Hey there everybody! I haven’t done one of these in a while, but I figured that since tomorrow is Halloween that I should check out a classic horror novel/movie pairing and do a Film Library about it. The only problem being that I’m still doing the DLM Challenge and thus needed to find a classic horror movie, based on a book, that I hadn’t seen before. My own weird issues with the Exorcist kept that one from being chosen, so I decided to do something a little different. I’m not sure if this novel/movie are really considered horror so much as thrillers, but I decided to finally check out the devil-worshiping weirdness of Rosemary’s Baby. And here we go! Hail Satan!
I’ll say right off the bat; I’m not typically a horror guy. I really love the classic horror novels, like Dracula, and I suppose Frankenstein, and I do tend to be a big fan of Stephen King, but other than that my usual interest in horror is pretty low. I think that’s because I’ve always had a pretty over-active imagination, and have been able to build much more from a novel than it was intending. I know as a kid when I was reading Jurassic Park my mind found much more terrifying scenarios involving dinosaurs than Michael Crichton seemed to be able to. So I usually need something really interesting to get me to check out some horror. And Rosemary’s Baby is one of those stories that seemed to take horror in a different light. And that’s mainly because the novel took its source of horror from the idea of parenthood. I’ve heard about the movie, and the weird real-life stories that surround it, but I hadn’t known much about the novel, so I went in pretty blind, and was fairly impressed.
The novel follows a young couple living in New York named Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse. Guy is a struggling actor and Rosemary (being that it’s the early sixties) is his dutiful wife. The novel opens with the pair buying an apartment in a big gloomy apartment complex called the Bramford that has a fairly shady reputation. An aging novelist named Hutch that’s friends with Rosemary tells them all about the dark deeds that have happened in the building, including the occupation of a man named Adrian Marcato who was a devil-worshipper who claimed to summon Satan. The couple ignore those ominous warnings though, and get to work living their life. Guy starts trying to audition while Rosemary gets their apartment decorated, meeting a woman in the laundry room and making friends. However shortly after meeting the woman, they come home to find that she’s committed suicide. Which isn’t a reassuring event.
And things take a weird turn when the elderly couple that the woman were living with, Minnie and Roman Castevet, end up inflicting themselves up the Woodhouse’s. The Castevet’s are very odd and eccentric, and Rosemary doesn’t really intend on spending much time with them, but after a couple nights where Guy stays up to talk with Roman, he begins to become obsessed with them. And right around that time things start changing in their lives. A rival of Guy’s goes blind out of the blue, giving Guy his big break, and he announces that he wants to start having a baby with Rosemary. And he shows that ambition by essentially raping Rosemary one night when she passes out, seemingly from too much alcohol. She had a series of insane nightmares that night, but doesn’t think much of it, especially when she learns that she’s pregnant.
Things then start to get weird. Guy keeps insisting on hanging out with the Castevet’s and a motley crew of other old people in the apartment, to the point that they begin influencing almost every aspect of their lives. The Castevet’s begin spending all of their time with the Woodhouse’s and they even set up Rosemary with a weird OB/GYN who gives her strange orders. And the pregnancy doesn’t seem to be agreeing with Rosemary. She’s wracked with pain almost constantly and doesn’t seem to be gaining any weight, all of which starts to concern her about her new OB/GYN’s true motives, and why Guy is so deadset on following all of the Castevet’s decisions. And it just gets weirder from there, because after a conversation with Hutch, where he meets Roman, Hutch starts investigating. And while he suddenly falls into a deep coma, he does get a message to Rosemary, and a book about witches. She begins investigating the book, and eventually realizes what Hutch was trying to tell her. That Roman Castevet is actually the son of Adrian Marcato, and that he’s probably a devil-worshiper who wants to steal her baby and use it for nefarious purposes. Thus begins Rosemary’s slow descent into madness and she starts to question everyone around her, terrified that everyone in her life has been lying to her in order to give her unborn child to the devil. And after a lot of running around, hiding from people, and trying to solve the mystery she suddenly gives birth in her apartment. But when she wakes up after the birth she’s told that the baby didn’t live and that it was all a misunderstanding. Well, that is until she realizes that there’s a baby crying somewhere in the complex. She then breaks in to the Castevet’s apartment, and find that a) they have her baby, b) the baby is the son of Satan, c) they want it to conquer the world, and d) they want her to still be the mother of it. And, after a bit of a mental breakdown, the novel ends with Rosemary considering it.
So that’s Rosemary’s Baby. I enjoyed the book. I really wasn’t expecting the novel to hit me on such a visceral level, and I can only assume that as I get older and my wife and I start trying to have children it’ll get that much more affecting. Because the horror doesn’t really come from the Devil in this story. No, that stuff wasn’t frightening to me. Nor really were the malevolent elderly people that were hiding in the shadows. Honestly, I wasn’t even that creeped out by the idea of the husband manipulating the wife and doing something so evil. The thing that really affected me about this story is the idea of something happening to your child. Rosemary becomes convinced that people are after her child, and there’s nothing she can do about it, and the novel does a good job at showing how shattering that that would be. For a while I was kind of fascinated by the idea that the novel would end without there actually being any Devil shenanigans, and that it would end up just being Rosemary being insane, but regardless of how supernatural the novel actually did end, the visceral horror that comes along with your child being stolen from your is enough to make this a fascinating read.
