Rosemary’s Baby – Review

Horror, Drama | 137 Min
Rosemary's Baby Cover
  • Release Date: 12 Jun, 1968
  • Director: Roman Polanski
  • Actors: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English
  • Parental Guidance: Female nudity, male nudity, scenes of sexual assault and rape, language
  • Writers: Roman Polanski
  • Horror, Drama | 137 Min

A young couple trying for a baby moves into an aging, ornate apartment building on Central Park West, where they find themselves surrounded by peculiar neighbors.

It’s Halloween 2022 and that can mean only one thing. We are on the final day of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature. I promised a classic for the 31st of October and the fact that I am reviewing Rosemary’s Baby is, probably, no surprise. One of the best horror movies of all time, people’s love for it has only grown with time.

Attempting to look at this movie through a modern lens is quite difficult. I have watched Rosemary’s Baby a number of times. It is something of a Halloween and Christmas staple here in the UK. Watching again for this review, it is impossible not to note some of the ways it has aged. Some of the scenes seem more ridiculous than scary nowadays. The slow pace and, let’s be honest, overacting in parts will likely be picked up on immediately by modern horror fans.

Rosemary’s Baby is, however, still a hugely important part of horror history. Taking into account the fact that it is over 50 years old. Rosemary’s Baby is partly responsible for many of the horror movies that came out in the subsequent years. The grotesque revelations about Roman Polanski absolutely bear mentioning and we will be discussing that. Despite this, it remains an absolute horror classic that deserves respect. Without further ado, let’s get on with the review. As always, I will give a quick spoiler free breakdown of the movie which you can skip if you like.

Halloween is Finally Here!

Halloween is finally upon us and we are on the last day of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature. As I have mentioned before, Knockout Horror is a relatively new site that I have only started properly working on recently. With this in mind, I don’t expect anyone to see these reviews until sometime in the future. Either way, I hope you have, or had, a wonderful Halloween, watched some great movies, played some spooky video games, and generally had a great time.

It’s been an interesting month with a collection of some of the best horror movies of all time. Of course, this is the first time I have reviewed a horror movie a day in October so this has been a good opportunity for me to catch up on some classic reviews. I will be doing this feature every year so expect next year’s to be a little different.

Highlights for me have been re-watching Dream Home and Noroi: The Curse, remembering how great The Loved Ones and The WNUF Halloween Special are and discovering movies like The Innocents. One of the biggest surprises is me feeling the need to include seven Found Footage horror movies. Who would have thought? We have been all over the world from Japan to Norway, Hong Kong to Australia, Ireland to Sweden and from the UK to the USA. As always, however, the best part of Halloween is chilling with your loved ones and just having a laugh. Thanks for joining me in this feature and Happy Halloween!

Rosemary’s Baby – Synopsis

Rosemary’s Baby starts with married couple Rosemary, played by Mia Farrow, and Guy, played by John Cassavetes, Woodhouse visiting an apartment in the Bramford building in New York. Guy is a struggling actor and the two plan on having a baby soon. Interested in potentially renting the property, the two are incredibly enthusiastic about the potential of the place. Apparently an old woman had recently passed away and many of her affects are still present in the apartment. The couple decide to proceed with the rental against the suggestion of their close friend Hutch, played by Maurice Evans, who warns them of the history of murder and witchcraft in the Bramford building.

Rosemary's Baby (1968) Review

Once the couple have finally moved in to the apartment, Rosemary is doing laundry in the basement. There she meets a young girl called Terry, played by Victoria Vetri, who tells her she is living with Minnie and Roman Castevet, played by Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer respectively. A former drug addict, Terry was taken in by the couple and lives with them in the apartment across from Rosemary’s. She shows Rosemary a good luck charm that they gave her. It is foul smelling apparently containing tannis root.

Later, Rosemary and Guy are returning from a night out only to find the police are outside of their building. Terry has been found dead having apparently committed suicide. The Castevet’s arrive and are shocked by the scene. Rosemary and Guy offer their condolences. The next day Minnie Castevet knocks on Rosemary’s apartment door. She wants to thank Rosemary for her kind words the day before. Inviting herself into the apartment, Minnie comments on how much it has changed. Though initially refusing, Rosemary eventually accepts an invitation to have dinner with the Castevet’s that night. The couple spend a few hours with the Castevets eating an overcooked steak dinner and drinking Vodka Blush cocktails.

An Eccentric Couple – Synopsis Cont.

Returning home, the couple laugh about how awful the meal was. Despite this, over time, Guy becomes closer and closer with the Castevets. Rosemary, finding them to be overbearing and meddling, is not as enthusiastic. Minnie comes over to Rosemary’s apartment one day and gives her the same tannis root filled good luck charm that she gave to Terry. Returning home, Guy encourages Rosemary to wear the charm.

