Movie Review: Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Before The Exorcist, before The Omen, and before The Shining, there was Roman Polanski’s masterpiece of horror, Rosemary’s Baby.

This is such a simple story that would go on to inspire a chain of demon-themed movies stemming from its release in 1968 all the way until today. Polanski’s film tackled a subject very rarely discussed, and something that still gives people chills down their spine, and that is Satanism and the occult.

The Church of Satan was founded by Anton LaVey (who is rumored to have aided Polanski during filming) in the 1960’s, and many people were not familiar with Satanism. This film thrust the subject into the forefront of publicity, and created, virtually on its own, a separate genre of horror.

Mia Farrow plays the title character Rosemary, who has recently moved into an old apartment building with her actor-husband, Guy, played by John Cassavetes. The husband who aspires to be an actor has had a recent string of tough breaks, and he sees the chance at having a career in film going by the wayside, until they meet their next-door neighbors Minnie and Roman Castevet, played by Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer.

Not in the history of film has an actress been more suited for a role than Ruth Gordon was for this one. She was superb as the elderly, conniving neighbor, who sticks her nose into everyone’s business. Even as the film takes a much darker turn towards the middle, and even during the disturbing final scene, she stays the same way. Gordon would be rewarded for her efforts, when she received an Academy Award for best supporting actress.

So after the two couples meet, all of a sudden, Guy begins to get big breaks and lands himself a major role, taking over for the original actor who mysteriously went blind. The film then takes a dark turn, when Rosemary and Guy decide to have a baby, but she is drugged out of her senses, and is then impregnated by a demon-like figure, or at least that is what she sees in a dream.

From that moment on, the neighbors become more involved, and Rosemary digs deeper to discover that her husband may have made a pact with the couple next door, who she thinks are witches or devil worshipers. In return for his success, they would receive the newborn baby.

The film overall has a slow, deliberate pace to it, which adds to the tension as the characters are revealed to show their true place in the story. There were incredible performances all around, and the roles played by Ralph Bellamy as Doctor Sapirstein and Maurice Evans as Edward Hutchins deserve mentions to.

Do not watch this if you are looking to scream out of fright, or if you are looking for cheap thrills. Rosemary’s Baby contains none of that. But what you will find is what I consider to be Polanski’s finest work, and one that established what the horror genre should be about. My final rating will be an 8.5 out of 10, for an incredible screenplay and a very original concept, based on the book by Ira Levin of the same name.

As a side note, in 1976 there was a made-for-TV sequel to this called Look What Happened to Rosemary’s Baby. It is not available on DVD or even VHS and I personally know no one who has seen it, but after reading some reviews of it online, maybe that is a good thing. However, the film is loaded with some big-time stars, including Gordon who reprises her role as Minnie, Broderick Crawford, Patty Duke, and Ray Milland. As one critic noted, “It was an enormous waste of talent.” For those also interested in this genre, please view Polanski’s The Ninth Gate, which was released in 1999. Although it has a much different story line, it contains much of the same themes and is even more thrilling than this one.

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