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Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

March 1, 2011

9/10 Neighbors from Hell

Some straight-up evil shit.

Rosemary’s Baby is about a struggling actor and his charming wife who move into a gorgeous new apartment in Manhattan with the intent of settling down and starting a family. Soon after, they befriend the elderly couple next door, the struggling actor starts spending a suspicious amount of time around ’em, and the charming wife bites her tongue despite the subtle signs around her that some shit is probably up. So then our young loves decide that it’s high time they tried to have a baby, they do the deed in a night of lovemaking that may or may have involved Satan getting in on the action, and so begins nine months of mood swings and morning sickness with a healthy dose of witchcraft and pentagrams thrown in for good measure.

Folks, there are a lot of reasons I’m glad that Junior isn’t a documentary and that I’ll never be the one having to push a bun out of my oven, let alone having it bake for three-quarters of a completely booze-free year, but this movie sure did add a whole new dimension of fear and gratitude to the situation. What The Descent did for claustrophobia, what Jaws did for water in general, that’s what Rosemary’s Baby does for pregnancy, and that is some seriously gnarly shit to be targeting.

So with this, The Ghost Writer, Chinatown and Knife in the Water all checked off that ever-growing To See list of mine, it’s nice to finally be on the Polanski bandwagon that I’d been dragging behind for so long…at least when it comes to film making. Seems like the safest Polanski bandwagon to be on these days. Anyway, you watch any of those four movies (wasn’t so crazy about Knife in the Water, though) and it’s plain to see that this is a guy who knows how to make a movie and is very much in control of what he’s doing and how it’ll resonate with his audience. Say what you will about the guy, Roman Polanski is no joke behind the camera or in front of the keyboard. Simple as that.

But there are two things in particular here that he tackles exceptionally well: pacing and mood.

See, this movie’s the cinematic equivalent of a deer tick. It must have been something else to go into this sucker blind, think you’re getting prepped for a story about being a mom and such, then have it creep under your skin without you even knowing it until your nerves are shot and you can’t get that sour taste off your tongue. But even if you know what’s going on, the restraint Polanski uses in slowly, patiently pulling back the curtain from one scene to the next is something else. It never drags, it keeps you glued to the screen and it just works perfectly.

Absolutely love that anagrams scene, too. Chilling stuff, man.

And adding to all that are two absolutely awesome and crazy performances by Mia Farrow and Ruth Gordon.

Mia Farrow’s here as our girl Rosemary, and oddly enough, this is the first time I’ve ever seen her in a movie. About time I had an excuse to go watch The Purple Rose of Cairo because she truly owns this roller coaster of a character. She’s immediately likable and a total peach from the moment we meet her, seems like the nicest gal on the planet and one who would make one damn good mom down the road. So when she eventually gets pregnant, lops off her hair and starts deteriorating to the point where she looks like Captain Howdy’s younger sister, the effect is pretty darn unsettling. And then she starts catching on to everything that’s going down around her, starts going paranoid up the wahzoo (and rightly so), and the whole thing just puts your hair on end. Could not have been an easy performance to get into, but Farrow nails it and carries the plot along gorgeously.

And as for Ruth Gordon, she plays one of the next-door neighbors, and I think it is awfully cool that she nabbed an Oscar for this. The reason Gordon pulls it off is because she’s the only one here who’s never really acting like there’s something up. She’s the nice old lady that lives next door to everyone, she’s the one who always sends over baked goods to the new neighbors just because, she’s the one you’d never expect because how could she possibly be anything but the nice old lady that lives next door? This is Maude we’re talking about here, I love Maude, and it’s that very “I know her” vibe she puts out that makes her so much more frightening than anyone else.

But I gotta say, wasn’t too crazy about John Cassavetes as Rosemary’s husband, Guy. I can understand how Rosemary might not be so quick to pick up on the fact that her husband is getting sketchier and sketchier by the day since there’s that whole trust thing that comes with marrying someone and not having to worry about the possibility of your spouse pimping out your uterus to the highest demonic bidder, but from an outsider’s perspective, he ain’t too subtle and he makes it pretty obvious. Regardless of whether it was Cassavetes or Carrot Top in the role, there’s no way Guy Woodhouse wouldn’t have go down in history as one of The All-Time Worst Movie Husbands, but come on, if my future wife ever started acting like his ass, I would file those divorce papers faster than Frank Sinatra. Too bad since he was swell in The Dirty Dozen and he’s one kickass film maker to boot, but this just didn’t gel.

And bonus points for a bit role from Charles Grodin. Always a good call.

As a man, this movie is pretty damn unnerving; but as a woman, I can’t even imagine. Rosemary’s Baby is so effing good for a lot of reasons but the one thing that stands out most these days is that it’s not what you’re used to getting from a horror movie. It won’t make you jump out of your seat and there isn’t a cheap scare in sight, it’s just one big slow boil that starts percolating within the first five minutes and eventually ends up setting the fucking house on fire before you can even hear it sizzling on the burner. It’s so well-crafted, I love how genuinely horrifying it is without ever having to resort to violence and gore, and it’ll shock you right on through to the very last insano line. Watching this is an experience that’ll leave a pit in your stomach and flat-out bothered, and for a movie that came out over four decades ago, it’s staying power is a testament to everything I just ranted about.