Whenever I write one of these posts, I usually watch the movie first, and then read the novel so that I can make notes on the differences. And there comes a point when reading the novel that I start to kick myself on the decision to pick this pair of stories, because it becomes evident that the stories are virtually identical. I much prefer books that were adapted in theme or name only, rather than the direct adaptation because there’s often not much to talk about when discussing whichever story I write up second. And this is maybe the greatest example of this conundrum that I’ve encountered so far on this site. Because, despite your feelings toward Roman Polanski and your own personal abilities to separate the art from the artist, you have to hand it to him. He adapted the novel pretty much spot on. There’s basically nothing different between the Ira Levin novel and this film. They even primarily use the exact same dialogue from the novel in this film. Which probably makes sense, since the film came out a year after the book. It was clearly fast-tracked, and pushed out as fast as they could to capitalize on the success of the novel.
But if there’s not much I can describe in this article about the plot of the film, I guess I’ll have to talk about some of the other aspects of the film. Primarily that it’s wonderfully crafted. Now, I know that people have serious issues with the films of Roman Polanski, and ten to discredit them or decide that they’re going to ignore them since they’re the films of a child rapist. And while I can’t argue that Roman Polanski isn’t a scumbag, I can say that labeling his movies unwatchable because he directed them is doing a serious disservice to everyone else involved in the production. Polanski is credited as the director and screenwriter of the film, but as you begin learning more and more about the process of film-making, you know that that doesn’t mean he’s entirely responsible for the end result. Countless other behind-the-scenes workers and a score of actors are also responsible for creating this film, and choosing to just ignore the film seems wrong to me. Separating the art from the artist is one of those things, like watching movies in their own historical context, that really helps you appreciate stories more, and I think it’s integral to appreciating films like Rosemary’s Baby for what they are. Great films.
Rosemary’s Baby is an expertly created film. It’s filled with a masterful amount of dread that just has every frame dripping with a slowly growing existential horror. From the eerie singing that makes up the score to the wonderfully disturbing exterior of the Dakota apartment building we just can’t escape how other-worldly and menacing this film is. All of the acting in this film is spot on, and I adore the idea of taking an army of charming old character actors and having them be the unassuming geriatrics that make up the coven. The sets in the film are wonderful, making you forget that about 95% of this film takes place inside the walls of the inescapable Bramford apartment complex. And all of these aspect come together to create a true classic film, one that manages to be frightening and tense, despite how insane things get by the end of the film.
You may be thinking that this is going to be a hard one for me to decide on. Usually when I find a novel and a film that are so similar like this film, I generally can’t decide which one is better. I usually just cop out and say that they’re both good, and that you shouldn’t experience them too close together since their similarity will diminish whichever you experience second. And, yeah, do that. But, surprisingly, I do have a decision on which one was better. And it’s the film. That may seem odd, since they’re so similar, but I legitimately had a better time with the film than the novel, while enjoying both quite a bit, and I think that it mainly came down to decisions they made to enhance the story that Ira Levine wrote.
I mentioned earlier that the film used quite a bit of the dialogue from the novel, but there’s one thing that the film didn’t use. The inner monologues. The film is from the point of view of Rosemary, and mostly takes place in her head. Which does give us some great moments in the novel, where she’s questioning her sanity and is becoming increasingly paranoid, but there are some other issues. Now, it could be because Ira Levin was a man in the sixties, but his characterization of a woman was less than stellar. She was frequently a hysterical mess who was constantly blaming herself for her marital woes and worrying about how she was going to take care of Guy’s every whim. And taking that out from the film was a big step up for me. The film also was a little less obsessed with religion. I couldn’t quite tell from the novel what Ira Levin’s thoughts on religion was, but there was a lot of complaining about how little people in the sixties were caring about religion, and how not caring about God was leading to rampant devil-worship. The movie did have Rosemary look at the famous “Is God Dead?” Time cover, but the book had a whole spiel about it, hammering in the point. And that got a little grating.
But aside from that, the film just visualized the story so much better, to me. They somehow created Rosemary’s insane dreams that she has throughout the novel in a way that made them work, and as I mentioned earlier, I love the casting of all the elderly people. They just came across so much more lovable and kind in the film, which makes the eventual twist better. Plus, the movie wisely didn’t feature a lot of the Devil baby at the end, which was a great call. I didn’t need to see a baby with horns and a tail like the book had. I still think the story could have been even better if there actually was no cult, and Rosemary was just cracking, but the film actualized the cult reveal in a more visceral and affecting manner than the novel. So, overall I would still recommend that you check out both stories, but I would say that if you want to experience the best version of this story, check out the movie. Get past the issues and baggage that come along with a Roman Polanski movie and check out an extremely affecting, creepy, and tense horror film.
Rosemary’s Baby was written by Ira Levin, 1967
Rosemary’s Baby was written and directed by Roman Polanski and released by Paramount Pictures, 1968.
Categories: Film Library
Never read the book, but your post and other things I’ve read make it sound like I probably don’t have to. It’s interesting that the book gives you the option of thinking she’s insane but the film makes it clear she’s not – all of the other characters’ patronizing dialogue carries a lot more weight when you know it’s blatantly untrue. I think you’re right about the film being better off without an interior monologue from Rosemary, and like you I doubt it would have been very flattering given the era it was written.
And I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with appreciating Polanski’s work while finding him personally despicable (thankfully this and Chinatown are pre-1977).
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Yeah, there are interesting aspects to the novel, but for the most part it’s pretty useless. The film does just about everything the novel does, and does it better, so it’s not super necessary.
And it’s certainly hard to appreciate Polanksi’s films, or films from Woody Allen for that matter, but I do feel that if you just dismiss them you’re missing some interesting stories, regardless of where they came from.