The next day Guy receives a phone call informing him that an actor has lost his eye sight and they would like him to take the part. This is a high profile play and it would appear Guy’s acting career is turning around. Guy wants them to try for a baby and Rosemary agrees. Later on, the couple share a dinner together. Minnie knocks at the door prompting fear from Rosemary that Guy will let her in. He doesn’t but he does accept a pair of chocolate mousse deserts off of her. Bringing them in, he gives one to Rosemary who takes a spoonful and describes it as chalky. Telling her she is being ungrateful, Guy tells her to eat it. She takes a few spoonsful to pacify Guy before scraping the rest into a napkin.

Later that night, Rosemary collapses when walking back to the kitchen. Helping her into bed, Guy tells her to rest and that they can try for a baby another day. Rosemary seemingly dreams about being on a boat surrounded by the neighbours and Guy. All of a sudden she sees herself naked on a bed. She is tied down and notices the neighbours and Guy are naked around the bed. Rosemary lies there as what appears to be a demonic creature climbs on top of her. Rosemary is raped as everyone watches. It suddenly dawns on her that this is no dream, it is really happening. She wakes the next day confused about her supposed dream. Guy tells her that it was him having sex with her while she slept. It’s not long before Rosemary is pregnant and the horror really begins.

A Troubling Director

Troubling seems like an understatement when it comes to the director of Rosemary’s Baby Roman Polanski. Without getting too deep into the details. Polanski was charged in 1977 with the drugging and rape of a 13 year old girl. Accepting a plea deal, he plead guilty to a lesser charge of “unlawful sex with a minor” hoping for probation. When it became obvious that the judge was unlikely to offer probation and wanted to sentence Polanski to a custodial term, Polanski fled to Paris, France.

Rosemary's Baby (1968) Review

Polanski has been a fugitive from the US criminal justice system ever since and has, some how, managed to avoid extradition. If anyone was in any doubt to his culpability, many other women have come forward since making similar claims relating to when they were children. The fact that Polanski has been consistently defended by fellow directors, actors and politicians is something of an indictment against the people in positions of power in the US. This isn’t a huge surprise, however.

A Difficult Situation

Reviewing a movie like Rosemary’s Baby brings up controversial issues of separating art from the artist. It’s always difficult to address a subject like this. When it comes to movies, however, I think there is an argument to be made for the collaborative nature of film making. The director’s name is one of the most prominent but to make a movie takes dozens of people. It would be woefully unfair to dismiss a great movie because of the actions of a director. That would punish everyone involved from the lead actors to the marketing team right down to the people who make the tea.

This issue becomes a little more complicated when you look at the nature of a movie like Rosemary’s Baby. Rosemary is presented as a sub-servient woman unable to stop herself from being pushed around by her husband, ridiculed by doctors, and controlled by the people around her. She is drugged, manipulated, and even raped by her husband in a manner that she is, apparently, supposed to just accept as normal. When considered along side the troubling nature of Polanski’s crimes, it’s hard not to see some correlation.

It is worth keeping in mind, however, that Rosemary’s Baby is one of the more direct novel to movie translations. Polanski, at the time, was unaware that he had the freedom to improvise and utilise creative freedom when it came to the source material. Rosemary’s Baby was made as an almost step by step, by the numbers, movie version of the original book. The subject matter at hand here and the events that occur are the result of Ira Levin’s writing. They aren’t a reflection of Polanski and his specific, disgusting, proclivities. They are an unfortunate reflection of the misogyny of the time.

Legendary Psychological Horror

Rosemary’s Baby is a psychological horror movie focusing on a young woman’s growing suspicion of those around her. Moving fairly slowly, the movie features a plot that swings from moments of tension to periods of normality and back again. Rosemary presents as a submissive, almost child like, woman with a simple desire to raise a family and enjoy her life. Becoming increasingly controlled by an overly dominant husband. Over time, Rosemary becomes more and more isolated.

Featuring a cast of strange and eccentric people, Rosemary feels burdened by the neighbours and their friends. Guy, who seemingly agrees with her at first, becomes more and more friendly with this strange group of people. Just as his career begins to grow, he pushes away their typical group of friends and becomes more controlling of Rosemary. Ignorant and uncaring, he disregards his wife’s worries and demands she follow his orders.

We see events take place from the perspective of Rosemary herself. There are virtually no scenes that don’t focus on Rosemary. This helps the viewer to relate to her sense of fear and paranoia. We watch things unfold as she does and nearly all of the story exposition is revealed through her experiences. Surrounded by a group of people that dismiss her every concern, she is both isolated and scared.

An Original Story

Wildly original back in 1968, Rosemary’s Baby would go on to inspire generations of horror movie makers to come. Using events common in situations of abuse, the story plays on themes of religion and satanic panic common at the time. Foregoing blood and gore to, instead, build a sense of tension and paranoia in the viewer. Rosemary’s Baby is unsettling and delivers a sense of unease that keeps you on edge.

Set in New York, the movie was unusual for the sheer fact that it was set in the bustling city. Urban areas were not seen as scary environments capable of being a setting for a horror movie. Rural locations were far more fitting. The fact that Rosemary’s Baby takes place in such a crowded place actually adds to the horror. The sheer fact that there are so many people around but Rosemary is so isolated works impressively well.

