‘Rosemary’s Baby’: Raped by The Shadow

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In celebration of the 50th Anniversaries of our favorite  diabolical novel and film, we offer our Occult-Horror-geek purport on the abiding myth of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.

208d03584a685e2121942f28478d2a72Note: This article is one of our studied opinions and interpretations of the novel and closely adapted film version of Rosemary’s Baby. We make no claims or assumptions that the original author, Ira Levin, had the ideas presented below in mind when creating this story; far from. The perspective offered here is that gleaned from our knowledge of comparative religion and mythology and some archetypal psychology. Our occult musings and psychological reflections constellating about these deep and thorny subjects are entirely our own. It is by no means the ultimate interpretation. H.B.G.

Author Ira Levin said in an afterward to the 2003 New American Library edition of his  novel Rosemary’s Baby: “Lately I’ve had a new worry. The success of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ inspired “Exorcists” and “Omens” and lots of et ceteras. Two generations of youngsters have grown to adulthood watching depictions of Satan as a living reality. Here’s what I worry about now: If I hadn’t pursued an idea for a suspense novel almost forty years ago, would there be quite as many religious fundamentalists around today?”

Ira Levin’s worry is a valid one. Has his highly acclaimed (and fiercely excoriated) novel of contemporary Diabolism indeed help motivate a surge in religious fundamentalism since it’s publication as a best seller and release as a hit film? Moreover, as it has often been observed that “life imitates art,” there must be some recognition paid to Rosemary’s Baby (and it’s many imitators) for it’s influence on the modern occult revival. Why the diabolical hangover which has inspired numerous reiterations in popular film and literature? Why has Rosemary’s Baby had such a long lasting cultural effect?

Some of this is due to it’s timely “Age of Aquarius” appearance just prior to the Summer of Love (1967 novel), and it’s delivery as an Oscar worthy film (1968) just after it. See: ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ Turns 50 ! on this perspective.rosemarysbabyfirstedition

It is our studied opinion that the great and lasting success of Rosemary’s Baby, as novel and closely-adapted film, comes from the simple fact that it is mythic. Archetypal. It arises from, and touches upon, the deepest layers of Western religious consciousness and spiritual experience. It not only follows threads of ancient patterns of Western spiritual consciousness as exhibited in classical mythic motif – i.e.: Fear of Witchcraft, the Faustian pact with the Devil, the semi-divine child who is secreted away somewhere,  the rejected monster child – but it also successfully encapsulates, quite simply and very believably, the ontological polarity within the Western religious Hebrew-Christian paradigm: Good vs. Evil; and then deftly turns that very concept on it’s head. See: Sympathy for the Devil: The Sublime Satanism of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ on this last perspective.

Furthermore, as a fairy tale very much of it’s time, Rosemary’s Baby brings us face-to-face with a few thousand years of patriarchal Judeo-Christian cultural oppression and  repression of physical human sexual impulses which have long been projected into the Shadow (in the Jungian sense), or “Dark Side” within the human psyche – the suppressed dark drives and creative passions of our lives. The story reflects American society’s  cultural shift towards an awakening to greater sexual freedom.

Let’s see how Ira Levin, probably unconsciously, helped unlatch the hidden closet door at the back of our minds – leading to the dark shadow side reflection of proper, day-to-day,  morally upright consciousness.

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The Devil got much of his character from Pan. (Google Image search attempts to credit this image only leads us to rants about steroids. Sorry. That right thigh though… could, at least in part, be interpreted as a megaphallic image).

The Resurrection of Pan

The Judeo-Christian Devil has been so conflated with various ancient pagan gods that they have become nearly identical in Western consciousness. In psychological terms, many centuries of zealous demonization of (and frenzied fig leaf adding to) the pagan roots of Western culture by puritanical Christians has forced these archetypes to become suppressed within our collective psyche, evidenced by C.G.Jung’s famous saying that the gods have become our diseases.

The image of The Devil of popular imagination is a complex amalgam of ancient pre-Christian gods and daemons, but is borrowed largely from the Greek untamed god of wild nature – the horned, hooved and ithyphallic Pan. Now, the myth of the birth or origin of Pan is part of an ancient recurring mythic motif of the lost, hidden or abandoned, child. This archetype was revived later in the Romantic period which saw a huge revival of Pan, especially in England, with the publication of Peter Pan: and his tribe of “Lost Boys” dressed in animal skins and living in a wild Neverland – a stand-in for Pan’s native heathen Arcadia and his band of merry, hairy satyrs.

“…the myth of the birth or origin of Pan is part of an ancient mythic motif of the lost, hidden or abandoned, child.”

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“What have you done to it?! What have you done to it’s eyes?!” we can imagine her screaming! Image: D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths.

Rosemary’s Baby is a modern reversal of the Christmas nativity story”

While Rosemary’s Baby is a modern reversal of the Christmas nativity story (we find in Rosemary’s Baby Album ((IraLevin.org)) that one original idea for a title was All Is Calm, All Is Bright), the myth of the lost child or the monster child has ancient roots (Zeus, Apollo, Hermes, Dionysus were all hidden as babes. The Minotaur is a perfect example of a monster child). According to ancient myths the god Pan was rejected by his wood nymph mother because of his frightful goatish appearance and uncanny laughter (“What have you done to it?! What have you done to it’s eyes?!” we can imagine her screaming). Besides baby Pan’s hooves and horns, the eyes of the goat (as well as cats and frogs – all associated with witchcraft) are notorious for their uncanny appearance. This trait derives from Pan’s father, the trickster god Hermes (Mercury) who oversaw all forms of trade and commerce, especially that of animal husbandry. Hermes is the patron of herdsmen and always has his eyes upon their interests, which is to say their flocks (as for Pan, a reinterpretation of “He has his father’s eyes.”). Moreover, this Mercurial aspect relates to the Faustian pact, or deal, struck between Rosemary’s satanic neighbors and her  husband Guy, who will do anything to achieve success as an actor, including deceiving his wife and pimping her out to Satan in order to serve his own interests. This reminds us of Hermes’ famous legendary exploits at deception.rgeyes

“…the myth of the monster child has ancient roots.”