A total shame that this only got nominated for two measly Oscars, ’cause when you compare it to Oliver!, Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter, Romeo and Juliet and Rachel, Rachel (none of which I’ve seen, by the way), this seems to be operating on a whole ‘nother level. Granted, The Academy’s never really shown much love to horror movies over the years, and this is one big reason why that freakin’ sucks.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. March 1, 2011 6:57 am

    Great film. One of the best horror films I’ve ever seen. Polanski’s most commercial work but also his best in my opinion.

    • March 1, 2011 3:56 pm

      Man, for his most commercial work, this is still very un-Hollywood. Totally dig that. Not sure where this stands amongst the pack since I still have some homework to do on the guy, but I’ll get back to you when I revisit The Pianist.

  2. Darren permalink
    March 1, 2011 7:54 am

    I think that this might be my second-favourite of Polanski’s films (after the rather obvious Chinatown). Great horror.

    • March 1, 2011 3:57 pm

      Right on, man. Chinatown’s tough to beat any way you cut it.

  3. March 1, 2011 11:07 am

    For some reason I always watch this around Christmas; makes me feel Christmassy.

    • March 1, 2011 12:21 pm

      Hahahaha. Wasn’t expecting that comment from anyone. But right on, man. A truly funky tradition.

  4. March 2, 2011 1:32 pm

    This film is fan-freakin-tastic. And I completely agree about Polanski being a master of mood and suspense. Hitchcock is the only other director who’s as good as Polanski in this regard.

    Also make sure to check out Repulsion at some point. It’s one of his finest films and I like it just a bit more than Rosemary’s Baby.

    • March 7, 2011 1:55 pm

      Will do. Heard great things about that one and I’m totally enjoying all these Polanksi movies I’ve been going through lately. Will report back.

  5. March 8, 2011 7:29 pm

    I grew up watching a lot of classic horror from the 50’s and 60’s because that is what my dad loved. Rosemary’s Baby has literally been a favourite film since childhood. I have seen it multiple times over the years, and can quote several lines. Polanski is brilliant. I’m a huge fan of Polanski’s Repulsion and The Tenant also. Mia Farrow is excellent, it is hard for me to imagine anyone else in the role of Rosemary. I only hope no one ever tries to remake it!

    • March 9, 2011 1:47 pm

      Glad you love it, you totally should. Really need to see Repulsion and The Tenant, but I’ll have a review up for The Pianist on Friday, so I guess I’m making some progress when it comes to Polanski.

      And Farrow is so awesome in this, really need to see more stuff of hers, too. God help us if they try to remake this.

  6. Victor De Leon permalink
    August 31, 2012 7:50 pm

    Good write up! “Neighbors from Hell” LOL. This flick was a very mainstream film for Polanski but with an incredibly original and unique perspective on the genre. Produced by the late and great William Castle and to this day Ruth Gordon still manages to steal every scene she’s in.

    • September 11, 2012 11:00 am

      Thanks! And I will admit, that’s one of the best Verdicts I ever came up with. I really need to watch more Polanski as I’m far more unfamiliar than I should be, but mainstream or not, this is one of the greats, man.

      Ruth Gordon rocked. She always rocked.

      • Victor De Leon permalink
        September 11, 2012 11:58 am

        Check out Chinatown if you need a dose of Polanksi. I also enjoyed The Tenant too. Both good movies.

      • September 12, 2012 6:55 pm

        Saw Chinatown, dug Chinatown, but never seen The Tenant. Now realizing that it’s mainly the less mainstream stuff that I need to brush up on. Will keep ya posted and thanks for the heads up.

      • Victor De Leon permalink
        September 12, 2012 7:44 pm

        anytime. also watch Frantic with Harrison Ford by Polanski when you can. decent thriller.

      • September 17, 2012 5:30 pm

        Heard of Frantic. Might have to do just that.

      • Victor De Leon permalink
        September 17, 2012 6:30 pm

        Cool! Let me know what you think. I may have to give it a re-visit too.

  7. jack torrence permalink
    December 17, 2012 7:22 pm

    ahhhhh now this is a classic…the theme song of this movie always gives me the creeps

    are you going to review more movies like this

    like what did you think of the shining?? or carrie??

    • January 31, 2013 3:26 pm

      Oh, man, sorry for the royally delayed response on this. Always happy to see love for this movie though.

      Unfortunately, since I’m only reviewing new releases these days, it’s somewhat unlikely that I’ll get back to the reviewing the classics in the near future. But hey, stranger things have happened.

      As for The Shining, it’s one of all-time greats of the genre (though I’m still very interested in reading the book), and while the last time I saw Carrie I thought it felt dated, it’s a classic nonetheless and doesn’t warrant the remake it’s getting this year. Serenity now, huh?


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