Being a mother is not easy. I should know: my own mother tells me so every day. Imagine now being the mother of the Son of the Devil! Wonder what kind of gift the literal Spawn of Satan gives for Mother's Day? Rosemary's Baby, for me, is a bit like the original Dracula. It isn't 'scary' in that I was frightened. However, it was highly atmospheric, creepy, and more suspense than pure gore.
Newlyweds Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) have recently moved into the Bradford Apartments in New York City. Guy is a struggling actor best known for making automotive commercials, while Rosemary is content to stay at home. They try to find their place as a couple in their new apartment, with the idea of children in the future.
Into their lives come their elderly neighbors, Roman and Minnie Castavet (Sydney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon respectively). They appear doting to the new couple, especially as they have taken in Terry (Angela Dorian), about the only person close to Rosemary's age and the closest thing to a friend she has at the Bradford. Terry had a trouble life which ended in what appears to be a suicide, shocking everyone. Perhaps out of a need to be motherly, Minnie in particular informally adopts Rosemary as her own, giving her a charm for good luck and offering constant advise about how to have a child. Guy, to Rosemary's surprise, seems taken by the Castavets despite being old enough to be their grandson, and Rosemary can't figure out why he would want to spend time with both them and their odd circle of seniors rather than people closer to their own age.
After taking some, but not all, of some special ice cream the Castavets whipped up (Rosemary finding them now overbearing) she is in a half-dream half-real state, one where she is unsure of what she is actually seeing: the group of elderly people and guy surrounding her, with everyone (Rosemary included) naked while Guy meekly watches on. At one point, one of the neighbors, Laura-Louise (Patsy Kelly, in one of her final film roles), tells Minnie that Rosemary is conscious, an idea Minnie dismisses. However, it appears to be true, as Rosemary screams out, "This is really happening", but not much to do as a strange red-eyed horned creature appears to be thrusting himself in her.
Guy's career appears to be taking off, especially after a rather fortuitous accident blinded another actor in a freak accident. However, Rosemary doesn't give much thought to this apart from it being a tragedy for the other actor, as her desire to be a mother comes true. However, instead of gaining weight she appears to be losing it, and the Woodhouse's old friend Hutch (Maurice Evans) suspects something is wrong, especially with her OB/GYN Dr. Saperstein (Ralph Bellamy), a legendary doctor who happens to be an old friend of the Castavets. Her age-appropriate friends insist something is wrong, and after a struggle Rosemary begins to suspect something is wildly wrong.
Apart from not gaining weight, the daily drink Minnie makes appears to be making things worse, Dr. Saperstein is constantly dismissive of any kind of modern treatments, and Hutch's bizarre death all rattle her. Eventually though, she gets wise to things: there is a conspiracy against her, with just about everyone she meets involved in occult activities. Virtually held hostage at the birth, she is being drugged to keep her from seeing her child. Eventually, she fakes taking her medication and goes to see her baby, to see a horrifying sight. WE don't see Rosemary's Baby, but she does, and she is horrified at its eyes.
The baby the group named "Adrian" has his father's eyes. His father is Satan.
HAIL SATAN! the coven shouts. Guy has literally sold his soul to the Devil for success, and Rosemary is beyond horrified. However, Ronnie gently guides her over to her child, whispering that she should be a mother to Adrian. Rosemary accepts her fate as the Devil's Mother.
Again, it isn't that Rosemary's Baby is graphic. In fact, it's quite restrained. This is the genius of child rapist/fugitive Roman Polanski's double duty as writer/director. The horror comes not from what we see, but what we imagine. Polanski allows the situation to build up slowly, and it isn't until the end we get full confirmation that Rosemary has indeed been drugged by a Satanic cult and raped by Satan. Before all that, especially in the psychedelic rape scene, we could plausibly say that this was all in Rosemary's head, that she was indeed imagining things.
However, when she looks upon her child in a black-laced cradle, we know that her insane ideas were all true. That is the true horror within Rosemary's Baby: not so much that the Child of Lucifer is with us (a perverse take on Christ's birth by a virgin), but that this unfortunate soul, with no spiritual recourse, now has this conflict within her. She is a mother, but she is also the mother of the most evil thing in the universe.
Farrow does one of her best performances. We see her evolution as someone who lives almost vicariously through Guy (she never fails to tout his many acting accomplishments, almost as if they were her own) to someone who struggles to get under the thumb of the old people to the sad acceptance of her fate.
Perhaps this is why my mom, when I mentioned that I was going to watch Rosemary's Baby, told me she thought it was a sad movie. She didn't say 'scary', she didn't say 'horror', but she said 'sad'.
Cassavetes, who would go on to be a successful and respected director, showed that he was also a very skilled actor. His role is more difficult I think than that of Farrow, because he has to show Guy's eventual weakening to where he partakes (but as far as I know, doesn't actually join) in this Satanic coven. He has to do with without us seeing the corruption of Guy, and he does it so well, a credit to both him and child rapist/fugitive Polanski.
Ruth Gordon, at age 72, won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Minnie, the seemingly nice old lady who was really anything but. What is great about Gordon is that she never really intrudes or pushes herself on screen. Instead, we see again, slowly, how Minnie in particular wormed her way into the Woodhouse family.
One aspect that should have been nominated and wasn't was Christopher Komeda's eerie and off-kilter score. The music, like much of Rosemary's Baby, was used sparingly, but highly effectively throughout the movie. In fact, there isn't a great deal of music in Rosemary's Baby, giving it an almost documentary-type feel. However, all the elements come together to make a truly effective psychological thriller.
If you notice, you'll see producer William Castle, known for his B-pictures, has a cameo as the guy at the phone booth, a cigar prominently featured. While Castle would probably had directed a different kind of film than Polanski, he at least was shrewd enough to know a good property when he saw it.
Rosemary's Baby is not a film that will make you jump. It isn't really scary in terms of what you see. The real scary aspect of it comes from what you don't see. In terms of pure horror, of what you think you see, Rosemary's Baby is an effective, efficient film.
However, I do agree with Mom in this case too...it is a sad movie.