Myth tells us the strange babe Pan, upon being rejected and abandoned by his mother, was rescued by his fleet-footed father Hermes,  bundled in a white hare’s skin (associated with fertility, the moon and Venus – indicating some of his attributes), and spirited away to Mt. Olympus where all the gods delighted in him – especially Dionysius (Bacchus), god of wine and religious ecstasy, with whom Pan is often closely connected. The crude and salacious nature of the young he-goat is partly concealed within the gentle appearance of a snowy white hare, much as the young couple’s innocent plan to make a baby conceals an insidious diabolical plot. The abandoned babe Pan, however, is universally accepted by lofty,  omniscient Olympian consciousness – for it is there that his divinity is recognized: the animal nature of human impulse, instinct and sexuality is revered as an essential and sacred component of life, nature and human existence itself by the divine powers. And as we know from the final scene in Rosemary’s Baby, the monster child is hidden away from the mother, and it is accepted – not only by the supernatural, mysterious and powerful coven overseen by Roman and Minnie Castevet – but later by Rosemary herself in a reversal of the expected attitude of horror which is surpassed by gracious and tender mother love, giving this dark tale a significant contemporary twist. See: Sympathy for the Devil: The Sublime Satanism of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

Rosemary’s “Dream” as a visitation by Pan, the Incubus

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Pan is the archetype of the incubus, the bringer of erotic nightmares.

Pan, from whose name we get  our word “panic,” is the god of the wild, shepherds, flocks, hunters and herdsmen; and his solitary, often melancholic, and “rough and ready” nature exhibits this. Pan was considered the instigator of panic, fear, terror, mental disturbances and the bringer of nightmares, prophetic dreams, oracles and possession. He belongs in consciousness as  the original archetype of the incubus. He is the sender of  erotic nightmares. His wild, instinctual sexuality is his most prominent characteristic (beyond the obvious physical signs), and it constellates about masturbation, beastiality, and the pursuit and rape of nymphs and handsome young goatherds. Pan is nature in all it’s fierce and unrelenting natural urge to merge, to couple, to unite.

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A Panic Nightmare Daemon/Incubus appears in The Cell, (2000), a film which explores the reality of dream consciousness.

But Pan is unlucky in love: he never marries (no wedding band on this old he-goat!), and he is always left longing for those just out of reach (Echo, Syrinx, Selene). His divinity is a solitary existence apart from the Olympian gods. He is also the original misunderstood and lonely musician. His music is said to stir the soul of man, beast and god. Pan dwells in the wild, unpopulated areas: where the lonely goatherd plays his pipes and contemplates his erection.

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The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli, 1781, depicts an Incubus squatting upon a troubled dreamer. The Night Mare intrudes from the shadows at left.

When Rosemary’s wedding ring is removed by her husband just before the rape scene we are being told that we are crossing outside the boundaries of morally accepted Apollonian consciousness. A law is being transgressed. Like an inverted cross, it indicates a reversal of what is considered acceptable. The Abyss is traversed as Rosemary, the good but lapsed and doubting Catholic, passes from her sunny, white and yellow apartment (egg colors: fertility), through the secret passage at the back of the closet, where hidden things are secreted or suppressed: remember old Mrs Gardenia’s big heavy furniture used to blockade the hall closet early in the story? Rosemary passes into the shadowy, Dionysian, chthonic and infernal world of the Castevet’s; the “Nightside” of dreaming and erotic nightmare consciousness, where nude witches cast spells and demons dwell. Indeed, Rosemary is young American consciousness with doubts about  organized religion who, after getting caught up in the herbally enhanced spirit of the 1960’s (“Tannis anyone?”), discovers the spiritual archetypal world of gods and monsters.

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pdvd_003As the devilish dream begins with the removal of her wedding ring, it ends with Rosemary being offered a ring (as worn by the pope himself to kiss), a ring in the form of the silver pendant given to her by the Castevets (silver is the metal of lunar consciousness and witchcraft). The marriage vow is broken and a new sacrament is presented to Rosemary for this Panic marriage – bringing us, ring-like, full circle, just as Rosemary’s journey through her diabolical pregnancy comes full circle like the pitted, full moon-like orb of the evil smelling charm which mirrors the full-moon like belly of the puerperal mother: the fulfillment of the Castevet coven’s greatest aim and achievement.Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 7.26.48 PM

A Panic Marriage

On the morning after the “nightmare,” (remember Pan-morphed-into-the-Christian-Devil is an instigator of nightmares and the primal icon of the Incubus) Rosemary awakes feeling pretty awful and complaining of her nightmare of being raped by “someone inhuman.” She discovers scratches all over her body. Guy admits to “doing it” to her while she was unconscious as he didn’t want to miss “baby night,” and  admits to having drank a bit too much himself  (laying the blame on ecstatic Dionysius). Rosemary is not only the victim of rape but also the victim of a mysterious nightmare brought on intentionally through witchcraft via Minnie Castevet’s “chocolate mouse” – an important reference to the Dionysian cultural experience exhibited in the bourgening experimentation with psychedelic drugs which undoubtedly evoked visionary and spiritual revelations  during the 1960’s counter culture movement. This natural narcotic aspect is present as the evil-smelling Tannis Root, and is subtly hinted in the dream in the film by a greenish vapor veiling Rosemary’s face just before she looks up into the eyes of the Devil raping her. “Pharmakeia”, being the Ancient Greek reference for “witchcraft” or “sorcery”, reveals it’s connection to herbalism, veneficium and psychoactive plants as used in magic and ritual.

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Pan and a Maenad

In myths, human women are often visited or seduced by Gods in various guises, and such unions often result in the birth of semi-divine heroes… or monsters; Zeus is notorious for his philandering exploits with mortal women. Rosemary, in an inversion of the Annunciation and Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary by The Holy Spirit, is the victim of witchcraft, and rape – called by some Ancient Greek writers a “Panic marriage,” in reference to Pan.  Rosemary rather weakly complains of this non-concensual coupling to her husband but she remains submissive to her circumstances. However, there is no denying there has been a penetration by the inhuman, the beastial-divine, and that a tremendous upheaval within her has taken place. Mother Earth herself, as The Nymph, has been violated; but the protest has been, at least up to this point, weak: the traditionally accepted submissive attitude of the patriarchally conditioned wife. Just as the unrestrained pollution and exploitation of the Earth’s natural resources went largely uncriticized until the strong push for ecological reforms which started gaining momentum in the “flower power” era of the 1960’s. The “Father” of Rosemary’s baby is conspicuous by his “absence” after the conception, both literally and figuratively, in the forms of both The Devil and Guy Woodhouse respectively.

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Rosemary may be conscious but she has not yet awakened to her circumstances

Rape transgresses the boundaries of most any human law – represented by the removal of Rosemary’s wedding ring in the “dream,” – and is a key element in the story. Reports of sexual assault is a fact we often encounter in the news and, these days, in the #MeToo movement. Rape is also a phenomena which follows in the panic and wake of war and invasion – significant here as the U.S.A.’s direct involvement in the Vietnam War began around the time Rosemary’s Baby as novel (1967) and film (1968) appeared. Pan also appears in connection with war, as for instance his assisting the Athenians by causing the retreat of the  Persians at the Battle of Marathon, and Olympian Zeus’s battle against the monster Typhon, as well as Pan being Dionysius’s shield bearer in his campaign to India  – all occasions in which Pan’s influence, usually by causing panic terror, decided a fortunate outcome.

