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Monday, October 15, 2012

Rosemary's Baby

I’ll be the first one to admit that I like scary movies, but I am definitely not a fan of scary movies that use a lot of blood, gore, and body parts exploding every ten minutes.

Granted, there are some exceptions.  I loved both versions of “Dawn of the Dead”, and I eventually grew to like and appreciate last week’s topic “Pet Semetary” (despite the fact that it took me almost a decade to summon up enough courage to watch it the whole way through).  And, if the film has a decent enough plotline in which the gory scenes make absolute sense and aren’t just thrown in for shock value, then I am all for it.

The “Scream” series managed to do this well.  “Friday the 13th” started off strong, but got silly towards the end.  And, I don’t even want to discuss “Saw”, “Final Destination”, or any other movies with the words “Saw” or “Final Destination” in the titles, because I will not be diplomatic.

I may be a rare breed here, but I find that the best scary movies are the ones that don’t have to rely heavily on gore to make an impact.  One of the main reasons why I loved Alfred Hitchcock movies so much was because of the fact that he used very little gore in his films (well, aside from the shower scene in “Psycho”), and instead made some of the best psychological thrillers in the history of cinema.

I think a lot of it also has to do with the calibre of acting skills that the people demonstrate in the films that can make or break it.  The reason why I tend to shun some of the most recent horror/thriller films made (within the last ten years or so) is because the acting is so over-the-top that I dismiss them more as tragic comedies rather than scary thrillers.  I’m not saying that everyone in the film has to have training at Julliard or have won an Academy Award, but at the very least make the performance believable.

Today’s blog entry will be focusing on a film that is definitely classified as a horror film, and it certainly made audiences flock to the box office with the expectation of being scared.  When it opened up in theatres on June 12, 1968, the film made close to $34 million (which doesn’t sound like a whole lot until you realize that the totals were based on what the prices were back in 1968).  But unlike some of the current horror flicks that are showcased at the box office, this film did not use a whole lot of gore to make its point, yet it still remains one of the scariest films ever made.

The film ended up making “Peyton Place” star Mia Farrow even more famous, and it was one of the last films Roman Polanski directed before the tragic slaying of his wife Sharon Tate at the hands of Charles Manson and his followers. 

That movie, of course, is “Rosemary’s Baby”, the 1968 psychological horror film adaptation of Ira Levin’s 1967 bestselling novel, which in turn was based on the publicity that surrounded the Church of Satan of Anton LaVey, which had been founded a year before that.  The film earned quite a few accolades from critics at the time, and if you log on the website “Rotten Tomatoes”, you’ll likely find the film ranks within the 90-100% range on any given day.  It was nominated for several awards, and just take a look at some of the big awards that the film ended up winning.

1 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (Ruth Gordon)

1 Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress (Ruth Gordon)

2 David di Donatello Awards for Best Foreign Actress (Mia Farrow), and Best Foreign Director (Roman Polanksi)

1 French Syndicate of Cinema Critics Award for Best Foreign Film

2 Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Sidney Blackmer) and Best Supporting Actress (Ruth Gordon)

(Wow...Ruth Gordon really hit the ball out of the park with her performance, didn’t she?)

Anyway, aside from Mia Farrow, Ruth Gordon, and Sidney Blackmer, the film also starred John Cassavetes, Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy, Victoria Vetri, and Charles Grodin. 

The movie begins as young, married couple Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse (Farrow and Cassavetes) move into a 19th century apartment building in New York City known as the Bramford.  They are immediately welcomed with open arms by their elderly neighbours, Minnie and Roman Castevet (Gordon and Blackmer), who appear quite harmless in spite of their quirks.  Guy is instantly drawn to the elderly couple, and Rosemary also treated them kindly, even though she was a bit guarded towards them.

While Guy goes out in the city to try and land acting jobs, Rosemary stays at home to become a housewife, and one particular day, she meets a young woman in the laundry room named Terry Gionoffrio (Vetri) who sings the praises of the Castevets.  She looked to the Castevets as surrogate grandparents who helped her get off the streets, and who helped her overcome a drug addiction.  Rosemary is drawn to a pendant that Terry is wearing, and remarked on the beauty of it, despite its strange smell.  But the pendant is Terry’s prized possession, as it was given to her by the Castevets.

One night, Rosemary and Guy are both stunned to hear all sorts of commotion going on down on the street, and even more shocked to learn that Terry committed suicide, throwing herself out the seventh story window of the Castevet apartment.  Minnie and Roman are absolutely devastated by Terry’s death, and they are obviously very shaken, but Rosemary comforts both of them by telling them what Terry told her.

