Rosemary's Baby (1968)


She's really not that big a woman.
She's really not that big a woman.

Genre: Horror Mystery Thriller Drama

Starring: Mia Farrow (Hannah and Her Sisters The Omen), John Cassavetes (The KillersThe Dirty Dozen)

Directed By: Roman Polanski (The Tragedy of MacbethRepulsion)

Overview: Soon after Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into an apartment complex, they find themselves surrounded by mysterious afflictions, odd neighbours and strange happenings - so much so that  Rosemary begins to fear for her unborn child.

Rosemary’s Baby is a solid choice for ‘important’ Horror, but don’t expect a typical gore fest or a nail-biting, suspense-filled chill-ride. This intelligent film is more about planting us firmly in this world and less about taking us to a fantastical one where our disbelief can be suspended on a noose off the barn rafter. Perhaps that’s why Rosemary’s Baby stood the test of time and remained a Classic – perhaps that’s the hook that makes it so frightening. 

Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) is an actor, (hopefully) moving up in the world. He and his wife Rosemary (the quiet and slender pixie-haired Mia Farrow) move into a beautiful, spacious and charming New York City apartment. Minnie and Roman Castevet (played by Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer), the old couple across the hall, are eccentric but friendly folks who quickly make friends with them. The Woodhouse’s plan is to have three children, and if all goes well, eventually move to Hollywood. Unfortunately, Guy doesn’t make the cut for some important theatrical roles and Rosemary starts feeling neglected. Meanwhile, the apartment complex is shrouded in strange and dark stories, and one of the tenants dies mysteriously. Soon after, the Woodhouse’s luck changes, and Guy is give an important part in a play after the original lead had gone blind. Better still, Rosemary is happy to hear she is pregnant, though the strange dream she had on the evening of the conception and the painful illness that follows makes her suspect that something is amiss – to the point of making her fear for her child.

See, scared like that.See, fear like that.

I’ll stop there. The most unfortunate thing about Rosemary’s Baby is that its plot, or rather its mysterious hook, is as well known to people who haven’t seen it as Soylent Green. It’s one of those movies that people describe by using the dramatic hook and mysterious climax. Luckily IMDb’s overview is vague, but for those of you who haven’t actually seen it and fear spoilers, don’t go digging around too far. 

Ruth Gordon (Harold and Maude) won the Academy award for best supporting actress for her role as the eccentric and nosy friend and neighbour. I agree that her performance is one of the better reasons to watch, but above all, Rosemary’s Baby should pride itself in its captivating atmosphere. The setting is this real world, the characters are real people, quirky as they may be, and the madness inherent in Polanski’s New York is, ironically, reflected most of all by our everywoman heroine. The first character we are introduced to is the building that Guy and Rosemary move into, and throughout the film, the building itself, the apartment, the manual passenger elevator, the mysterious closet – all atmospheric. Polanski does a wonderful job of giving a breathing pulse to the building itself, reminding us of an attention to detail in his setting and dream sequences as vivid and memorable as his best scenes in Repulsion.

Ah, before everything went to Hell...
Ah, before everything went to Hell...

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 8 Script: 7 Plot: 7 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 78% (Not A Laborious Effort)

Sure I may have boasted a little about how ‘frightening’ Rosemary’s Baby was, but I didn’t find it that scary. I’d much more easily classify this a Mystery Thriller before calling it a Horror. Even though it has a gruesome shot here and there, I dare say that those felt out of place in comparison with the overall mood and narrative. I love a good gore-show, so I won’t complain, but people who can’t really enjoy mangled bodies might just recall some gratuitous seconds they could have done without.

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