Rape is an overpowering of animal drives that unfortunately, yet undeniably, occurs within human nature: has ever a day passed upon human-dwelling Earth in which a rape, or sexual assault of some kind or other, has not been committed? Yet, it is such a universally taboo subject that even today it is still barely understood within the study of psychopathology: we all know what rape is, but understanding and charting how it happens within the landscape of the human soul is extremely difficult. It is significant to note here the emergence of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ at the start of America’s involvement in Vietnam in which, as in all wars, rape occurred – including G.I on G.I. rape (here: Vietnam war rape), and simultaneously at the heralding of The Summer of Love in 1967, and The Sexual Revolution which followed in Western Culture – about the same time as the first gay pride, feminist and ecology movements.

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 Story: This ancient statue of Pan coupling with a she-goat was unearthed from the Villa dei Papiri in 1752 and the King and Queen of Naples and all the court were present as it was brought to light. They were horrified when they saw what it depicted. The King was so shocked that he ordered the excavation to be halted and the statue was thereafter hidden away and kept under lock and key in the gabinetto segreto. It was not actually viewable  to the general public until the year 2000. We are lucky it survived at all. More info about the sculpture here: Pan: “disreputable objects of pagan licentiousness”

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Nightmare Daemon. The Cell, 2000

PAN, whose name means “All” (e.g.: Panasonic, Panavision, panorama, pandemic etc…) transcends  even human bisexuality and emerges as a kind of omnisexual (Pansexual?) creature: He is God, man and beast. Awareness of Pan touches upon religion and sex. His nature is to force himself upon consciousness – thereby often causing panic – another key factor in Rosemary’s experience in the story. According to psychologist James Hillman, Pan’s rape is not an urge with intent to destroy, nor even to merely “deflower,”  but to force awareness of the primal animal body upon lofty, rational “Apollonian” consciousness. And this is what Rosemary’s Baby did in it’s day: it forced upon Christian, middle class, American consciousness the imminent sexual awakening and changing of traditional religious values. (See: Pan and the Nightmare’  by Hillman).

And this is what Rosemary’s Baby did in it’s day: it forced upon Christian, middle class, American consciousness the imminent sexual awakening and changing of traditional religious values.

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Cult-ivated for great things.

Rosemary is not a virgin – a qualification required as we learn from Minnie Castevet in the novel, but she is, at first, naive and unexperienced with the Shadow.  Rosemary’s condition changes drastically after the diabolical rape and conception. Like a victim of  an Incubus or nightmare daemon, she begins to appear and feel vampirized. She is in constant pain. She cuts her hair boyishly short in a “pixie cut”reminding us of many young actresses who have portrayed Peter Pan. This is the start of her transformation and the gradual appearance of a subtle “masculine” aggression to her character, which before was only hinted at (she initiates sex on the couple’s first night in their dark, empty, cavern-like, new apartment: Pan was worshipped by lovers in caves and grottos. Guy also instills a brief moment of panic fear while they begin making love by referring to a pair of cannibalistic sisters who’d lived in the building). Later, Rosemary instinctually begins to use powers of deception (an art of Pan’s father Hermes) herself as a survival mechanism (the phone call to tease some information from the actor blinded by witchcraft, the lie she tells to Dr. Sapirstein’s receptionist while escaping his office, the spilling of the contents of her purse as a distraction by the elevator, the secreting and hoarding of sleeping pills).

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All of Them Witches is a fictional book created by author Ira Levin.

As a distraction from her excruciating pregnancy, she plans a party for her young friends (a service to Dionysos) which intentionally excludes the strange, elderly neighbors. The women who attend her breakdown in the kitchen during the party offer advice, insight and validation for her unusual circumstances. The kitchen as heart(h) of a home and traditional place of women’s power is the place of Olympian “family” goddess Hestia/Vesta. After the party, when panic over her degenerating condition finally threatens to overwhelm, her anger irrupts and the pain suddenly stops. The “feminine” – finding it’s inner “masculine” strength – has found it’s voice and begins to take on it’s own instinctual power (separate from patriarchal conditioning) from then on in the story: a symptom of Incubus/Pan’s animal influence coursing through her blood at this point. The submissive and assertive qualities are balanced, and the violated nymph is finally transformed into the powerful and avenging Mother Goddess (we seem to be witnessing a related uprising in consciousness in the #Me Too movement of today). Rosemary’s suspicions increase after she attempts to protest when Guy bullies her into surrendering her book on witchcraft before setting it out of easy reach for her on a high shelf – across the tops of a two volume set of Kinsey’s ‘Sexual Behavior in the Human Male/Female’ in both the novel and film.

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Pan o’ Mantic

Pan is also a mantic god, i.e. He is a god of divination and prophecy. He is said to have taught the art to the god Apollo himself – lending some chthonic prestige to the Shining One when Apollo took over the oracle at Delphi. Rosemary’s prudent friend Hutch tries to dissuade her from impending doom, even prophetically appearing in her narcotically induced dream-nightmare to warn her of “Typhoon !” – a reference to the Devil as Typhon. Even from beyond the grave, good ol’ Hutch, in an ironic feat of necromancy,  manages to communicate the awful truth to her in a strange act of divination via a modern spelling game…

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Casting the runes to discover… “The name is an anagram.”

“The great god Pan is dead”

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If the Great God Pan is truly dead, then Is God dead?

Here we must note the appearance in the story of the April 1966 issue of TIME magazine which carried the stark ‘Is God Dead?’ cover. In the history of the god Pan a major event is considered to be recorded by the Greek historian Plutarch ( 45 AD – 127 AD). During the reign of Tiberius (A.D. 14–37), the news of Pan’s death came to one sailor on his way to Italy by way of the island of Paxi. A divine voice hailed him across the salt water, “Thamus, are you there? When you reach Palodes, take care to proclaim that the great god Pan is dead.” Which Thamus did, and the news was greeted from shore “with groans and laments.” The legend of the fateful crying out, and of the news spreading, that “The great god Pan is dead” has inspired many a poet through the ages. Christian apologists such as G. K. Chesterton have repeated and amplified the significance of the “death” of Pan, suggesting that with the “death” of Pan came the advent of theology. To this effect, Chesterton once said, “It is said truly in a sense that Pan died because Christ was born. It is almost as true in another sense that men knew that Christ was born because Pan was already dead. A void was made by the vanishing world of the whole mythology of mankind, which would have asphyxiated like a vacuum if it had not been filled with theology.”

