I won’t forget the sudden chill I felt when Mia Farrow sees her baby and recoils. It is one of the great moments in the horror canon, a testament to the power of the human face in cinema. We never see the baby ourselves—nor should we—but her bulging eyes belong to the history.
So Rosemary’s Baby (1968) is one of my favorite horror movies, and probably one of yours, too, though it now seems much closer to 60s/70s paranoia thrillers than it does to today’s horror flicks. This also means Rosemary’s Baby faces the obstacle that all paranoia thrillers face: namely, we figure out what’s going on long before the hero(ine), and then have to wait for them to catch up. But that’s just the raw framework, and Rosemary’s Baby hangs on it a richly detailed story about a mild-mannered woman struggling for a voice when surrounded by people who want to use her.
Despite having two bona fide horror classics to his name, Roman Polanski wasn’t mainly a horror director, or necessarily a thriller director either. His recurring M.O. is trapping opposing/incompatible forces together in close quarters, and then having them fight for dominance. Over the years, this method lent itself to melodrama or dark, absurdist comedy as much as paranoid conspiracy.
Rosemary’s Baby has pretty much all of the above, so don’t miss how much weird humor it packs in, including having its villains be two senior citizens whose enthusiastic kindness and vulgar wardrobe only make them more sinister. Its great horror coups are turning pregnancy into the original “body horror” and turning a single apartment—home, where you should be safe—into a fresh minefield for claustrophobic fear.
The ending will continue to cause debates, I’m sure, and I’ve encountered more than one person who feels it doesn’t add up. But the horror that lingers after the film (as opposed to the very modest number of horrors in it) is the idea that agency might be snuffed out, and that accepting your role might be a fact of life.
Let your eyes widen.
Halloween Countdown is an annual, personal, and highly unoriginal tradition where I write fast, extemporaneous reviews of 20 prominent but random horror movies during the month of October.