BLIND SPOT REVIEW #1: Rosemary's Baby

Going back and seeing the movies I should have seen or always wanted to see, but missed.


How did it get to my "blind spot?"  To be honest, I'm not really a horror guy, so I've always avoided it and dismissed it.  I'm not a Mia Farrow fan either, which didn't help.

Why should it be seen?  Rosemary's Baby has gone on to become, in many eyes, a must-see old school horror classic, right there with The Exorcist and The Shining.  It's included right now on Netflix Instant Streaming, so you can catch up, just as I have.

Background:  Rosemary's Baby surrounds a naive pregnant woman named Rosemary (Mia Farrow) who's married to Guy Woodhouse, a struggling and self-centered actor (dutiful filmmaker John Cassavetes).  They have moved to the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City, taking over a deceased elderly woman's vintage flat in the Bramford, an old building with a highly-storied urban legend history.  They seem to be newlyweds hoping to start a family.  Their new apartment neighbors are a pair of meddlesome and smothering seniors, Roman and Minnie Castevet (Sidney Blackmer and Academy Award winner Ruth Gordon), that everyone seems to love, but clearly overstep their courtesy.

One night, Rosemary feels woozy after a romantic dinner, she passes out and dreams that she was raped by some mysterious presence, coupled with strange demonic imagery.  The next morning, Guy tells her it was him taking advantage of a fertile chance.  Soon enough, Rosemary is indeed pregnant and pressured to go to the high-end obstetrician Dr. Albert Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy) by the Castevets over Dr. Hill (Charles Grodin), her original doctor.  Meanwhile, Rosemary's months of pregnancy are marred by weight loss instead of weight gain, odd cravings, and weird circumstances that only get worse and creepier as the plot continues.  This is a true slow-boiler that silently screams of "something has gone terribly wrong."  That something ends up being Satan-worshipping witches seeking a child for human sacrifice.

Rosemary's Baby was first noteworthy as the film that put future Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski (The Pianist) on the map in 1968 as a director and writer.  He extended the success of this film with Macbeth and Chinatown, two more greats, in the six years that followed.  Mia Farrow, just a soap star (Peyton Place) and divorced wife of Frank Sinatra back then, was the small-time name cast in the lead and this film became her springboard as well.  At the time, it earned four Golden Globe nominations and two Academy Award nominations, winning just one Oscar (Best Supporting Actress for Ruth Gordon).  From a historical standpoint, Rosemary's Baby ranks 9th on the American Film Institute's "100 Years... 100 Thrills" list and sits on Rotten Tomatoes with 98% positive reviews.

Reaction:  FIVE STARS-- While it was likely called horror back in the day, Rosemary's Baby plays far closer to the tone of a psychological thriller.  Like the works of Hitchcock and other great directors of suspense that aren't up to their ears in blood and guts, there is a superb artistic restraint at work in this film.  Polanski knew the strength the comes from merely suggesting the worst and never showing it.  He wants you, the audience, to use your imagination and the film will make it spin like a Las Vegas slot machine.

The slow boiling plot escalation will probably strike some modern and immature audiences as boring compared to the instant gratification and frenzied shock-and-awe that permeates today's thrillers and horror movies.  To me, this is real suspense.  You can keep your manufactured scares, trumped up gore, and timed musical strikes.  Rosemary's Baby delivers a creepy and endlessly interesting vibe that is pitch perfect.

The film goes on to hooks you visually with great angular, first-person, and close-up cinematography and camera shots from William Faker (Bullitt, Tombstone) and a subtle score from Krzysztof Komeda.  The ambiance created by those elements combine well with the claustrophobic vintage apartment occupied by the Woodhouse's.  While Gordon may have won the Oscar, this was truly Farrow's showcase.  She absolutely sells the growing hysteria her character is up against.  Cassavetes is equally excellent beside her, but it's Mia Farrow who really takes the material to another level.

Overall, between the solid performances and expertly constructed weight of the powerful plot, I can see why Rosemary's Baby is an often-imitated classic.  One modern movie during my generation that springs to mind is Taylor Hackford's The Devil's Advocate from 1997 starring Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves, and Charlize Theron.  While Pacino steals the show and Hackford dials up the theatrics way beyond Polanski, I now see where Theron gets her inspiration.  I regret not seeing and appreciating Rosemary's Baby sooner.

LESSON #1: DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE WITH APARTMENT SEARCHING OR HOUSE HUNTING-- Potential renters and home-buyers should really do their homework on any potential residence.  Look into its shady or not-so-savory history.  "Buyer beware" is never out-front.  It's always in the small print.  If it hints at trouble, let alone a history of satanic activity, maybe you should see the next place.

LESSON #2: KEEP A GUARDED TRUST WHEN IT COMES TO NEIGHBORS-- Everyone wants to live in a place that is placid, accommodating, and pleasant, after all, it's supposed to be "home."  The trouble is, unless you live in a remote rural area, you are likely going to have to share some of that territory with some neighbors, especially in a big city like New York.  You don't know them and they don't know you.  For all you know, behind the pineapple upside-down cake they delivered and the cup of sugar they borrowed, they are a coven of Satan-worshiping witches.  Be friendly, but keep your guard up.

LESSON #3: NO TWO PREGNANCIES ARE ALIKE-- This is for all the mothers and expectant mothers our there.  As a new father to a nearly six-month old infant myself and hearing all of the female chatter between my wife and a zillion other sources spread between books, medical experts, so-called experts, fellow mothers, and friends, I have come to the same conclusion that Rosemary learns: no two pregnancies are alike.  They are each unique to the mother, the surroundings, and the type of kid growing inside.  Just imagine the new book What to Expect When You're Expecting the Devil's Spawn.  

LESSON #4: ACCEPTING ONE'S FATE VERSUS BEING A VICTIM OF IT-- I'm going to do my best not to spoil the movie and its fourth quarter twists with this lesson.  To say it loosely, some trials and tribulations that come with life's many cycles, like marriage, moving to a new home, career advancement, or starting a family, have their challenges that make people a victim of their fate more than a controller of it.  It's a big step of assurance and confidence when you defeat the stress of being a victim of your fate and chose to accept it as what it is.  If that sounds vague, hang around until the twisted end of Rosemary's Baby and get back to me.