6bb940fe474470ceb6c8fb77addff3f11f3e1c90_hqThe final chapter or scene of Rosemary’s Baby depicts Roman Castevet’s pronouncement that “God Is Dead!” Considering all this, and that the solemn question “Is God Dead?” appears on the cover of TIME as used in Rosemary’s Baby, begs the question whether history really does repeat itself, and if it is not true that “the gods of the old religion will always become the devils of the new.”

“the gods of the old religion will always become the devils of the new.”

Since the publication of Rosemary’s Baby in 1967, there has been a mounting surge in throwing off the shackles of thousands of years of patriarchal Judeo-Christian suppression, especially in the realms of sexuality and women’s bodies. The ecology movements have adopted Pan as a sign under which to rally to save Mother Earth (Pan is himself a devotee of the Great Mother Goddess in Ancient Greek religion, and in classical literature he is even referred to as “Her dog” by other gods). It is a testament to Ira Levin’s creative genius – what the Romans called a “Dæmon,” the Latin word for the Ancient Greek daimōn (δαίμων: “god”, “godlike”, “power,” or “guiding spirit,” that he was able to reach deep into the zeitgeist of his age to stir up such a potent and delicious witch’s brew; one which brings us face-to-face with the ancient shadows of our psyche which have continued their assault and penetration of the consciousness of modern culture’s grappling with religion and sexuality. By crafting a dark modern legend which people still enjoy and analyze 50 years after it’s publication and release, Ira Levin has made us a little bit more aware of just what is going on “down there” in the subconscious.

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The Summer of Love is a perennial affair… Image: D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths.

*One thread we decided not to follow here but offer as a point of consideration is Rosemary’s own complicity in surrendering to her situation by… 1. ignoring the advice of Hutch – a trusted, fatherly friend of upright moral standing (comfortable traditional values) to live somewhere other than in the Bramford apartments and 2. Rosemary’s own longing for motherhood which so often leads to her suppressing her own instinctual misgivings in order to achieve her own desires.

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Pan teaching his eromenos, the shepherd Daphnis, to play the pan flute, Roman copy of Greek original c. 100 BC, second century AD, found in Pompeii,

Sources:

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…and our sick little minds.

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From Matthew 25:31–46: “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” Goats are notorious for their rowdy behavior. While sheep may mindlessly wander, goats will intentionally leap. BAAAAH!!

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‘Rosemary’s Baby Album’: Legacy of a Classic Diabolical Thriller

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IraLevin.org now presents ‘Rosemary’s Baby Album’ on it’s website, and it is a very special treat for Rosemary Fans!

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Screenshot courtesy of IraLevin.org

The novel ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ by renowned author and playwright Ira Levin has had a wide and abiding impact upon all things thriller, mystery, and horror since it was first published 50 years ago in March 1967. Levin himself said in 2002, “I feel guilty that ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ led to ‘The Exorcist,’ ‘The Omen.’ A whole generation has been exposed, has more belief in Satan. I don’t believe in Satan. And I feel that the strong fundamentalism we have would not be as strong if there hadn’t been so many of these books […] Of course, I didn’t send back any of the royalty checks.” 

In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of this classic diabolical occult thriller, IraLevin.org now presents ‘Rosemary’s Baby Album’ on it’s website, and it is a very special treat for Rosemary Fans! With Ira Levin’s personal archival materials and notes tastefully arranged and many exciting insights into the writer’s creative process.

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Screenshot courtesy of IraLevin.org

Note: #RosemarysBabyAlbum hashtag for easy sharing via social media.

ONLINE FEATURE “ROSEMARY’S BABY ALBUM”CELEBRATES NOVEL’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY WITH UNPRECEDENTED BEHIND-THE-SCENES LOOK AT ITS CREATION, USING AUTHOR IRA LEVIN’S ACTUAL NOTES, DRAFTS AND ARCHIVAL MATERIALS

(New York, March 20, 2018) Ira Levin’s perennial classic “Rosemary’s Baby” turned 50 in 2017, and in celebration of that milestone, IraLevin.org has released “Rosemary’s Baby Album,” a new 28-page online feature which traces the archetypal work’s development using high-resolution scans of Levin’s actual notes, drafts and related ephemera from its writing, starting with the first known setting-down of its premise on a single notepad page, in 1960.

#RosemarysBabyAlbum provides an unprecedented opportunity to peek over Levin’s shoulder, as the author that Stephen King called “the Swiss watchmaker of the suspense novel” conceives and structures his iconic tale – considering, tweaking, or outright rejecting alternate titles, character names and plot trajectories. The album also reveals some fascinating connections between real life, and the world of “Rosemary’s Baby”.

“Rosemary’s Baby Album” can be viewed online now at http://www.iralevin.org

About IraLevin.org: IraLevin.org is the official Ira Levin website, created and maintained by his estate to serve as a comprehensive source of information about his works.

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Screenshot courtesy of IraLevin.org

Levin’s worth as a literary craftsman is exemplified not only in the perpetual in-print status of his novels or the fact that his best-known play, Deathtrap, holds the record as the longest running comedy thriller on Broadway; his competence as a storyteller is also apparent in the adaptation of nearly every one of his novels (and his play Deathtrap) into popular cinematic film versions. Also to be noted are his novels ‘A Kiss Before Dying,’ ‘Sliver,’ and ‘Son of Rosemary’ (a sequel which he dedicated to Mia Farrow who portrayed Rosemary in the now classic horror film version). A few of his novels have even worked their way into our idiomatic language within popular culture – making  The Stepford Wives, The Boys From Brazil and Rosemary’s Baby into a kind of cultural shorthand for ideas represented in these compelling and believable stories.

Unknown-2 copyAnd that is a skill Ira Levin truly had and which lives on in his work: he made the unthinkable into wholly believable parables of modern existence. We step into an Ira Levin novel on firm concrete, with matter-of-fact details both mundane and familiar, yet somehow he cleverly manages to sweep the rug out from under our very feet, so that we lose our balance with an ever increasing sense of panic-dread at the strange and unforeseeable circumstances which draw inevitably tighter around the characters we encounter there. Indeed, it is due in part to the film maker’s close adhesion to the novel – nearly word-for-word – that gives Roman Polanski’s 1968 film version it’s high quality.

images-6 copy 3We may take “Stepford Wives,” “Boys from Brazil” and “Rosemary’s Babies” for granted today because these premises have been lifted from their novel (and cinematic) sources so often – and repeated in any number of various media formats – from the plethora of Devil Baby movies to TV comedy sketches – that they have become part of our collective consciousness, and have even developed into tropes of their own! But we shouldn’t forget the origins of these stories, or Ira Levin’s ingenuity at placing them so deliberately and carefully packaged on our front doorsteps that we don’t notice the dangers hidden within them until it’s too late (and, by then, you are unable to stop turning the pages)!