Rosemary's Baby (1968) Review

Rosemary feels as though she has nobody to turn to. Cut off from her old friend group, she is, essentially, completely alone in one of the most populated cities in the world. Interestingly, this works as a fitting allegory for domestic abuse. It is impossible not to draw parallels between the story here and the situation many people are in all over the world. Whether this is deliberate or just reflective of the unfortunate attitudes of the time is another debate in itself. Either way, it is incredibly effective and it is impossible not to become invested in Rosemary’s predicament.

Creative and Compelling

Rosemary’s Baby was, essentially, responsible for laying the foundation for many horror movies that followed. Selected for preservation in the National Film Registry, it is difficult to overstate the movie’s importance to the horror genre. Regularly cited by many as one of the best horror movies of all time. Some of the creative techniques used have been imitated many times in subsequent years. Certain scenes from Rosemary’s Baby remain among the most iconic of all time. Rosemary’s unconscious, supposed hallucinations, for one, is instantly memorable.

It is a surprise, given the amount of time it has been out and how many movies it has inspired, that Rosemary’s Baby still manages to retain a feeling of uniqueness. There is still nothing quite like it and, though many have copied it, none have perfectly captured the compelling mix of horror, drama, and comedy that make it so different. Movies like Hereditary owe tremendous amounts to Rosemary’s Baby. It’s fair to say that many filmmakers would never have ventured into the horror genre had it not existed.

The fact that Rosemary’s Baby is still so well regarded today is, at least in part, due to the chances Polanski took when filming. Creative and unique shots frequently pay off and the way Rosemary’s paranoia and fear are portrayed on screen is incredibly effective. There is one scene, in particular, where Polanski actually sent Mia Farrow walking out into New York traffic convinced nobody would hit a pregnant woman. While a completely unnecessary risk, it is an effective scene that feels very authentic and represents a perfect summary of the chances taken when filming the movie. The gothic imagery of the New York architecture feels so fitting and only adds to the atmosphere of the film.

Excellent Acting

Acting throughout Rosemary’s Baby is excellent. All of the supporting cast are fantastic with Ruth Gordon, as Minnie Castevet, being of particular note. Her turn as the bothersome next door neighbour is absolutely brilliant and earned her a career revival playing feisty older women in a host of movies. She is a scene stealer for sure and provides constant laughs throughout. John Cassavetes as Guy is suitably smarmy and does a great job playing the controlling failed actor. It’s worth pointing out that Cassavetes went on to have an incredible directing career before his untimely death in 1989. Him and Polanski clashed frequently due to the latter’s rigid style of directing. It would be interesting to see what Cassavetes’ would have been able to do if given the freedom to improvise more.

Rosemary's Baby (1968) Review

The real star of the show, however, has to be Mia Farrow as Rosemary. Tasked with carrying the entire film, her performance develops as the movie goes on and becomes a real highlight. Starting things off with an almost childlike demeanour. As events unfold, Rosemary grows more suspicious and Farrow becomes more layered in her delivery. Farrow’s somewhat delicate appearance lends itself well to a number of scenes. Her diminutive stature also offers her a sense of vulnerability and adds more tension to the picture, as a whole.

Does It Hold Up?

Rosemary’s Baby, without question, feels its age. This is not to dismiss the movie as bad. It absolutely holds up as a fantastic horror movie and is completely worth a watch. It’s immediately obvious, however, that this is a movie from the 1960s. From the somewhat cheesy opening lullaby, sung by Mia Farrow herself, to later scenes that attempt to emphasise the tension of a situation with bizarrely placed music. Much of the movie feels extremely old. Farrows reactions are, at times, comically histrionic and there are parts where she talks to herself in a manner that seems quite odd by today’s standards. The final scenes of the movie stand out for having aged particularly poorly. A bizarre mix of comedy and horror, the ending twist is no less entertaining.

The more noticeable way that Rosemary’s Baby has aged, however, is in it’s depiction of marital relationships. Rosemary is utterly submissive to Guy and that was the way women were expected to be back then. Scenes where Guy discusses having sex with Rosemary when she was unconscious are, honestly, quite disturbing. Passed off as being something of a minor issue, it makes for uncomfortable viewing when looked at through a modern lens. Rosemary’s concerns being repeatedly dismissed appears as a plot point but it was actually a reality for women back then. We can only hope that things have changed, and will continue to change, as time goes on.

Is it a Knockout?

Rosemary's Baby is an all time classic horror. Inspiring generations of film makers for decades to come, it is still consistently cited as one of the best horror movies of all time. Based on the Ira Levin novel of a young pregnant woman becoming suspicious of the people around her. The compelling plot is carried by excellent performances from Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, and Ruth Gordon.

Directed by the talented but extremely controversial Polish director Roman Polanski, the movie has become somewhat tainted by the crimes of its creator. Not taking away from the entire cast and crew, however, it is still a fantastic movie that is well worth watching. Perhaps a bit too long at over 2 hours, its a slow paced story that can, at times, feel its age. That aside, the interesting story and well paced revelations keep things moving along nicely. One of the most important horror movies of all time, Rosemary's Baby is essential viewing for all horror fans.

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