Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse, a happy, thirty-something couple, move into a New York apartment building with a troubled history. Rosemary’s old friend Hutch fills her in on some of the building’s past notorieties, which include a pair of previous tenants who reportedly ate the flesh of children.
Rosemary makes quick friends with Terry, a street rat who was taken in by the Woodhouse’s new neighbors, an elderly couple named the Castevets. Terry beams about how well the Castevets have treated her and shows Rosemary a good luck charm the couple made for her. But the charm fails to deliver on its promise as the next night Guy and Rosemary, returning from a night out, push through a crowd to find Terry splattered on the concrete. Despite some misgivings, the police call it a suicide.
Poor Terry’s benefactor, Minnie Castevet, in turn begins dedicating her time to Rosemary and invites the Woodhouses over for dinner. Guy and Minnie’s husband Roman seem to hit it off, but Rosemary is leery about the eccentric old couple; a lapsed Catholic, she’s particularly offended when Roman begins bad-mouthing organized religion.
The more time he spends with the Castevets, the more distant and strange Guy becomes. But things seem to turn around when Guy finally wins a part he’d been struggling for after his main competition is suddenly and inexplicably struck blind. Within weeks Guy’s acting carreer has picked up steam, and he apologizes to Rosemary for his behavior, going so far as to suggest the two have a baby. Rosemary is ecstatic at the thought and the two have a romantic dinner. Minnie stops by to deliver a homemade pudding; Rosemary dislikes it but Guy is insistent that she eat it. Instead, she dumps it when he’s not looking.
Later that night, Rosemary has a bizarre nightmare wherein she’s raped by the devil. When she wakes up the next morning with painful scratch marks up and down her back, Guy apologizes, saying he was simply a bit too aggressive with her in bed the night before.
Rosemary eventually grows to suspect that her new neighbors are actually members of a witch coven, and that Guy has promised the coven their baby in exchange for them helping his acting career. Things go from bad to worse when Rosemary’s friend Hutch mysteriously falls into a coma. It seems everyone is out to get her, and Rosemary becomes increasingly terrified that the coven is going to get her baby…
…but to find out more, you’ll have to watch. And I heartily suggest that you do.
Adapted from the Ira Levin’s novel of the same name, Rosemary’s Baby is harrowing, suspenseful, claustrophobic bit of urban paranoia. Director Roman Polanski does a brilliant job of adapting the novel into a film, and he makes it work on many levels, adeptly toeing the line between reality and paranoid delusion; are her neighbors really a nefarious witch coven who want her baby, or is it all simply paranoia resulting from Rosemary’s strict Catholic upbringing?
In this day of teen actors populating mass marketed genre movies, it’s such a refreshing change of pace to see actual, veteran actors plying their trade. Mia Farrow is letter perfect as the painfully awkward and fragile Rosemary. John Cassavetes, legendary cult actor/screenwriter/director, is equally effective as Guy, and Ruth Gordon was so good as the flaky Minnie Castevet that her performance in the film landed her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar.
The fact that the movie plays largely on the notion of coincidence is oddly fitting, as the film itself plays into a series of real yet bizarre coincidences. For instance, did you know that the infamous satanist Anton Lavey was not only the film’s technical advisor, but he also played Satan himself in the dream rape scene? Or that a follower of Lavey’s was also a member of the Manson Cult, who in turn were responsible for the sadistic murder of Polanski’s pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, not more than a year later? Or that the building the Woodhouses move into is actually a notorious building in New York City called The Dakota, which years later would become better known as the sight of John Lennon’s murder at the hands of Mark David Chapman? And I’ll offer up a big, fat no-prize to anyone who knows what in-joke is being referenced early in the film when Terry responds to a comment from Rosemary with, “I get that a lot.”
While considered anti-horror by a great number of critics in its day, Rosemary’s Baby is nevertheless an intelligent horror film that no self-respecting genre fan should miss. And while he may currently be known for his ill-advised dalliances and legal issues, there was a time when director Roman Polanski’s name on a film was a sign of quality and artistry — two words which perfectly describe this, a truly classic horror film with almost nary a weakness to be found. Highly recommended.