Article by H.B. Gardner

#RosemarysBabyAlbum

#RosemarysBaby50thAnniversary 

“The Year One”: A Rededication

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By: H. B. G.

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Actress Hazel Court, as the Lady Juliana, betrothes herself to Satan in Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death, 1964. This is the first instance in cinema history where an inverted cross is used as a symbol of Satanism.

We have managed to maintain this WordPress-fueled website for one whole year now. We are delighted at this meager accomplishment by one man (who may, or may not, be possessed by many incubi). What started off as an obsession with the film Rosemary’s Baby and an intention to make a single blog post delineating the minor characters in it has expanded into a repository for our occult horror obsession – here: Satanic Cinema Sommelier; Our Favorite Devilish Films and on our Devil May Care Facebook page , as well as our Rosemary’s Baby 50th Anniversary Facebook Page.

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Mia Farrow and Victoria Vetri (aka Angela Dorian) in Rosemary’s Baby.

This past year we have, out of our own zeal, interviewed a surviving cast member of Roman Polanski’s film of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ ( An Interview with Ernest Harada: Celebrating 50 years of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ ) and have been keeping a correspondence with the actress Victoria Vetri (aka Angela Dorian) who played Terry Gionofrio – the Castevet’s ill-fated houseguest in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ – from her prison cell in a California Institution, but who is now nearing a release date.

We have never before been a collector of autographs, but 2017 was our year for them due to our commitment to our writing on this site.

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Our Holiday card and an autographed picture from actress Victoria Vetri who is nearing her release from prison.

This month, We rededicate ourselves to this project. So, in the spirit of Rosemary’s Baby (the 50th Anniversary of the Satanic classic film thriller is this year) and “The Year One”:

Black candles are lit, the chalice is filled, and the cross-shaped brand smolders in the brazier…

We remain committed to keeping this site as a means of exploring the diabolical, the occult, and religion (and the things it demonizes) in horror films – and in reality – out of our own pleasure, and as a serious interest in the sway that religion and the mysterious, unseen forces of existence inspire and motivate the minds and hearts of individuals, groups and nations worldwide.

We have managed one year with at least one monthly contribution to our site, some are in-depth articles such as our explorations of Suspiria ( SUSPIRIA: In the Eye of the Peacock , SUSPIRIA: Dario, De Quincey and the Dark Goddess; Part 1SUSPIRIA: Dario, De Quincey & the Dark Goddess; Part 2 etc..)

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We were able to get Jessica Harper’s Suspiria autograph with a modest charitable donation to the Houston Food Bank last year.

and Rosemary’s Baby ( ‘Sympathy for the Devil: The Sublime Satanism of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ , An Interview with Ernest Harada: Celebrating 50 years of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ , ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ Turns 50 ! ), etc…

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Ernest Harada was very kind to give us an interview as well as autograph a photo for us.

Some other posts are much lighter fare but are hopefully at least entertaining brain candy for the diabolically inclinedAll of Them Witches: A”Who’s Who” in Rosemary’s Baby , Women From Hell: Cinema’s Greatest Ladies from Hades , ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ 2017 Fantasy Remake & Dream Cast.

Indirectly related to all this is the work we started in 2017 with the Arcana Tarot Study Group in Osaka, Japan where we currently reside. This group’s mission is to help spread knowledge of using the Tarot via the medium of English; and to improve the skills of English students via the Tarot, here in Japan.

As a father, husband, teacher, writer, reader, mystic and artist, our energies are rapidly absorbed, day-by-day, by our esoteric interests and the gaping jaws of Time; yet we inevitably find ourselves drawn back to exploring the shadowy realms of occult horror, like a sincere Seeker of Truth…, or a dog to it’s vomit.

“But whatever lies behind the door, there’s nothing much to do,

Angel or Devil, I don’t care,

For in front of that door… is you.”

                                                    – Bowie     ‘My Death’

 

‘Rosemary’s Baby’ Japanese souvenir book

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Front cover

As fans of the classic satanic thriller ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ we like to keep our eyes peeled for anything related to the novel or film. Unfortunately, film studios didn’t really think to capitalize on their productions with related merchandise until the mid-seventies; so other than the novel in it’s various forms (hardcover and paperback) and the video releases, we are left with very little official Rosemary’s Baby memorabilia to collect. One item that did not escape our dark-adapted eye is the Japanese souvenir book. These books are commonly sold in all Japanese movie theaters even today, but for some reason have not become widely available in other countries or languages. Filled with pictures, actor profiles, anecdotes and other production related topics, these souvenir books are highly prized by film fans.

Read our Devil In the Details article…

A Japanese view of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

Here we will share images from this 22 page souvenir book we ordered through Amazon Japan. Although the film was released in 1969 in Japan, there is a 1985 Paramount Pictures Corporation copyright on the back cover, which leads us to think that the film ‘Rozumaree-no Akachan’ (in Japanese) had a re-release in Japan in the mid-eighties. Although we have a native Japanese translator on premises here at Devil In the Details,  a full translation would be tedious and largely redundant. When we do find interesting bits we will be sure to share them on our Rosemary’s Baby 50th Anniversary Facebook page . Enjoy!

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This section discusses how Polanski’s films carry the theme of isolation even when surrounded by people as evidenced in his other films like Knife in the Water and Repulsion.

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Polanski’s head is circled here so as not to confuse him with the man next to him (who we believe is a cameraman).

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Mia Farrow holds a sign that says “WARDROBE” and a number beneath it.

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Read our Devil In the Details…

An Interview with Ernest Harada: Celebrating 50 years of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

to find out what it was like on the set of Rosemary’s Baby from someone who was there!

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Back cover

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‘Rosemary’s Baby’ 2017 Fantasy Remake & Dream Cast

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By: H.B.G.

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‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968) the film, is perfect and requires no changes. Nearly fifty years later, it remains a classic which lacks nothing and still basically holds up as a story and as a film today. Ira Levin‘s story is so perfect it could be adapted into a Grimm’s fairytale version that takes place in a medieval German village and still hold up just as well. We usually shudder at the news every time Hollywood dares to tread upon unholy ground and remake a diabolical horror classic. The 2014 NBC TV drama version starring Zoe Saldana was largely forgettable.

However, if ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ were to be remade as a feature film today (2017), we have some ideas for a fantasy production which would adapt the story to the current climate and offer opportunities for some fine talent to exhibit itself. Not enough older actors are given screen time these days which is a deep shame as they have such skill and talent. Hollywood could certainly do worse than take our advice.

