In the 1960s, Hollywood was undergoing a major change. From the 1930s up until the late 1950s/early 1960s, movies were strictly regulated in terms of their content. A new Hollywood was now forming and the regulations were not so strong. Enter Roman Polanski’s horror masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby, a deep exploration of psychological dread mixed with dark occultist magic. It’s an excellent combination that is executed perfectly, and couldn’t have been made under the much more strict guidelines of classic Hollywood.
Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy (John Cassavetes) are a young married couple in search of a new place to live. They finally find comfort in the Bramford, an old New York City apartment building with a strange, dark history. Rosemary and Guy soon become friends with the elderly couple living next door, Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer), who are both eccentric and incredibly friendly. When Rosemary learns that she is pregnant, Minnie and Roman seem very excited, but Guy never really wants to think about it. As time goes on, and the due date for the baby becomes closer and closer, Rosemary begins to become paranoid about everyone around her while dealing with incredible pain from her abdomen and strange concoctions given to her by Minnie and Roman, whom Rosemary now believes are witches. All of this may be a deeply Satanic plot or just a deeply personal problem for Rosemary.
Much like Polanski’s earlier work, Repulsion, this film puts horror in the worst place you could ever have it. In the comfort of your own home. I have place set aside in my heart for films that bring the horror to you, in a sense, like the first Paranormal Activity and The Strangers. What Rosemary’s Baby does differently than these movies is add the plot point of an unborn child into the mix to create some deeply rooted chances to explore psychological dysfunction, but I’ll talk more about that later. Rosemary is never really safe in this movie, and that’s part of where the paranoia and the fear comes from, but Polanski makes sure that this never gets out of hand.
What makes this film so successful is Polanski’s deft maneuvering of a plot that at times appears to be stuck in the mud, but is never really stopping. The pacing is slow and makes the audience wait a long time to really understand what is actually going on. That combined with the fact that even we don’t full know if Rosemary is in the right state of mind or if this is actually all a big occult plot against her. We spend a good deal of the movie questioning what’s going on around Rosemary and try to piece together all of the evidence that makes sense and the rest that doesn’t make sense. It’s a great way to construct a plot.
So the style and the plot are both really good, and the final thing that makes Rosemary’s Baby the horror classic that it is are the performances. Mia Farrow begins as an innocent housewife into a woman who is completely in shambles, both mentally and physically. John Cassavetes brings his traditional realistic, and almost improvisational, acting style which gives his performance a believability that you don’t always get from movies before this time. Finally, Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer are perfect at playing the old people next door, but bring a disquieting element of distrust that makes for exceptional antagonists.
This video is from Bravo’s countdown of the 100 Scariest Movie Moments. They perfectly summarize everything that makes Rosemary’s Baby as great as it is.
So, if you haven’t already guessed, I firmly believe Rosemary’s Baby is one of the greatest horror movies to ever grace planet earth. It’s pacing and feeling of constant dread and paranoia is very effective and really makes the viewer question what is going on. It’s almost a cliche to say “you never know what’s real and what isn’t” in terms of movies. That may be so, but it is the truth when it comes to this film. If you haven’t seen this, you’re missing out on an essential piece of film history that may even keep you up a little bit tonight when you’re doors are locked and you think you’re safe…