DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Rosemary’s Baby, Blu-ray (1968/2012)

Still perhaps the best horror movie ever made, and certainly the most artistic.

Published on November 1, 2012

Rosemary’s Baby, Blu-ray (1968/2012) 

Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer
Studio: Paramount/The Criterion Collection 630 [10/30/12]
Video: 1.85:1 for 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: English PCM mono
Extras: 2012 documentary has interviews with Polanski, Farrow and producer Robert Evans; 1997 audio interview with author of the book Ira Levin, “Komeda, Komeda” feature-length documentary on the composer of the score; Illustrated printed booklet with essay by critic Ed Park, Levin’s afterword to a new edition of his book, and his unpublished character sketches of the Woodhouses and their condo which he made in preparation for the novel.
Length: 136 minutes
Rating: *****

This has to be the best most artistic horror film ever made. It also follows more closely the original best-selling novel than almost any other film ever made from a book. New studio head Evans was taking a chance using Polanski in his first Hollywood movie—the original director was supposed to be B-movie maven William Castle. And the original ideas for the husband were Jack Nicholson and Robert Redford. The studio paid $100,00 simply for the advertising poster image of the baby carriage on top of the mountain with Farrow’s face in the background.

Rosemary and her actor husband have just moved into the Bramford on Central Park (actually the exterior is The Dakota, where John Lennon lived). Rosemary becomes increasingly suspicious about her nosy elderly neighbors, the Casavets. Ruth Gordon is over the top in her portrayal of Mrs. Casavet, wearing hats that look like she was dipped in shredded coconut. In fact, the whole cast is excellent. The cinematography is perfect, retaining a claustrophobic feeling inside the apartment and a frenzy out in the streets of NYC. Komeda’s wonderful score fits the film like a glove.The little details such as the tannis-root charm Mrs. Casavet insists Rosemary wear around her neck (I looked it up; doesn’t exist, but does sound like something the Devil would like.) Rosemary tries to investigate the odd goings-on with Scrabble hints and books on witchcraft, but of course everyone just thinks she’s nuts.

Rosemary awakens from what seems to be a dream, but she has scratches on her body. She has actually been raped by the Devil.  A difficult pregnancy follows, with Rosemary having terrible pains. She begins to suspect the daily smoothies which Mrs. Casavet whips up for her.  She becomes awfully wasted-looking, and the Sasoon short haircut she gets doesn’t help her appearance. In one scene they over-did the whitish makeup on her. Now that this is such a perfect Criterion-level restoration in Blu-ray, we can see things like that that weren’t noticed before. One of the masterful changes from the novel that Polanski did was not to show the baby at all; Levin had described it in detail in his book. Polanski only shows the horror on Rosemary’s face when she first sees the baby. She’s asks the coven “What did you do to his eyes?”  Mr. Casavets answers: “They’re his father’s eyes.” But by the final shot she seems to be accepting it.

The extras are terrific, as usual with Criterion. It’s great to have Polanski on screen speaking in English this very year. Farrow’s comments are well worth hearing. And the WBAI radio interview with Levin is most interesting as well. (I don’t know if any other studio has ever offered audio-only extras like this except for Criterion.) The long documentary on Komeda and life in Warsaw is fascinating; it could stand as a feature film on its own merits.

—John Sunier




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