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First, to adapt the film for today, Rosemary would have been Christian homeschooled (creationism not evolution) on a small Wisconsin or Iowa farm by a conservative, right-wing, Charismatic Christian family who fully expect the coming of “the Rapture” and the AntiChrist. These people take the Bible literally as the unerring Word of God. This family votes based solely upon the anti-abortion, pro-life and anti-gay movements. Rosemary enjoys playing girl’s volley ball, and doesn’t date. She moves away from the small town amongst the corn fields and cows to live for a few years in The Big City (need not be New York) and finds her ideas shifting with the current culture. She meets and falls in love with Guy, a handsome young man without religious ideals who is scraping by as an actor but desperately dreams of making it big.

Most of the story remains the same with a few tweaks here and there. For the notorious “dream sequence” Rosemary could see herself sailing away from her family farm through a sea of corn. Instead of the Pope offering his ring for her to kiss at the end of her nightmare, it could be a TV evangelist counting wads of cash, assuring her she is forgiven.

Check out our related article: All of Them Witches: A “Who’s Who” in Rosemary’s Baby

Fantasy Cast:

unknown-1 Rosemary Woodhouse – 

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Mia Wasikowska (current age 27) With a name like Mia how could we not consider her? Famous for Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ she has that somewhat fragile look but can show strength. or Chloë Grace Moretz (current age 20) famous for ‘Kick-Ass’ and ‘Let Me In’ (2010). Either of these ladies would also make a suitable Terry.

images-12  Guy Woodhouse –

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Zac Efron (current age 29) This guy could effectively play the desperately charming  actor hungry for fame and fortune; and perhaps bring his own special twist to the role.

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Unknown-14  Minnie Castevet: 

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Tracey Ullman (current age 57) Just think about it! Based on our highly esteemed portrayal by Ruth Gordon in the original film we doubt you could find better. Admittedly, if she were to play Minnie Castevet there may need to be some aging make-up involved but that’s no problem for Tracey Ullman, is it?ψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψ

m8droba-ec003   Roman Castevet 

aka Steven Marcato:

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Jack Nicholson (current age 80) If he’s willing and able we would have it no other way! Jack was considered for the role of Guy in the original film but was considered too sinister looking by director Polanski. Imagine Jack doing this:

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Or this…

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If Jack can’t or won’t come out of retirement, then next we’d ask…

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Malcom McDowell (current age 74), or perhaps John Malkovitch (current age 63). It could happen.

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Doctor Sapirstein – The Doctor from Hell:

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Willem Dafoe (current age 61) Now see the picture below and imagine Dafoe as Rosemary’s obstetrician. Uh huh, say no more. Yet, John Malkovitch would be great for this role too. Hmmmmm….

Rosemary's Baby (1968) Blu-ray Screenshot

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Laura-Louise McBurney – The Witch upstairs –  

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Laura-Louise as played by Patsy Kelly in the 1968 original.

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Kathleen Turner (current age 63) Yes! It has to be Serial Mom!

unknown-13Kathleen Turner as Laura-Louise and Tracey Ullman as Minnie Castevet. Delicious!ψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψΨΨΨΨΨΨΨΨΨΨΨΨΨΨΨΨψψψψψψψψψψψψψψψ

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“Hutch” – Rosemary’s friend. This character presents some problems today that wouldn’t have been so obvious in the 60’s. An older gentleman friend from the apartment building Rosemary used to live in after first moving to the Big City. If we keep this character an older gentleman then… Bill Murray (current age 66).

But why must Hutch be an older guy? Why not make the character Rosemary’s older girlfriend who befriended her upon moving to the Big City, and who changed Rosemary’s mind about gay people because she herself is a lesbian? Perhaps a writer or counselor who’s also studied something about Witchcraft…

640_winonaryder_gettyWinona Ryder current age 45, or Octavia Spencer (47) as Ms. Hutch.

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1968 Playmate of the Year Victoria Vetri, aka Angela Dorian, played Terry in the Polanski film.

   Terry Gionofrio – Suicidal house guest

For the role of the somewhat rehabilitated drug addict Terry, we select whichever of the two actresses we selected to play Rosemary who doesn’t get to play Rosemary; Mia Wasikowska (current age 27) or Chloë Grace Moretz (current age 20). Dye hair dark.

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Evan Peters (current age 30) of American Horror Story fame. He might also make a good Guy Woodhouse, in which case Zac Efron would be our good but disbelieving Dr Hill.

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Look What Happened to Rosemary's Baby

L to R: Mrs Gilmore, Mrs Wees, Mr Fountain, Dr Sapirstein, Mr Wees, Guy and Rosemary.

Check out our article on the Castevet Coven:

All of Them Witches: A”Who’s Who” in Rosemary’s Baby

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The Coven:

Anyone from our list who doesn’t make the final cut, plus these three performers who appeared as principal players in the original film and must now be supporting players in our fantasy remake…

Mia-Farrow-2014   Mia Farrow “Rosemary Woodhouse” in the original film (currently 72) could be Mrs Gilmore in our fantasy remake: “There’s nothing to be afraid of Rosemary. Honest and truly there isn’t.”

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Victoria Vetri (aka Angela Dorian) “Terry Gionofrio” in the original film can now be Mrs Wees. “We’re your friends Rosemary.”

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Mrs Wees hovers behind Rosemary in the blue dress suit.

Current age 72 and serving time, but with a release planned in the not-too-distant future. It is also our wish to see  Victoria Vetri and Mia Farrow paired up again, if only even for  a brief scene,  perhaps in the American Horror Story series. Oh please! Please! Please make it happen!

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Actually, Mrs Gilmore is saying: “There’s nothing to be afraid of Rosemary; honest and truly there isn’t.” Mrs Wees (off camera) says: “We’re your friends , Rosemary.”

Unknown-15   Charles Grodin aka “Dr. Hill” in the original film, (now 80) as Mr Wees. He’ll be the first to “Hail Satan!” in the climactic scene.

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images-2 Or… as Dr Shand?

And….

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Ernest Harada (73) appeared as the  photographer in the original film and is also in retirement, but if he could be coaxed out of it to perhaps take on another character… like that of Mr Nicklas who shows Rosemary and Guy the apartment, played by Elisha Cook in the original.

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Check out our interview with a charming original cast member :        An Interview with Ernest Harada: Celebrating 50 years of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

We need a few more witches….

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Angelica Huston

Anjelica Huston (current age 66) shall be our cat-toting Mrs Sabatini for our dream remake.

 

 

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Nastassja Kinski

 

Nastassja Kinski (current age 56) shall be Mrs Fountain. Maybe Willem Dafoe as Mr. Fountain if Malkovitch plays Dr Sapirstein.

 

images-35   images-1-2               Christopher Walken (now 74) Can be the mysterious Mr Gilmore. We just want to see him creeping around.

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Well, our list is painfully caucasian, we know. That’s due to our limited knowledge of talent. After all, we mostly watch vintage diabolical horror films, which is largely a white dominated sub-genre. Surely there are other ideas for great actors in a revival of this classic horror thriller, but we’ve already spent enough time on this bit of dream-fancy fluff. Hope you enjoyed it. Who do you think should play in a ‘Rosemary’s Baby‘ remake?

