Turning a seeming everyday
situation into an electric horror tale should be considered one of the dark
arts. It's not often practiced with great success. When the magic transforms
the material the experience can be amazing. And so it with Rosemary's Baby,
a grand horror flick in the tradition of gothic fiction. Much of the action
is set in a New York apartment building, the Dakota, a perfect city
interpretation of the mist shrouded mansions features in many horror films.
Eastern European Roman Polanski's first Hollywood film is a paradigm of
smart moviemaking. Every aspect of the film, fromt he taut script to the
fine production design meshes perfectly into a unified vision.
Minnie gets a laugh. ©Paramount
Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse
seem like any happy, hustling New York couple looking to improve their
lives. When they find a great apartment in a lush old Manhattan building,
things are looking up. Guy's halting acting career winds up getting an
unexpected boost. And their marriage is blessed by more good news,
Rosemary's pregnancy. The natty neighbors, Minnie and Roman Castavet are
horrifyingly friendly. But just when things seem to be going so well,
Rosemary catches a scent of enveloping evil. Details are revealed with such
casual elegance. Rosemary is in such a fright you sometimes wonder if
everything she is feeling and seeing isn't some grand delusion. This is one
term of pregnancy that no one ever forget.
Central to the film is the unnerving performance by
fragile Mia Farrow. From a sunny young pregnant woman we watch Rosemary
unravel into a red-eyed reflection of the horrors she is experiencing. Who
do you turn to? John Cassavetes is good enough as Guy to let his smile
change from natural to twisted in imperceptible steps. Minnie and Roman
Castevet are a perfect pair of older New York characters. Sidney Blackmer's
deep, resonant voice is perfect for Roman Castevet. Every time he addresses
Rosemary the words take on an ominous tone of solicitous evil. Ruth Gordon
is a hoot as Minnie. I wouldn't drink anything concocted by her. Ralph
Bellamy makes a reassuring presence as Dr. Abe Sapirstein and Maurice Evans
provides Hutch with touches of thespian class.
Writer/director Roman Polanski mined the ordinary to
perfection with his first English language* horror classic Repulsion in
1965. Choosing Polanski to direct Rosemary's Baby was an inspiration by then
studio head Robert Evans. Horror schlockmeister William Castle was set to
direct the adaptation of the Ira Levin novel, but Evans recognized that a
different sensibility might make this project something special. Polanski
indeed has a different sensibility. He's a smart director. His choices seem
to make everything better in Rosemary's Baby. While the pace may seem
leisurely at times, the film moves forward with certain horror. The slightly
comic aspects of the Castevets layers a strange veil of horror over their
The score by Christopher Komeda laying what is
essentially a lullaby over the dark proceedings remains a hauntingly
memorable aspect of Rosemary's Baby. William Fraker's cinematography finds
shadows and angles that emphasize the action.
Source elements for Rosemary's Baby are relatively
clean. Some dirt speckles crop up here and there but are negligible. Cold
shooting style is exacerbated by slightly faded film stock. Color is good
with saturation limited by source. Grain is heavy is some long lens shots,
but otherwise delivered in tight patterns. The transfer is reasonably sharp
throughout. Details are easily picked out in the backgrounds. Shadow detail
is fine and blacks dark and rich. Mono sound is true enough to the original
material. Dialogue is clean, music.
A twenty-plus minute making of featurette from 1968 is
included and adds a nice retrospective dimension to the pleasure of the
film. There are retrospective interviews with Polanski, producer Robert
Evans and production designer Richard Sylbert
*Thanks to Paulo
Roberto Elias for correcting my errant reference to Repulsion as a
French film. The review body has been corrected according to the email that
"I read with great interest your quite interesting review
of Rosemary's Baby. There is however a mistake on your behalf and I quote:
"Writer/director Roman Polanski mined the ordinary to perfection with his
French horror classic Repulsion in 1965." Actually, Repulsion
was made in Britain. It wasn't exactly a horror film but it rather dealt
with a schizophrenic woman. Roman Polanski started in movies in his homeland
by doing Knife on Water. If memory serves he fled to England to do
Cul-de-Sac (one of my favourites), Repulsion and Dance of the
Vampires, later renamed as The Fearless Vampire Killers (another
one of his brilliant low budget films, which is missing on an decent DVD
edition). Rosemary's Baby was his first Hollywood film. At the time
it was released, it produced a certain degree of disappointment in most of
Polanski's fans and a few critics. The film however is very interesting, and
I fully agree with your well written review. Perhaps in later years
filmmaker Polanski wasn't the same, but I enjoyed Bitter Moon a lot.
I think this is one of his best moments. Not so good was Frantic, but
what the heck..."
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