Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 19, 2023)
Back in 1991, Tower Records ran a movie trivia contest packed with a long roster of obscure questions. These days the Internet would allow me to find the desired details, but back then the task required lots of serious research.
Since the reward seemed terrific - a big-screen TV and a top-of-the-line laserdisc player - and since I had little else to do during the summer before grad school started, I jumped into this activity with zeal. One of the questions related to a famous horror movie that used Beethoven's "Für Elise" as a motif.
From the phrasing of the query, I thought it was likely 1968’s Rosemary's Baby acted as the answer. To be sure, I rented the movie and watched it.
Yes, it was the one in question - there's one correct answer! Unfortunately, I either slipped up along the way or lost a tie-breaker to someone else, because I didn't get the grand prize. Well, it was fun to play movie detective for a while anyway.
I wish I could relate that I liked Rosemary's Baby in 1991 as well, but I found the experience dull at best so I didn't understand the enduring appeal of the film. However, since I know my opinions aren't written in stone, I decided to give Baby another shot.
With additional examination, I changed my mind about Rosemary's Baby. While I'm not sure it deserves its status as a horror classic, I thought it was a pretty solid little film, as director Roman Polanski creates a creepy and unnerving atmosphere in which this quiet but effective psychological thriller thrives.
Young married couple Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy (John Cassavetes) Woodhouse move into a Manhattan apartment house with a sinister history. Soon after they arrive, some nasty events occur but things generally seem good.
The Woodhouses make friends with the Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer) Castevet, the nosy old couple next door, and Rosemary finds that she's pregnant with her first child. Things don’t stay quite so rosy for Rosemary, however, as she experiences a great deal of pain during her pregnancy.
Complications ensue, and she slowly becomes suspicious of a variety of circumstances. These continue through and beyond the delivery of her child.
And that's all I'll say, as it's best to leave the events of Baby undiscussed. Actually, I'm not sure how surprising the plots twists and turns may be, but I sure wouldn't want them spelled out to me in advance. While the movie works mainly due to its execution, the uncertainty in its story contributes as well.
Polanski had the sense to build the tension slowly and quietly. Perhaps I didn't like Baby in 1991 because it's not a slam-bang horror movie.
Its chills seem more subtle, without any big "scare" moments. In the long run, however, I think it's an effective model.
The flick's insidious nature sticks with you after the film ends. It's one of those pictures that can be hard to dispel from your head.
In addition to Polanski's effective pacing, Baby works due to some strong performances. I've never much liked Farrow but she provides a nice turn as Rosemary.
The character goes through a wide variety of moods and changes throughout the film, and Farrow achieves these effortlessly. In fact, she develops the role so seamlessly that I didn't really recognize these changes until the film ended. Rosemary becomes a very different person by the conclusion but Farrow makes the transition clean and smooth.
The supporting actors also provide sterling work with no weak links. Gordon earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as Minnie, but all of the others are equally good, so it’s a quality group.
Speaking of actors, Baby contains one cute inside joke. Early in the film, Rosemary meets fellow tenant Terry, played by Angela Dorian. Rosemary states that Terry looks like actress Victoria Vetri, but Terry protests that she doesn't see the resemblance.
The gag? Dorian is Victoria Vetri. "Angela Dorian" was another name that she used for some films and for her appearance as a Playboy Playmate in 1967.
My only significant complaint about Rosemary's Baby relates to the ending. Although the filmmakers apparently think it’s vague - as they mention in the supplements - I disagree.
I feel the finale spells out far too much and tells us more than we need to know. As such, the movie loses some of its impact through this too-graphic conclusion.
Despite that flaw, I like Rosemary's Baby. I don't think it's a brilliant film, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do and does so with flair and strong craftsmanship.
Baby set the table for later pictures like The Exorcist and The Omen. It belongs among the better films of that genre.