This month marks the 45th Anniversary of the U.S. premier of ’s masterpiece of supernatural suspense, Rosemary’s Baby. A seminal work of mainstream horror that kickstarted the 70 trend for films about the devil and the occult.
Rosemary's Baby: Child of the 60s:
Rosemary’s Baby was released in June of 1968. And as social climates go, one would be hard pressed to find a year more characterized by stress, fear, and uncertainty than America in 1968. This was the year that saw Richard Nixon elected President; the assassination of two American symbols of hope (Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy); U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam escalate; and big cities and college campuses across the nation wracked by violent civil rights protests and heated anti-war demonstrations. Observed Los Angeles Times journalist, Bettuane Levine: “It was a very bad year. Strikes, sit - ins and bloody riots dotted the land, as various groups sought their share of the pie. The result was a country in crisis, our cities in tatters, our dislocated lives punctuated by assassination, Cold War threats, nuclear terrors, and a general feeling that nothing would ever be the same again.”
For anyone endeavoring to make a horror film in the 60s, a seemingly insurmountable hurdle lie in determining who, if anyone, would be interested in imaginary horror when television brought the real-life terrors of war into the nation’s living rooms on a nightly basis, and newspapers and magazines provided nonstop evidence of a world grown increasingly chaotic. What fictional threat could compete with that?
Enter, Rosemary's Baby, author 's cannily-plotted modern Gothic about present-day witchcraft. It takes classic horror film tropes and re-imagines them through the prism of an newly-emerging world view. Dark castles were replaced with Manhattan apartment complexes. Monsters were replaced by urban paranoia and well-intentioned neighbors, and superstitions and the supernatural had grown obsolete in the age of science and reason. Or had it?
The diabolical cleverness of Rosemary’s Baby is how, in its tale of a young couple moving into an apartment building that houses a coven of practicing Satanists (the notorious Dakota Apartments, site of the tragic 1980 shooting death of John Lennon), it compellingly pits the naïve indomitability of youth against the aged durability of evil.
The central unimaginable horror of the plot - the birth of the living Devil on earth in June of 1966 (6/66) is an act signaling the end of God's reign on earth and the beginning of a new, Satanic world order. A predicted era of evil that just happened to coincide with the real-life bewildering chaos that was the late 60s.
Rosemary’s Baby found the key to making a horror film relevant in horrific times.
Read the complete essay on Rosemary’s Baby here.
Rosemary’s Baby stars , , , and . Directed by Roman Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby is available through The Criterion Collection on DVD, and Blu-ray.