Read our article:

‘Rosemary’s Baby’ Turns 50 !

 

A Japanese view of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

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By: H.B.G.

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ローズマリーの赤ちゃん = Rozumaree no aka-chan

When we “Westerners” from the Judeo-Christian background view the classic horror-thriller film ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ we are given to consider the position of evil in our society. Japanese people, on the other hand, find a fascination with the American fashion and style sense of the late 1960’s.

The Japanese perspective of this classic film ( Rosemary no akachan ローズマリーの赤ちゃん ) is perhaps unique in the world. There is little sense of “horror” such as a person from an American or European culture may feel. The Japanese are largely Atheistic, secular and without any devout religious fervor of any kind whatsoever. At the end of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ there is a sense of “So what? Glad the baby’s ok.”

images-2 This cartoon is a warning not to watch ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ if you have the “maternity blues.” But it praises Mia Farrow’s cuteness and fashion styles.

The Japanese have an incredible eye for fashion. They are also certainly not slouches when it comes to illustration. While it’s unlikely that we will be treated to a Japanese  manga or animated version of ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ (or ‘Suspiria’ – yes, there has been some genuine talk of the later!), we have found some interesting examples of illustrations by Japanese artists who were inspired by Rosemary’s Baby.

This one is a favorite. The artist has a homepage here.

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What we have here is a kind of film and cast summary. From upper left and moving counter-clockwise the general translation is:

(That’s an illustration of Roman Polanski) The film’s handsome director can be seen in the DVD extras. He did mischief with an underage girl and now cannot enter the USA.”

“Mia was married to Frank Sinatra, who did not want her to finish the film. Mia was told she would get an academy award and be as famous as Audrey Hepburn if she completed the film, so she did. I don’t know what happened to her marriage.”

Red writing: “Rosemary is surrounded by servants of the Devil. Minnie Castevet: “Snips and snails and puppy dog’s tails! Drink it fresh!” Talkative people surround her. Laura-Louise says “Hi nice to meet you.””

Rosemary is saying: “Robert Redford and Jack Nicholson were considered to play my husband… but this guy sold his soul to the devil and got the part.” Big pink words “Give me back my baby!”

Guy Woodhouse in the brown suit is saying: “I’m in a Yamaha commercial!”

Black stroller: “At the end the baby’s face wasn’t shown.”

Dr Sapirstein says: “Listen only to me. Drink Tannis root juice. I’m a very famous Doctor.”

(Dr Shand, a minor character) “”Hi!” His smile is very charming as Rosemary is forced into the car.”

Upper right corner: “Hutch is Rosemary’s only friend and he discovers the diabolical truth and is killed for it. The name Hutch reminds the artist of a Japanese bee cartoon character (Hutch sounds like “Hachi” – Japanese for bee). Hutch asks “What is Tannis root?””

 

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Good likenesses

General translation (clockwise): This is a horror film but it can serve as a fashion role model. If you focus on the fashion your fear will be lessened. Rosemary is having the devil’s baby and she loses weight as she gets sicker, but she still has such cute 60’s fashion sense. Every scene she is so fashionable! Rosemary says: I went to Vidal Sassoon for a cute short haircut but my husband hates it! Around Minnie Castevet: My annoying old neighbor worships evil but even she is crazy fashionable! Red outfit: This red 2-piece outfit is my favorite in the film. The soft lines, the color and the black one strap patent shoes hit every girl’s style acupuncture points!

The artist’s blog is Here.

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Some Japanese really paid attention to the fashion style of Rosemary’s Baby

19029557_169451390259403_8351639112924692402_n     Ree Rosee illustration room is where to find this artist.

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If Rosemary’s Baby were a picture book, this could be the final illustration…

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Unfortunately, we could not identify the artist.

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‘Rosemary’s Baby’ Japanese souvenir book

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‘Rosemary’s Baby’ Turns 50 !

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By: H.B.G.

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Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes toast to an imminent conception with far-reaching effects.

Caution: This article contains some spoilers! If you have not read the novel or seen the film (what the Hell are you waiting for?!) you might want to save reading this article until after you have!

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In 1967 American culture was exploding on all levels. This was the year of the so-called “Summer of Love”.  The Civil Rights Movement headed by Martin Luther King Jr. was in full swing, as was the Vietnam War, the Sexual revolution, and activism for Women’s Rights. Andy Warhol was making instant movie stars in The Factory. Timothy Leary, a psychologist and researcher with the Harvard Center for Research in Personality who oversaw Harvard’s Psilocybin Project, instructed a crowd of 30, 000 hippies gathered in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” LSD drenched Rock ‘n Roll and psychedelic art was unleashed as an endless parade of young, long haired hippies and flower children, defying all social norms, made transcendental pilgrimages – both near and far – towards a purple-hazy ideal of freedom. Young men were burning their draft cards and the youth in general were motivated towards social change while shaking off the grip of their families long-held belief systems. Things were drastically changing! Utopia was at hand!

An exotic and colorful bouquet of new cults, old religions, gurus and esoteric magic in the Age of Aquarius burst upon the scene: Moonies, Hare Krishnas, Occultism, TM, Scientology, Jim Jones, and the Process Church to name just a few. At the same time, Charles Manson was lurking in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. Just the year before there was some publicity when Anton LaVey established the Church of Satan in San Francisco, the first legally recognized Satanic organization in history. Americans took notice of all this and wondered just what in the Hell was going on? The entire world had been turned topsy-turvy, seemingly overnight.

In the midst of this chaotic, sweaty, ecstatic rebirthing of the American Dream (which would quickly burn itself out and awaken into a full-blown nightmare) a book was published that March. Ira Levin’s thrilling best-selling suspense novel ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ was born. A year later on June 12th, 1968 the faithful  film version directed by Roman Polanski was delivered to the world just 6 days after the assassination of Robert Kennedy. We feel it is not quite overstating the matter when we claim that the world has been feeling the effects of this counter-culture ‘Baby’ ever since.

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Hardcover 1967 edition

This was The Mother Of All Devil-Baby Films. It sent some people away from the theaters visibly shaken and muttering “Blasphemy!” under their breaths. It ushered in a flood of Devil and Child-of-Satan themed films and books of both epic and lowbrow proportions. Dozens of various evil incarnations of the premise have followed in the malodorous wake of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, including a made for tv sequel (‘Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby,’ 1976) and a 2-night NBC primetime remake in 2014. Ira Levin himself wrote a sequel: ‘Son of Rosemary,’ (published 1997) which he dedicated to Mia Farrow, who so excellently portrayed Rosemary Woodhouse in the now classic film.

