseller, a young wife comes to believe that her
offspring is not of this world.The film,entitled Rosemar's
Baby,features Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Maurice Evans,
Sidney Blackmer and Charles Grodin.Farrow plays a pregnant woman who
fears that her husband may have made a pact with their eccentric
neighbors, believing he may have promised them the child to be used as
a human sacrifice in their occult rituals in exchange for success in
his acting career.
Rosemary Woodhouse and her struggling actor husband, Guy move into the Bramford, an old New York City apartment building with an ominous reputation and only elderly residents. Neighbors Roman and Minnie Castevet soon come nosing around to welcome the Woodhouses to the building; despite Rosemary's reservations about their eccentricity and the weird noises that she keeps hearing, Guy starts spending time with the Castevets. Shortly after Guy lands a plum Broadway role, Minnie starts showing up with homemade chocolate mousse for Rosemary. When Rosemary becomes pregnant after a mousse-provoked nightmare of being raped by a beast, the Castevets take a special interest in her welfare. As the sickened Rosemary becomes increasingly isolated, she begins to suspect that the Castevets' circle is not what it seems. The diabolical truth is revealed only after Rosemary gives birth, and the baby is taken away from her.
This is a frightening tale of Satanism and pregnancy that is even more disturbing than it sounds thanks to convincing and committed performances by Mia Farrow and Ruth Gordon.In addition to that,Polanski's camera-work and Richard Sylbert's production design transform the realistic setting into a sinister projection of Rosemary's fears, chillingly locating supernatural horror in the familiar by leaving the most grotesque frights to the viewer's imagination. Having escaped the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust in Poland by the skin of his teeth, Mr. Polanski was well equipped psychologically to re- imagine what was, before Rosemary's Baby, a B-picture genre into an A- picture genre.And four decades later,his supremely mounted horror thriller holds up extremely well.
Moving into a lavish apartment complex, a woman becomes increasingly
concerned of the elderly residents' concern of her after becoming
pregnant and gradually uncovers a sinister plot to offer her unborn
baby to their devilsh master.
This here manages to be one of the enjoyable and entertaining classic horror efforts around. With the only real problem within being a languished pace that really draws the running time up and make it far longer than it really needs to be, there's a lot to like here. One of the best aspects utilized here is the slow-burn pacing that runs through here as the events wind themselves around her entire pregnancy and that allows for the gradual unraveling of the clues, from the older couples constant interference in their daily lives and offering pregnancy tips and advice, the constant rebuttals of anything she feels as out-of-the-ordinary being commonplace and finally the gag with the name really cluing in the final act. While none of this is really centered around a series of jolts or shocks or even anything creepy beyond the hallucinogenic impregnation, that this really remains watchable as nothing happens is a strong suit of the film and really works quite well in keeping this one interesting. Of course, the finally is all sorts of creepy and chilling, giving this another solid point about it and really generating a lot of excitement about it, making it one of the more rewarding experiences around.
Today's Rating-R: Violence, Nudity, Language and a drug-laced Rape scene.
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