Rosemary's Baby (1968)
By: Trist Jones on June 6, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Paramount (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0 Mono, French DD 2.0 Mono, Italian DD 2.0 Mono, Spanis DD 2.0 Mono. English, Spanish, French, Italian, Greek, Hebrew, Croatian, Portuguese, Slovenian Subtitles. 131 minutes
The Movie
Director: Roman Polanski
Starring: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon,
Sidney Blackmore, Ralph Bellamy, Charles Grodin
Screenplay: Roman Polanski
Country: USA
Rosemary's Baby was the progenitor. Before The Omen, before The Exorcist, there was Rosemary's Baby. Rosemary's Baby came out in 1968, which, when I first saw the film, took me genuinely by surprise. The film was far beyond its peers at that time, and in spite of the fashion sensibilities, I thought this film actually came about just prior to or around the release of The Exorcist, simply because it didn't feel at all like a film of that vintage. Visually, stylistically and thematically, there wasn't really all that much around at that time in particular that dealt with horror the way Rosemary's Baby did.

Based on the Ira Levin novel of the same name, Mia Farrow stars as the titular Rosemary, who, along with husband Guy (John Cassavetes), move into their first apartment together in New York City. It's all like a dream come true for the couple, great place, great people, but as things slowly unravel, Rosemary descends into a deep state of paranoia, fearing that the building's Satanic past may have come full circle around her and focused its attention on her yet to be born child.

The film certainly isn't your conventional horror film, and tonally different to other occult horror heavyweights such as The Omen (which is the closest to Rosemary's Baby in terms of story elements and themes) and The Exorcist, but while this may come across initially as being rather jarring, the film's progression makes way for an extremely gratifying downward spiral into what becomes easily one of the best psychological horror experiences on film. What starts out looking like a Doris Day film ends with one of the most quietly disturbing finales the genre has ever put forward.

The film is nowhere near as timeless as The Exorcist, and probably dated worse than the original Omen, but that said, the film's actual construction is well and truly ahead of it's own time though there are elements, predominantly the performances, that make Rosemary's Baby show it's age. Word was that Roman Polanski stayed incredibly faithful to the novel itself and this may have been the only (and it's debatable as to whether this really is) detrimental factor to the whole production. Large amounts of dialogue are fairly unrealistic, you find yourself sitting there thinking "Who speaks like that?!", but it's one of those instances where the dialogue would have looked great on paper and probably read fine in the novel. It may also have something to do with Mia Farrow's performance and Polanski's insistence on using obvious, slightly over the top characters.

Mia Farrow, though captivating throughout the whole piece, plays the part of Rosemary as though caught in a constant state of dreaming. Farrows airy performance early on in the piece paves the way for a very effective descent into delusional paranoia, and her innocence in the role leads to a number of "Oh no" moments throughout (though featured more prominently in the latter half). She really shines in a scene set inside a phone booth. Cassavetes is great as the struggling New York actor, and pulls off some of the subtleties extremely well. When Guy pulls away from Rosemary after feeling the baby kicking, you can tell exactly what's going through his head, and his performance throughout the film is perfect. The Castavets are also a genuinely sinister presence in spite of their external appearances and characterisations.

The film plays out fairly predictably for the most part. I doubt too many people expect the film to be so light in tone early on, but once the ball starts rolling it's fairly easy to see where certain events are leading. There are a number of surprising moments that keep you guessing, and as with all films like this, it's always fun trying to guess who's who and how their character is connected.

Technically the film is as proficient as any. Polanski manages to balance out the execution of particular shots, perfectly balancing the surreal with the mundane. The surrealistic nature of Rosemary's dream sequence sticks out like a gaping wound, but it works so perfectly amidst the unnerving quiet of the shots surrounding it. The progressive use of handheld camera techniques help heighten the sense of paranoia and tension, creating some truly effective (albeit some of them brief) moments throughout the film. It's also interesting to note that in the early stages of the film, the handheld evokes a much more loving, happy couple, home movie feel, but in an undetectable manner becomes something far more sinister.

The score, while sparse is really effective, and strangely juxtaposes what you're seeing on screen. There are moments where the score sounds like improvisational jazz, which one normally wouldn't associate with a horror film score, but it works so well. The same can be said about the rest of the score which ranges from the romantic, grand, sweeping orchestrals to drawn out violins that call Bernarrd Herman's Psycho score to mind.
This may have been the first thing that made me think the film was made later than it was. For a Sixties film, the print is really, really clean. So many colour films from the Sixties tend to have either over saturated or under saturated colour, but Rosemary's Baby is perfectly balanced. The print is also surprisingly clean for a film nearly forty years old. There are only a couple of shots where grain or dirt is evident, the rest is as clean as anyone could hope for. The film is also presented in 1.85:1 (the original aspect ratio is actually 1.66:1) and is 16x9 enhanced.
Again, surprisingly crisp. Not completely clean, suffering a little bit of that 'sixties/seventies hiss', but certainly not damaged or detrimental to the audio track itself. The only true unfortunate here is that it's a simple mono track.
Extra Features
While the DVD is fairly light going in terms of extras, what you do get is certainly interesting viewing. There is a sixteen minute featurette revealing a series of retrospective interviews with Roman Polanski, Robert Evans (the producer) and Richard Sylbert (the production designer), which talks about pretty much everything that went into the making of the film, along with the main talking points of the feature itself. There are also some tidbits of trivia scattered throughout, particularly regarding the cast itself – Jack Nicholson was actually in line to play Guy, but for all his talents, Polanski deemed him too sinister in appearance. This particular extra seems to have been put together in a similar vein as the retrospective on the abysmal Don't Look Now.

There's also a making of documentary entitled Mia and Roman, that was recorded largely on set using what appears to be an 8mm camera, and featuring narration by Roman Polanski and Mia Farrow. It's an interesting watch for the budding film maker, but the nature of the narration (particularly Farrow's) is a little dry and ambling for those simply interested in the film.

Other than that, no trailers, no galleries or commentaries are offered.
The Verdict
Rosemary's Baby truly is a classic piece of occult psychological horror. Ardent horror fanatics can hopefully see the necessity for the lighter parts of the films of the film, because the ultimate payoff is unrivalled. There have been some imitations over the past, the most prominent being the underrated Astronaut's Wife, which is virtually a remake, but is still worth watching at least once. Still neither that, nor any others can match the final sequence of this film. Mia Farrow, say what you want about her, but in the last moments of this film, she really does give probably the best performance of her life. Splatterhounds can look the other way, because there's no gore or violence to be found anywhere in the film (notice how all the most effective occult horror films manage to avoid all that?), but if you consider yourself a true fan of the genre, you really have to see this film. The only unfortunate thing here is the lack of extras on the DVD, but horror fans should be used to that by now and you can actually pick this up for around eight bucks these days, so it's well and truly worth the money. Perfect film, not so perfect disc (but definitely the right price).
Movie Score
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