A few days after Terry’s death, Rosemary and Guy are invited to the Castevet apartment by Minnie for dinner.  Although Rosemary is reluctant to go at first, the couple decide to attend anyway, where Minnie gives Rosemary Terry’s pendant for her to wear.  Minnie explains that the strange smell is caused by the plant root inside the pendant, “tannis root”, and that the pendant would be a good luck charm for Rosemary.  Rosemary is still a bit hesitant of the couple, but accepts the gift in good will.

Things start happening to the Woodhouses shortly after that dinner.  Guy ends up getting a break in a play after the lead actor who originally had the part loses his vision in a rather bizarre way.  And, Guy sees this as a sign that he and Rosemary should try for the child that they have always wanted to have together.  Rosemary agrees, and on the night that the couple plan to conceive their child, Minnie ends up bringing over a chocolate mousse dessert for both of them.  But unfortunately for Rosemary, her dessert has a bit of a strange aftertaste, and she can only stomach a few mouthfuls of it before deciding that she can’t stand eating another bite.

That night, Rosemary ends up having a rather frightening and horrible dream where she is surrounded by a bunch of naked people (all tenants of the apartment building, including the Castevets) who stand around and watch as she is repeatedly attacked by a demonic presence.  It is a scene so shocking that I can’t post it on here,  but take my word for it, it’s probably one of the most disturbing scenes in the whole movie.  It’s so disturbing for Rosemary that at some point, she exclaims that she is no longer in a dream and that it is really happening.  She wakes up with scratches all over her body, and she is wondering what happened.  Guy tells Rosemary that when he saw that she was unconscious (from the dream), he was disappointed because he really wanted to conceive a child with her that night, so he made love to her while she was out cold.

What a prince, huh?

Sure enough, Rosemary discovers that she is pregnant shortly after that horrible event...the due date being in June of 1966...or...6/66.  The symbolism is just oozing out of this picture, isn’t it?  And, within the first few months of the pregnancy, Rosemary seems to exhibit some rather...odd symptoms.  She actually loses weight instead of gains it, her skin becomes increasingly pale, and her favourite food craving happens to be raw meat!  On top of all that, she doesn’t even get to go to the doctor that she wanted to go to during the pregnancy, with the Castevets insisting that Rosemary have monthly check-ups with a doctor they have recommended, one Dr. Abraham Sapirstein (Bellamy).

Rosemary’s friend Hutch (Evans) notices the negative changes that have happened as a result of her pregnancy and he is incredibly disturbed to hear that Rosemary is drinking a cocktail that is enriched with tannis root.  He tries to do some research on the root so he can warn Rosemary, but just before he can he develops a strange illness and falls into a coma.  He briefly comes out of the coma long enough to tell a doctor that he left a book about witchcraft on his desk, and that he wants Rosemary to have it before passing away.  One of Hutch’s friends makes sure that Rosemary gets the book at his funeral, and when Rosemary examines it, she finds a message in Hutch’s handwriting that reads the following.  “The name is an anagram”.

And, that’s where I plan to end this look back at Rosemary’s Baby, because if I go any further, I’ll spoil the surprise ending.  And we wouldn’t want that, would we?

Instead, here’s a bit of trivia surrounding the making of this film.

-          Initially, the role of Rosemary Woodhouse was intended for Tuesday Weld or Sharon Tate to play.

-          Patty Duke was also briefly considered for the role of Rosemary, but was instead given the role in the 1976 made for television sequel “Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby”.

-          Mia Farrow was married to Frank Sinatra at the time she accepted the role of Rosemary.  It would be this role that would later be the catalyst to the marriage breaking up, with Sinatra filing for divorce while Mia was filming the movie, even having somebody serve her the papers while she was filming a pivotal scene for the film!

-          Robert Redford and Jack Nicholson were both considered for the role of Guy Woodhouse.

-          You know the scene in the movie where Rosemary calls the newly blind actor whose part Guy took over in that play?  The voice belonged to Tony Curtis!  In fact, Mia Farrow was not informed of who the voice would be reading the lines of the actor in order for Polanski to get a more genuine reaction from Mia.

-          In the opening scenes of “Rosemary’s Baby”, Rosemary’s long hair was actually a wig that was fashioned by Sydney Ghilaroff.  When the wig was removed, it revealed the incredibly short Vidal Sassoon cut that made headlines after Farrow chopped off her signature long locks during filming of “Peyton Place”.

-          Ruth Gordon was the only actress to reprise her role in the 1976 sequel.

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