Nine minutes of pleasure followed by nine months of Hell bring forth Rosemary’s Baby.
Welcome to the first theme week this year on 31 Days of Horror. Every film this week is part of the H-Origins grouping which features classic origins of horror. First up is the film that ushered in a new procession of occult films, Rosemary’s Baby.
The trailer starts like a typical romantic movie of the time. A young couple in love moves into a new apartment and the woman finds out she’s pregnant. Then weird stuff starts to happen! Scenes of screaming and anguish. Lots of scenes of Mia Farrow’s character crying and looking ill. Plus several shots of some books on witchcraft. By today’s standards someone would watch this trailer frame by frame and know the entire plot, as it appears to show a lot of different parts from the film. If you don’t know what’s coming this is intriguing and if you’re familiar with the book it’s based on this also seems to tease the right amount of content.
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse (Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes) tour an apartment building in New York City called the Bramford, ultimately deciding to move in. Rosemary’s older friend Hutch (Maurice Evans) lets her know some of the old history of that old building including murders, satanic rituals, and child sacrifices. She laughs off the tales. While doing laundry in the basement Rosemary meets Terry (Victoria Vetri), a rehabilitated young woman who lives with the Woodhouse’s elderly next door neighbors the Castavets. Upon returning to the apartment one night, Guy and Rosemary discover that Terry has apparently jumped to her death from the 7th floor window of the apartment.
Minnie and Roman Castavet (Ruth Gordon & Sidney Blackmer) take a liking to the Woodhouse’s and invite them over for dinner, which they accept, mostly to be polite. Guy takes a liking to Roman, but Rosemary finds Minnie abrasive and nosy. Minnie presents a silver orb necklace filled with a pungent herb she calls tannis root to Rosemary, who recognizes it as the same necklace Terry was wearing before she died. As the days and weeks go by, Guy continues to hang out with Roman while Rosemary tries to avoid Minnie. One day Guy, who is a struggling actor, gets a call that he has been cast in a play due to the original actor suddenly going blind. To celebrate he suggests that he and Rosemary try to make a baby.
Their fancy dinner is interrupted by the Castevets dropping off some chocolate mousse, which Rosemary decides has a chalky under-taste and throws out the remainder. She begins to show signs of being drugged and experiences some lucid dreams of being on a boat but then also in a large room with many older, naked people, including Guy and the Castavets. She believes she is being raped by some creature with strange eyes and clawed hands. The next morning Guy explains the scratches on her side as an after effect of him being a little too rough during “baby night.” She is upset that he would sleep with her, but ecstatic after she talks to Dr. Hill (Charles Grodin) and finds she is actually pregnant.
Minnie insists that Rosemary see their Doctor, Abraham Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy) who is a good friend and an excellent obstetrician. Dr. Sapirstein steers her away from reading any books about pregnancy since each woman’s experience is different. He also prescribes special herbal shakes from Minnie instead of prenatal vitamins. Rosemary cuts her hair super short, which Guy dislikes, but also begins to have severe pains, which Sapirstein says will go away in a couple of days. After nearly three months of these pains, and losing many pounds, Hutch is extremely concerned. After meeting Roman, Hutch becomes suspicious and calls Rosemary to meet her the next morning, but falls into a coma overnight.
At a party where the Castevets are not invited, Rosemary’s friends become worried that her doctor is leading her astray. She argues with Guy that night who believes her concerns are not fair to Dr. Sapirstein. But suddenly the pains abate and she can feel the baby kicking, which changes her mood for the better, forgetting all the issues. About three months later she is informed that Hutch has died and is presented with a book on Witchcraft at his request. Reading the underlined passages, she discovers that Roman is actually the son of Adrian Marcato, the satanist that Hutch told her about when she moved in. Guy laughs off the suggestions, thinking Rosemary is too sensitive, and gets rid of the book.
Rosemary becomes more concerned and visits Dr. Hill late in her ninth month to tell him she is worried that her neighbors are witches and they’re after her baby with the help of her husband. He listens intently, but then calls Guy to come get her. Agitated, she goes into labor. She is sedated by Dr. Sapirstein, and when she is awakened she is told she lost the baby. Minnie’s friends keep a close eye on her, keeping her sedated and drawing her breast milk. When she awakens at one point she hears crying and investigates. Sneaking through a common closet and into the Castevets apartment she discovers Guy, the Castevets coven and her baby, in a black crib with an upside down crucifix. She freaks out that its eyes are strange, to which Roman tells her they are the eyes of his father, Satan. She is freaked out, but once the baby starts to cry her motherly instincts kick in and she begins rocking the crib.
