This 1968 film, based on the novel by Ira Levin (reviewed below), emerged from a particular place and time, but it retains its power and its influence on pop culture cannot be denied.
It’s not a horror movie in the conventional sense, but it certainly suits this season.
Cast and Crew
Director: Roman Polanski
Writers: Ira Levin and Roman Polanski
Mia Farrow as Rosemary Woodhouse
John Cassavetes as Guy Woodhouse
Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevet
Sidney Blackmer as Roman Castevet
Maurice Evans as Hutch
Ralph Bellamy as Dr. Sapirstein
Patsy Kelly as Laura-Louise
Victoria Vetri (Angela Dorian) as Terry
Elisha Cook Jr. as Mr. Nicklas
Emmaline Henry as Elise Dunstan
Charles Grodin as Dr. Hill
Hanna Landy as Grace Cardiff
Phil Leeds as Dr. Shand
D’Urville Martin as Diego
Hope Summers as Mrs. Gilmore
Marianne Gordon, Wende Wagner as Rosemary’s friends
Tony Curtis as Voice of Donald Baumgart
William Castle as Man at Pay Phone
Several uncredited extras appear in the conception sequence. Anton LaVey claims to have been an advisor to the film. Others perpetuated the rumour that he played the devil in that sequence, but one Clay Tanner gets credited for that role. People involved with the film consistently state that LaVey entirely fabricated his connection to the film—which would be, it must be said, entirely in character.
Available at Amazon Prime.
A young woman and her husband, an up-and-coming actor, move into an apartment with a disturbing history. Rosemary gradually begins to suspect that her doofily eccentric neighbours are not what they seem, and that dark forces are working in her life.
Are her incredible suspicions correct, or is she going slowly insane?
The film features many strong aspects, but the creeping horror I felt as Rosemary finally expresses her suspicions and evidence to Dr. Hill remains with me even more than the film’s notorious conception sequence. Everything mentioned under “High Points” in the novel review comes together in this sequence.
The film’s gradual, deliberate pacing will not appeal to everyone, and it suits the page better than the cinema. Without it, however, you do not have Rosemary’s Baby. I don’t know if this qualifies as a true Low Point, but it bears mentioning.
Originality: 2/6 Few movies adapt the source material so faithfully as this one, so in that sense, it is not original. However, it set new trends in horror movies. Without this film, it seems unlikely that either The Exorcist or The Omen would exist, while a thousand delusional encounters with the devil in subsequent decades would be shaped by the mythology of Rosemary’s Baby.
Effects: 4/6 I would identify the film’s most memorable sequence as an effects sequence of sorts, based on its visuals and staging. Generally, the movie suggests more than it shows and, as in the book, we have only Rosemary’s reaction and the coven’s comments as a guide to just what the titular character looks like.
Production: 6/6 Polanksi pays fine attention to detail. We’re in the real world, viewed from a very disturbing angle.
Acting: 6/6 The film has been brilliantly acted, with Mia Farrow giving a gradually disturbing portrayal of a woman whose mind is slowly unspooling.
Emotional Response: 5/6 If you’re expecting what we usually classify as a horror movie, you will be either surprised or disappointed. We’re in very peculiar territory with this Baby.
Overall: 5/6 Rosemary’s Baby, movie and book, defy easy classification. We’re watching a strained domestic drama, a dark comedy, and a psychological thriller that only gradually confirms its supernatural elements.
In total, Rosemary’s Baby receives 33/42
1. I am certainly aware of Roman Polanski’s subsequent history, and I understand that many people cannot separate the art from the artist, especially while he remains alive, unrepentant, and a literal fugitive from justice. I also know this is a man who endured unspeakable horrors in his childhood, had his wife murdered by the Manson Family and (until the Family were arrested) faced suspicion that he had engineered her death. What else can you expect, went the thinking, from a man who would make an occult film like Rosemary’s Baby? None of these things remotely excuse the subsequent rape of an unconscious thirteen-year-old, but I think they bear thinking about. In the end, I have taken a rather hair-splitting ethical approach. I avoid his films from after that time. So, while I loved, for example, David Ives’ play Venus in Furs and have seen it staged more than once, I have not watched Polanski’s film adaptation, and won’t until he is dead an unable to benefit. But films are collaborative efforts, and I have few issues with seeing his earlier movies. He is an incredibly gifted (if uneven) filmmaker.
You may feel differently, and that, I understand.
October 3/4: Mandy (2018)
October17/18: Color out of Space (2019)
October 24/25: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Halloween: The Magicians (2015-2020) … or is it?