This month, as a countdown to Halloween, blogs from Robbins Realm will feature reviews of either horror or supernatural films, or will spotlight individuals who have made an impact in these genres. This will mark the second annual October that I am doing this. This first review is about one of the most iconic films the horror genre has ever produced, “Rosemary’s Baby.”
The highly suspenseful and psychological film was written and directed by BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Oscar winner Roman Polanski (Chinatown). Premiering on June 12, 1968, the 136 minute movie was the director’s American film debut. He took the source material for the film directly from best selling author Ira Levin’s 1967 novel of the same name.
Mia Farrow (The Purple Rose of Cairo) portrays, in a completely believable manner, the good natured, but easily influenced, waif-like, Rosemary Woodhouse. She and her struggling actor husband, Guy, in a part performed by John Cassavetes (The Dirty Dozen), move into an apartment where the last occupant, an elderly woman, has recently passed away. The apartment is in the old and architecturally gothic styled Bramford building in New York City. The couple will later learn that the building has an infamous history. This information is told to them by their friend Hutch, acted by Maurice Evans who played the iconic character of Dr. Zaius in the Planet of the Apes films. (As an aside, five other actresses were considered for the lead in the film, before Farrow got the part. Tuesday Weld passed on the role, as did Jane Fonda; Julie Christie, Elizabeth Hartman and Joanna Pettet were also discussed as possible actresses for the part. Polanski wanted Robert Redford for the role of Guy, but due to a contract dispute with Paramount over his leaving director Silvio Narizzano’s movie “Blue,” he declined.)
Soon after moving into their apartment, the Woodhouses are befriended by the eccentric Castevets, an older couple that live next door to them. The pushy, but seemingly well meaning Minnie, and world traveler Roman Castevet, are portrayed by Golden Globe and Oscar winner Ruth Gordon (Harold and Maude), and Tony Award winner Sidney Blackmer, (Do You Take This Stranger). Even though the Castevets are very friendly to their new neighbors, there are some noticeably odd things about them. For example, strange noises emanate from their apartment. Furthermore, before the Woodhouses come over to join them for dinner one evening, they have removed all of the pictures from their walls. Rosemary is happy to have friendly neighbors, but is interested in keeping the relationship with the older couple at arms length. Guy, however, develops an almost instant fondness for the Castevets, and spends a good deal of time with them.
During one of her first evenings in the apartment, Rosemary has an ultra vivid dream that quickly escalates into a nightmare, or does she? She sees images of herself being at sea, her friend Hutch, her naked body being painted with red markings as a group of naked individuals, including Guy and Minnie Castevet chant, while a black robed Roman reads from a book. But during the most disturbing aspect of the hallucinogenic episode, she yells out: “this is no dream, this is really happening,” because she believes she is being raped by a creature whose eyes have a demonic look to them. The scene is an important factor in the film because it focuses on the movie’s central theme of perception versus reality. In the morning, after noticing scratch marks on her body, Guy apologizes for getting too rough with Rosemary while making love to her. This is only the start of her thinking that strange things are occurring in her life.
Rosemary receives the wonderful news that she is pregnant, at the same time Guy finds new found success in his career. Upon learning of her pregnancy, the Castevets take an almost unnatural interest in Rosemary’s health. Why do they act this way? Is there something sinister about their concern? Rosemary is not their daughter, granddaughter, or any sort of blood relation. Their behavior starts to turn her off; at the same time bizarre things begin to occur. Minnie gives Rosemary a necklace which holds Tannis root in its center. It is the same necklace that was worn by a friendly woman, Terry (Angela Dorian), whom Rosemary had met in the laundry room. The two had agreed to do their laundry at the same time, so neither one had to be alone in the basement of the building, but shortly thereafter, Terry commits suicide. Instead of gaining weight, the already paper thin Rosemary is losing weight . . . something which causes Hutch great concern when he comes to pay a visit to her one afternoon. She is also suffering from horrible stomach pains while she is carrying her baby to term. These pains, Dr. Sapirstein, who is acquitted excellently by prolific television and movie actor, as well as honorary Oscar winner, Ralph Bellamy, assures her, will go away.
The doctor has taken Rosemary on as a patient as a favor to the Castevets. He in turn, instead of prescribing traditional medicine, wants Rosemary to drink a special concoction that Minnie will make for her everyday from herbs in her garden. The notion of perception versus reality comes into play once again. While it is true that Minnie Castevet has a garden, and is a long time friend of Dr. Sapirstein, why would a modern day doctor leave things to chance? How can he be sure that Rosemary will get the correct nutrients for her baby each and every day from Minnie’s drink? Shortly after moving into the building, as previously mentioned, Guy’s career takes a swing upward, but that happens because of something terrible that has befallen another actor, who initially got the part they had both read for.
Rosemary receives a phone call from Hutch, who needs to speak to her about something very important. The two arrange to meet for lunch the next day, but Hutch fails to show up. The reason Hutch failed to keep the appointment is because he has fallen into a coma. He will temporarily come out of it, which will lead to Rosemary acquiring a book that will really bring her suspicions regarding everyone in her life, including Guy, front and center.
Does Rosemary have reason to be worried or is she just paranoid, thanks to an over active imagination? Are the Castevets people that need to be feared or merely an older couple with too much free time on their hands? Did Guy’s new found success come about just by happenstance, or are other forces at work, making sure he got what he most desired? “Rosemary’s Baby” is a film that is completely devoid of jump scares and gore. Instead it relies on having the viewer being invested until the very end in order to sort out fact from what might just be fiction. For fans of the genre this is a definite must see film.