“This is no dream. This is really happening!” – Rosemary Woodhouse
Unholy moley! Rosemary’s Baby is a slow-burning, deep dive into the gaslighting of a woman whose only purpose is to be a vessel for bringing the son of Satan into the world. This film is the first of many H-Origins films featured this month on 31 Days of Horror. For those that missed out on last year’s articles, H-Origins is a descriptor that identifies films that are specifically horror origin films. Those films that contain new concepts or redefine portions of the genre so strongly that they become the basis for generations of films to come. Films like Dracula, The Wolf Man, or Psycho are some examples I wrote about last year. Rosemary’s Baby is also one of these films.
There had been films about witches and the occult prior to 1968, but they were few and far between. They often focused on the traditional witch ideal: black outfit, cauldron, mixing potions. And most likely they were also period pieces or fantasy films, like Hansel and Gretel. Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby created a new methodology for horror by not creating the atmosphere of a typical horror film. The movie takes place in New York City, someplace not usually equated with horror films (at least in the late 60s). The film opens more like a romantic drama might, with a young couple looking for a new apartment and then making love on the bare floor of their new home with wild abandon. There’s no overt monster lurking in dark hallways or jumping out at the heroine. Instead the film presents itself with odd moments, strange camera angles, or suspicious behavior that put the audience on edge as they attempt to figure out what is going on along with Rosemary. Let’s face it, they probably figure it out and accept it long before she does. But this is also part of the tension that the film evokes. This underplayed horror and suspense was definitely a new style of horror film, especially when coupled with the infrequent subject of the occult.
The film also creates a weird kind of paranoia centered around Rosemary. It sends the audience through multiple cycles of believing something is happening to her versus wondering if maybe it’s all a hallucination of some kind. The crowning moment is probably when audiences realize that Guy is actually in on the entire scheme with the Castevets. Was he in cahoots prior to moving into the Bramford? Or was it something that Roman approached him about the first night they came over for dinner? Either way, it takes a special kind of horrible husband to even consider doing something like this to your wife. He definitely will have a special place in hell for himself. This style of paranoia plays even bigger today as her ravings to Dr. Hill comes off as particularly unhinged. It’s only the fact that the audience has been through the trauma with Rosemary that they can understand the truth in what she says. But to anyone else it must seem like some delusional fantasy.
Rosemary’s Baby inspired many other films about witches, paganism and the occult, as well other demonic offshoots. Films like The Wicker Man, Suspiria and The Exorcist all take dark mythological and sometimes potentially pagan themes and put them into a modern context of horror. They’re all about modern characters that have no superstitions regarding occult matters that find themselves thrust into the center of strange circumstances. This type of film continues today with stories like Hereditary and Midsommar or to an extent The Conjuring series that set up modern, or near-modern locations, and create a slow build of dread. But what makes Rosemary’s Baby so bleak has to be the ending of the film. After a year of being gaslighted by her husband, raped by a demonic creature, and having every aspect of her life manipulated by those around her, Rosemary chooses to remain with the coven to be there for her baby. There’s one moment where it seems as if she may grab the baby and jump from the window, as Terry had done earlier in the film, but her maternal instinct kicks in and she chooses to stay. This ending can be looked at in a couple of ways. The more optimistic person might feel that Rosemary’s belief is that the baby is only half devil, with the other half coming from her. Plus all the coven is so old that hopefully they will die off soon and she can raise the child as a good person. Others may see the film as a metaphor for the trauma that victims of domestic abuse might go through. Even after hardships as well as physical and emotional trauma, the victim often decides to stay with the abuser because of their initial bond. Either way, the film ends up as a real gut punch.
The legacy of Rosemary’s Baby showcases what a monumental film this actually is. It’s often by the retelling of ideas in various ways that the quality of the original shines through. All of the various ripoffs and inspirations took the plot elements of the film, but not the tone (including its made-for-TV sequel). Polanski’s ability to create a dreamlike and fugue state for the heroine, while subjecting the audience to a shooting and editing style that creates an unease of normalcy, shows what a strong horror film this is. The lack of this feeling and emotional exposure from latter films only shows how well the original film works. 31 Days of Horror will be looking at some of the films that Rosemary’s Baby inspired in the occult subgenre, like The Omen, later this month, which is why the film remains such a H-Original!
- Ruth Gordon’s performance in this film would garner her a fifth Oscar Nomination with an eventual win for Best Supporting Actress.
- A sequel was made for television in 1976 called Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby starring Patty Duke. It was a critical and commercial failure.
- The film was produced by William Castle, the director of many 1950s B horror movies, like House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler and 13 Ghosts.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.