Filmsite Movie Review
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
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Background

Rosemary's Baby (1968) is Polish director Roman Polanski's first American feature film and his second, scary horror film - following his first disturbing film in English titled Repulsion (1965) - about a mentally-unstable, sexually-terrified woman (Catherine Deneuve) left alone in her apartment. Three Polanski films served as a trilogy (of sorts) about the horrors of apartment-dwelling: Repulsion (1965), Rosemary's Baby (1968), and The Tenant (1976).

Polanski served as the scriptwriter and based the darkly atmospheric film upon Ira Levin's best-selling novel of the same name. [Levin also wrote another horror tale about voyeurism in a Manhattan apartment building that inspired the film Sliver (1993), starring Sharon Stone, and he wrote a terrifying sequel to the original film titled Son of Rosemary (1997), but it has not been made into a film yet.] The film was produced by Paramount Studios and veteran, low-budget horror film maker William Castle, best known for gimmicky, cheesy films such as Mr. Sardonicus (1961), Homicidal (1961), House on Haunted Hill (1958), Macabre (1958), and The Tingler (1959).

The creepy, eerie gothic film is about a young newlywed couple who move into a large, rambling old apartment building in Central Park West, and begin a loving, post-honeymoon period. They become friendly with the eccentric next-door neighbors, an overly-solicitous and intrusive elderly couple (members of a coven), and soon the husband's acting career turns promising. But after a nightmarish dream of making love to a Beast, the paranoid, haunted, and hysterical woman believes herself impregnated so that her baby can be used in the New Yorkers' evil cult rituals. [Polanski deliberately presented the film with enough ambiguity so that the viewer is never quite certain whether Rosemary's experiences are truly supernatural or just fabricated, imaginative hallucinations.] The creepy film ends with the devil's flesh-and-blood baby being cared for by the mother! The incredible irony of the film was that the plot would be similarly played out a year later - Polanski's pregnant actress/wife Sharon Tate would be terrorized and murdered by the strange cult of Charles Manson followers in her Benedict Canyon home.

The big-budget horror film received two Academy Award nominations: one for Polanski's Best Adapted Screenplay, and Ruth Gordon won the Best Supporting Actress award for her performance as one of the well-meaning, 'normal' NYC neighbors. Quite a few of the smaller supporting roles were played by venerable actors, such as Ralph Bellamy (as Rosemary's Dr. Abraham Sapirstein), Sidney Blackmer (as Roman Castevet), Elisha Cook, Jr. (as apartment manager Mr. Nicklas), and Tony Curtis (phone voice).

It has been said that the film, concerned with the presence of evil surrounding us in the alienated, every-day, mundane city environment, inspired and was partly imitated by one of the greatest horror films of all time - The Exorcist (1973), and numerous other films about demonic children and impregnation including It's Alive (1974), the TV movie The Stranger Within (1974), The Omen (1976) and Demon Seed (1977). This critically-acclaimed and commercially successful film was followed by an inferior, made-for-TV movie sequel in 1976 entitled Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby, aka Rosemary's Baby II, with Ruth Gordon reprising her role as Minnie Castevet.

The Story


The mood of the film is first established by a long, leisurely (almost predatory), panning and gliding shot from right to left across the urban landscape of New York City (including portions of Manhattan and Central Park), accompanied by a female voice [uncredited Mia Farrow] monotonously singing a sad lullaby tune with the words: "la-la-la-la-..." Suddenly during the credits (with letters scripted in bright pink), the camera moves downward, changes direction, and tracks backward over the protrusions and arched windows atop Victorian apartment building rooftops. [The camera settles on the entrance-way to the famous Dakota on Manhattan's Upper West Side, where John Lennon was assassinated. The apartment building serves as another horror film character, with its dark hallways and creepy environment.]

From a bird's-eye-view, the camera watches two tiny figures enter an archway - the West 72nd Street entrance to the apartments, where they are ushered into 'the Bramford' by Mr. Nicklas (Elisha Cook, Jr.). The young, newly-married 60's couple is apartment-hunting:

To Mr. Nicklas' question: "Are you a doctor?", Guy answers affirmatively, while Rosemary establishes details of her husband's real profession and his previous acting credits in two plays -- both significant: "He was in Luther and Nobody Loves an Albatross and a lot of television plays and commercials." [Guy is struggling and feeling unrecognized as an actor, similar to the role an albatross plays.] She also divulges that they "plan" to have children. After riding up the elevator into the gloomy yet elegant and spacious Central Park West building, they see signs of wear and tear - chipped floor tiles and unpainted plaster on the wall in the hallway of the 7th floor.

The camera glides along with them as they are shown the now-vacant, gothic apartment (7E) of the elderly, 89 year-old Mrs. Gardenia who passed away a few days earlier: "She'd been in a coma for weeks...She was very old and passed away without ever waking. I'd be grateful to go that way myself when the time comes." There are signs of the deceased tenant's gardening interest in herbs, and cryptic writings of hers read: "I can no longer associate myself... (unfinished)." Oddly enough, black curtains hang by the living room's window and a tall, heavy wooden secretary blocks a closet in the hall. After the tour, Rosemary convinces her husband that they should lease the large, fashionable apartment although it is expensive.

