Boy, you think YOUR kids are a handful. Roman Polanski's 1968 feature adaptation of Ira Levin's novel Rosemary's Baby has aged remarkably well, particularly because of its emphasis on character and human drama and minimal use of traditional horror elements. One of the most shocking moments of the film comes right at the beginning when you see William Castle's producer credit. I'm still surprised when I'm reminded that he had a hand in this picture. Castle was best known for directing charmingly gimmicky B horror flicks like Mr. Sardonicus (audiences were given thumbs up/thumbs down cards to vote on the villain's fate), the Psycho influenced Homicidal (the film featured a "Fright Break" right before the climax that allowed audience members to retreat to the "Coward's Corner" if they weren't feeling brave enough to sit through the rest of the movie), and the original 13 Ghosts (for which the audience was given special glasses to view the ghosts in the film). Had Castle followed through on his original plan to direct Rosemary's Baby himself, I'm sure we would be talking about a very different film.

Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) are a young couple who move into a new apartment in New York. The place seems a bit extravagant, particularly since their income consists of what Guy makes as a struggling actor. The elderly couple living next door, Minnie (Ruth Gordon, who won an Oscar for the role) and Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer) are friendly enough, but too clingy for Rosemary's taste. There's also some strange chanting coming from the Catevets' apartment, and a girl who was living with them is found dead in the street of an apparent suicide. Rosemary and Guy's old friend Hutch (Maurice Evans, who will always be Dr. Zaius from Planet of the Apes to me) let's them in on their new building's sordid past, telling them of witchcraft, cannibalism and infanticide being performed by previous tenants.
Guy gets an important role in a play when another actor (heard only on the phone and voiced by Tony Curtis) is suddenly and mysteriously stricken blind. Things are going well for the two and they decide to start a family. On the night they plan to try conceiving, Rosemary is drugged by something in the chocolate mousse that Minnie brought over. The hallucinatory sequence that follows is amazingly done, replicating the feel of a dream beautifully. Among other things, Rosemary dreams she is being raped by a monstrous creature that may or may not be Guy. Rosemary soon finds herself with a child, but it's not an easy pregnancy. She loses a great deal of weight and takes on a corpse-like pallor and she is wracked with abdominal pain. Guy and the Catevets railroad her into using Dr. Abraham Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy) instead of her own doctor, and he puts her on a regimen of herbal drinks prepared by Minnie. Rosemary soon suspects her neighbors of being witches, and they want to use her baby as part of their satanic rituals. As most people know however, even if they haven't seen the movie, the truth revealed at the film's climax is far more sinister.

The film marked the beginning of a trend in satanic themed horror. I suspect if we didn't have Rosemary's Baby, we might not have had The Exorcist, The Omen, or any of the knock-offs of widely varying quality that each of these three films inspired. I also suspect the film was responsible for Farrow's similar looking sister Tisa being cast in such B grade Italian horror flicks as Zombie and Anthropophagous. Polanski's previous film was The Fearless Vampire Killers, a pastiche of the Hammer vampire flicks that brought with it all the trappings of such genre fare. By comparison Rosemary's Baby is a film of remarkable subtlety, driven by the script and performers, rather than the gratuitous shocks and special effects we would see today. Yes, it's a great horror film, but more importantly it's a great film.

The extras on the current Paramount DVD release provide some interesting background, but an audio commentary by Polanski and Farrow would have made me far happier. Recent interviews with Polanski, Production Executive Robert Evans, and Production Designer Richard Sylbert give some great anecdotes about the production and how it came to be. The "making of" featurette was made at the time of the original production and has some fascinating behind the scenes shots.
CATEGORIES Features, Cinematical