by Evan J Peterson
Tuesday will be the second night of SHRIEK: A Women of Horror Film and Discussion Class at Scarecrow Video. This week, we’ll watch Rosemary’s Baby—one of the best psychological horror films ever made.
Stats on Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Body count: only 2 people
Nudity: Yes, male and female
Does it pass the Bechdel test: Yes, though it takes a while
Major protagonist: female
Villains/Antagonists: male and female
Major actors: Mia Farrow, Ruth Gordon, John Cassavetes, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy
Director: Roman Polanksi
Writers: Roman Polanksi (screenplay), Ira Levin (novel)
Does it stick to the book: practically identical
Rosemary’s Baby is incredibly well made horror, emphasizing growing fear and paranoia over gore or monsters. As the audience, we can see what’s going wrong around Rosemary from a bit of distance. However, everything happens through Rosemary’s perspective, and she knows as much as we do (other than spoilers).
Speaking of which—SPOILERS AHEAD.
This film started the genre of the evil pregnancy. Films like It’s Alive followed, and perhaps this trope even influenced Alien and The Omen. Evil children weren’t new in the horror genre (I highly recommend 1956’s The Bad Seed), but the idea of the malevolent pregnancy was something new.
Of course, Rosemary believes that her baby is actually a target for Satanic sacrifice. She must figure out how to escape her situation as she is isolated from friends and family and those closest to her turn on her. The psychological horror of the film hinges on this process—Rosemary knows there’s something very wrong inside of her as well as around her, and like many women in the horror genre, her fears are met with scoffs. The villains gaslight her, constantly telling her there’s something wrong with her mind.
Producer Robert Sylbert says that the film opens like a Doris Day movie. This sets up audience expectations that will be utterly foiled by the end. The villains are not cheesy, sinister, hand-rubbing criminals; they’re warm, charming, shrill, tacky, and evil to the bone. They’re some of the most sinister villains I’ve ever seen on film.
Even more effective is the use of body horror combined with psychological horror. While Rosemary’s paranoia grows, so does the horror that she has something awful growing inside of her.
Polanski’s screenplay is remarkable in that it’s nearly identical to the book, prompting the comment that Polanski may not have realized he could improvise. The novel’s author, Ira Levin, also wrote the thriller novels-turned-films The Stepford Wives (another of my favorite horror films focused on women), Sliver, and The Boys From Brazil (an evil-child romp if there ever was one).
Join us this Tuesday for SHRIEK: Rosemary’s Baby!
You can reserve your space in the class here.
Stay tuned for next week’s session on The Silence of the Lambs!
The SHRIEK community film class is designed to offer everybody an affordable, accessible way to learn about film and women’s studies while enjoying kick-ass heroines in some of the best horror films ever made. We hope to inspire more women to get involved in film making, especially in the horror genre, where women are severely underrepresented behind the camera.
Check the Scarecrow calendars for the Tuesday night horror flicks during October and November.
Evan J Peterson is a journalist, professor, 2015 Clarion West writer, Lambda Literary Award finalist, and author of Skin Job and The Midnight Channel.