During a dinner invitation with their friend Edward "Hutch" Hutchins (Maurice Evans), he warns them of the apartment building's notorious, sordid and unsavory reputation for witchcraft and cannibalism over 50 years earlier -- (and provides some of the film's foreshadowing of what a prospective mother would fear - underlined):

Are you aware that the Bramford had a rather unpleasant reputation around the turn of the century? It's where the Trench sisters conducted their little dietary experiments. And Keith Kennedy held his parties. Adrian Marcato lived there too...The Trench sisters were two proper Victorian ladies - they cooked and ate several young children including a niece...Adrian Marcato practiced witchcraft. He made quite a splash in the 90s by announcing that he'd conjured up the living devil. Apparently, people believed him so they attacked and nearly killed him in the lobby of the Bramford...Later, the Keith Kennedy business began and by the 20s, the house was half empty...World War II filled the house up again...They called it Black Bramford...This house has a high incidence of unpleasant happenings. In '59, a dead infant was found wrapped in newspaper in the basement...

Rosemary and Guy begin moving into the apartment and unpacking a few of their possessions. Through the wall, they hear their neighbor speaking to her husband Roman: "Bring me out some root beer when you come." While eating take-out in one of the nearly-vacant rooms one evening, Rosemary proposes: "Hey, let's make love." After they both undress and begin kissing, Guy jokes morbidly and interrupts their romantic mood: "I think I hear the Trench sisters chewing." To brighten up their new abode, the interior of the apartment is painted, decorative wallpaper is hung, and new carpet is laid. While hanging new curtains, Rosemary views one of Guy's TV commercials - the camera follows her as she adoringly sits in front of the tube and watches his role as an interested customer at a Yamaha dealership. The ad ends with an explosion of white zooming out from the screen's center toward Rosemary.

While Rosemary is in the basement's laundry room on her first visit there, she meets one of the other tenants - Terry Gionoffrio (Victoria Vetri who is credited in the film as Angela Dorian - her moniker as a Playboy Playmate model in September 1967 and as Playboy's 1968 Playmate of the Year). Momentarily, Rosemary thinks that Terry resembles a famous nude model/actress (in one of the film's in-jokes):

I'm sorry. I-I-I thought you were Victoria Vetri, the actress.

Vetri quips that she often gets mistaken for Victoria, but she "doesn't see the resemblance." Terry is rooming with the Castevets on the 7th floor, hence, one of Rosemary's immediate neighbors. The basement is a fearful place for them - "it gives me the creeps" according to Rosemary. To provide protection, Terry displays her mysterious, smelly and noxious "good-luck charm" [filled with tannis root] given her by Mrs. Castevet. After Rosemary bends down to smell the locket, Terry describes her admiration for the "wonderful," childless couple that took her in as their ward:

They picked me up off the sidewalk, literally...I was starving and on dope and doing a lot of other things. They're childless though. I'm like the daughter they never had. At first, I thought they wanted me for some kind of a sex thing but they turned out to be like real grandparents...I'd be dead now if it wasn't for them. That's an absolute fact. Dead or in jail.

One evening, the Woodhouses hear weird chanting through the flowery, wall-papered wall of their bedroom, and then when returning home another night, they confront a bloody, unexpected scene outside their apartment building - Terry has suicidally jumped from a window to her gruesome death on the street. Out of the darkness stride the two elderly neighbors, Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer) in a red, pin-striped dinner jacket with red bowtie and a grotesquely-dressed Minnie (Ruth Gordon). According to Roman, Terry's death was inevitable since she was "deeply depressed every three weeks or so." The Woodhouses meet their neighbors in the adjoining apartment. [The Satanists' first chosen maternal vehicle to bear a child - the ill-fated Terry - proved unsuitable, so they either killed her or placed a spell on her to commit suicide. She might have become "deeply depressed" after learning her fate - that she would bear the Devil's child.]

That night, Rosemary suffers hallucinatory nightmares of her Catholic school upbringing and frightening visions of the accident. A few days later, the busybody, garrulous and eccentric neighbor Minnie, with her hair up in an odd, white polka-dotted scarf, pays a visit. When Rosemary spies her over-solicitous neighbor through the peep-hole (in a ludicrously distorted fish-eye view) and then opens the door, she literally invites in more than she ever anticipated. The young bride tells her intrusive guest that she has a nursery planned and "hope(s) to be" pregnant as soon as they're settled. The bright, freshly-painted apartment startles Minnie, and she nosily asks the price of one of the living room chairs. She later badgers Rosemary into accepting an invitation for her and Guy to join them for supper that evening.

Guy dejectedly returns home for lunch after being passed over in a Broadway audition for an acting part, and reluctantly agrees to attend the Castevet's dinner engagement with Rosemary.


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