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A challenge to Christian faith

‘Rosemary’s Baby’ appeared at a confrontational time in American society. Remembering this may help explain the nerve that this story hit for many people who were floundering or feeling washed-up by the counter-cultural wave of the day. The most firmly established, traditional and holy things were suddenly no longer sacred. In the film, Rosemary herself says “I was brought up a Catholic, now I don’t know.” Indeed, a stark TIME magazine cover from 1967 plainly asked: Is God Dead? This smacked of sacrilege and blasphemy to the majority of church-going middle America. The 60’s were a time when more people dared to openly doubt and question, not only established religion, but everything they had been taught or told! The hippies were busy rejecting, exploring and unlearning. Everything having to do with “The Establishment” was in doubt. The popular American consciousness was awakening to it’s own sense of independent thinking regarding reality apart from traditional authoratative religious ideas about morality as well as the corruptibility of a once esteemed government.

While ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ is a slow-building, intellectual suspense – horror film with practically no blood or violence, it was the climax – a definitive casting down of established Faith in the absence of any God – which sent some believers to confession and nudged some others towards the New Age. It spoke directly to those who felt ill-fitted and hypocritical sitting dutifully in church in their Sunday best as the white Christian  centered society they grew up in collapsed around them. ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ threw down the gauntlet; it forced believers to think hard for themselves about some deep questions, the kind that matter: Is there a God? and, If so, where the Hell is He now?

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Abortion was a topic not much discussed in polite company back before the movements towards change in the 60’s and 70’s. It was practically a taboo word, only whispered by mothers gossiping about some unfortunate neighbor’s daughter. In the film ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ the word is spoken twice within a few seconds, which in itself was quite significant for the time of it’s release. Of course even this splinter of dialogue takes place in a scene within which a few women are speaking privately in a kitchen, in hushed voices and with the doors secured. We are given even deeper insight into Rosemary’s thought processes in the final pages of the novel where Rosemary, after the diabolical revelation of the baby’s paternity, considers throwing first the baby and then herself out of the seventh story window. “Choosing life,” to use a pro-life phrase, had never before had quite the same dire intimations. Abortion, Suicide and Satan are all a part of the spell conjured by Ira Levin’s novel and Roman Polanski’s faithful cinematic version of it. I have elucidated a few of these aspects of the book and film in this article: Sympathy for the Devil: The Sublime Satanism of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

Maybe that’s all a bit heavy. Plenty of people enjoyed ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ the film as art, and rightly so. It is still widely considered to be not only Roman Polanski’s masterpiece but a watermark in cinematic history, and not only for suspense and horror. It is quite possibly the best horror film ever made. The seamless hand-held camera work, the realistic performances, the perfect casting, the elaborate sets, the 60’s fashions, and the understated horror of it all weaves an effective spell that has rarely been rivaled in cinema since it’s release in June 1968. It has been critiqued, studied, and analyzed; it was also condemned by the National Legion of Decency.

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Cover for the 50th anniversary edition

Yet, despite it’s Hellish premise, ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ is not without it’s own darkling undercurrent of black humor. Even as  Rosemary’s painful pregnancy intensifies and the stranglehold of suspicion and paranoia increases into a palpable threat, there is a snide kind of wit that permeates the film, like a chalky under taste, right up to the very denouement. New York City in the Swinging Sixties – the materialistic agnosticism of urban culture influencing the good Catholic school girl from Omaha. The strange neighbors all but hiding behind carnival devil masks. Rosemary’s husband Guy Woodhouse is an aspiring actor focused on name, fame and wealth: he’s a materialist interested in the supernatural only for whatever material benefits can be gained by it. He makes fun about seeing the Pope performing a Mass at Yankee stadium on TV: “That’s a great spot for my Yamaha commercial,” he laughs, shortly before pimping his wife out to You-Know-Who. It’s the film’s realism, along with a judicious use of subtle irony and sly wit, that makes the psychological terror all the more palpable.

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L to R: Bruno Sidar as Mr Gilmore, Patsy Kelly as Laura Louise McBurney, Charlotte Boerner as Mrs Leah Fountain, Almira Sessions as Mrs Sabatini with her cat Flash.

And we can’t help but relish Minnie and Roman Castevet and the other lurid characters surrounding Rosemary. Polanski mostly cast theater people and prolific film extras in these roles as witches, so we get an odd feeling of something not-quite-right and familiar about them at  the same time. Ruth Gordon won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal as Minnie Castevet; a role she killed – leaving it impossible for anybody to match it. It is fun to think of the Castevets and some of the other extras as demons trying (a little too hard) to pass themselves off as human. We smirk at the irony  of a young, naive first-time mother’s helplessness before a coven of smiling, well-meaning old geezers who are (she thinks)  plotting against her and her baby. And, when there are no witches hovering around Rosemary, there are several authoritative men “mansplaining” things to her.

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“look at his hands!” Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevet.

Want to know more about the witches in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’? Read our article: All of Them Witches: A ‘Who’s Who?’ in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

Read our Interview with cast member Ernest Harada who appears in the film’s climax: An Interview with Ernest Harada: Celebrating 50 Years of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’

The deal is made with the Devil of course, but Rosemary, ignoring warnings from a dear old friend, has already sold her soul (and good sense) by falling in love with the old apartment building’s gothic charm and by begging her ambitious actor husband Guy to get them out of “the other lease” in order to take the apartment in the looming Bramford (need we mention the infamous Dakota where the exterior shots were filmed?). After moving in she does her best to redecorate the rather solemn interior with white and yellows; but as Rosemary remakes the Bramford’s interior to suit her tastes, the Bramford remakes Rosemary’s interior to suit it’s own sinister plans. That’s because Rosemary’s metamorphosis is America’s metamorphosis. Innocence is lost. Once the post WWII “high” of the 1950’s and ’60’s faded, the public  grew numb after numerous political and social upheavals, celebrity deaths and the consumer complacency which ushered in the 1970’s. Off come the pig tails, gone is the girlish smile, and a pain – “like a wire inside of me getting tighter and tighter” as Rosemary laments – settles in our core.

We can argue that things are still changing drastically today, perhaps in even more ways than they were in ’67. ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ is now 50 years old and still walks among us like a smug iconoclast at a cocktail party – sneering and scoffing at our outmoded ideas regarding religion or morality – wearing a cheap Halloween Boogey-man mask as he laughs at our nervousness at letting go of our old fears and inhibitions. And yet we wonder after the final revelation at the end of the story: is it a happy ending or a terrifying one? The answer of course is “Both.” Rosemary’s baby is alive, safe, adored, worshipped; but that in itself spells certain doom to the world we know, or at least to the world we used to know “back then.”

– H.B. Gardner