Rosemary’s Baby

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Call Me Crazy But…Old School Horror and Female Intuition

Published April 10, 2014 by vfdpixie

The last few days, I have been immersed in the psychological horrors of yesterday; films with minimal effects, a touch or two of shlock, a great cast and a largely sound story (most based on best-selling novels).  They have not been, and in my opinion, cannot be duplicated, bringing us creeping uneasiness and self-doubt, but all of them featured a doomed female protagonist.  From The Mephisto Waltz and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death to Rosemary’s Baby and The Sentinel, these sleek films of the late ’60’s and ’70’s deal with the struggles of female intuition, the feminine voice and sanity.

the mephisto waltz

In The Mephisto Waltz (1971), Paula Clarkson (Jacqueline Bisset) is married to failed concert pianist Myles (Alan Alda), who becomes the object of ailing musician and Satanist Duncan Ely’s (Curt Jurgens) desire.  Duncan wishes to re-incarnate himself into Myles’s young body so he can carry on being a master pianist.  Paula knows there is something amiss, but her instincts are constantly dismissed by friends, colleagues and doctors.  The feeling grows throughout the film until she makes the ultimate sacrifice to be with her possessed husband.

let's scare jessica to death

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) brings us the story of Jessica (Zohra Lampert) who has recovered from a recent breakdown.  She moves to the country with her husband Duncan (Barton Heyman) and his buddy Woody (Kevin O’Connor) to live a more peaceful life, but they are met with strange occurrences in the small town surrounding their farm as well as a mysterious guest at their house.  She doubts herself constantly, believing she is still mentally ill, but all the while her instincts were right.

rosemary's baby

Of course we all know the story of Rosemary’s Baby (1968).  Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) knows there is something wrong from the conception of her unborn child to her neighbours and her isolation, but she too suppresses what she feels, believing others when she is labelled silly and emotional, and feels comforted that everyone else knows what’s best for her.  Dominated sexually and socially, she is treated like property by her husband Guy (John Cassevetes), who rents out her womb for Satan in exchange for fame.  Unfortunately, Rosemary realizes her own power and instinct too late in the game.  Cutting her hair, investigating her situation, and trying to plead her case to those in power will not give her the upper hand.  Since she can’t beat her oppressors, she reluctantly joins them.

the sentinel

The Sentinel (1977) brings us yet another intuitive woman in Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) who, despite being independent, modern and wanting to wait to get married, becomes a pawn in a supernatural fight for her soul.  When she experiences the unbelievable and tells the truth, she is medicated, subdued and her sanity is questioned, especially after two suicide attempts in her past.

All of these women have the same experience:  their gut tells them something is wrong.  That “wrong” is shrouded in so-called logical explanations, making them doubt their instincts.  Even though they know something isn’t right, it is because of traditional gender roles and a history of mental illness or fragility that allows the received rational thought of the time to discredit their natural, or preternatural instincts, intuition and experience.  Was this a way for the ruling patriarchy to play out fantasies of repressing the female voice in a time of feminist growth?  Second Wave Feminism (1960’s-late 1980’s) was emerging and questioning the status quo at that time.  What better way to subconsciously criticize women’s rights than to use popular culture to label women as crazy, fragile or silly for thinking outside of the box.  As the heroine feels an uneasiness with her situation, her free will and free thinking is routinely challenged as patriarchal ideologies escalate their self-doubt.  These women are penalized for being emotional, intelligent beings and for witnessing the extraordinary.  There is no “final girl” here, instead these films illustrate a “what if” scenario as supernatural forces (or society) overtake the rights of our heroines, taking a psychological snapshot in time to illustrate the consequences of defying social conventions.  Each woman is either subdued for speaking the truth like Alison and Jessica, or succumb to the pressures of society and their peers like Rosemary and Paula.

One film in particular, The Sentinel (with a star-studded cast including Christopher Walken, Chris Sarandon and Jeff Goldblum), blatantly deals with the emerging female voice and sexuality in the era of ‘Women’s Lib’.  Alison wants independence instead of marriage.  She is coping with a persistent fiancé-to-be, the death of her promiscuous father, her suicide attempts, and renewed Catholic faith.  She moves into an old apartment house owned by the Catholic Church where there is an array of odd neighbours, the most interesting being a lesbian couple Gerde (Sylvia Miles) and Sandra (Beverly D’Angelo).  Alison is invited to have coffee with them, and when Gerde leaves Alison alone for a moment with Sandra, she is subjected to Sandra’s bizarre display of masturbation.  Alison is shocked and embarrassed, but I think the scene is very important.  To me, it illustrates, in a somewhat heavy-handed way, Alison’s confrontation with her own sexuality as she embarks on a journey to find herself.  Gerde and Sandra represent Alison’s repressed sexuality trying to emerge in some form, becoming distorted as Alison denies that part of herself.  The couple is free to express themselves and this freedom is seen as a perversion, demonizing their lesbian relationship.  Since the house is owned by the church, it is a metaphor for Alison’s traditional beliefs that engulfs her as she tries to be independent.  Despite her efforts to be her own person, Alison is doomed as she is unable to let go of her ingrained traditional beliefs and be true to herself.  She will eventually become a mute and blind servant who no longer has a self or a say in her future.

the entity

As we move into the 1980’s, films like The Entity (1982) give us a more literal representation of woman versus the omnipresent oppressor.  Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) is a single mother who is tormented and raped by an unseen demonic presence.  She is persuaded to see a therapist who tries to convince her that past trauma is the culprit for her attacks.  When she seeks help from a parapsychology team, her skeptics soon realize a bad childhood may not be the answer.   What is different here is that our heroine fights back and walks away instead of succumbing.  Determined and tenacious, Carla will not let this presence defeat her.   This adaptation of a book based on allegedly true events seems to be one of the earlier films that shows the woman as a bruised victor; carrying on despite her oppressor’s constant presence.

It is great to see how female intuition has evolved since these classic films.  While we still have work to do, women are continually challenging and changing conventional sexual, cultural and political roles in film and reality.  The Descent, Gothika, and The Invasion are great examples of modern psychological horrors featuring women who are strong in their determination and intuition to beat the odds and triumph against evil and those who challenge their sanity (honourable mention goes to the female leads in Doomsday, 28 Days Later and You’re Next for some kick-ass lady power!).  So what have I learned from these films?  I think it is basic.  Horror is a perpetual lesson of how we, especially women, should trust our gut and stick to our guns even in the face of naysayers, slashers and creepy crawlies.  As a woman myself, I can remember countless times when I was told I was too sensitive, or that I was overreacting; that I shouldn’t be so upset or emotional.  All of these observations made me self-conscious and suppress true emotion when my instincts that told me something wasn’t right.  I ended up paying for that in so many ways that now, in my present life, I will never let anyone shame me into hiding my feelings or not trusting my gut.  So the next time someone tells you that you are too sensitive, or that you are crazy for what you feel, tell them to get stuffed, stand up for yourself, and carry on.  It might save you from the boogeyman one day…

 

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Rosemary’s Baby, Devil’s Due and the Favourite Child

Published January 23, 2014 by vfdpixie

rosemary's baby    devil's due

Rosemary’s Baby                                   Devil’s Due  

(1968, 2 hrs, 16 mins)                        (2014, 1 hr , 29 mins)

For my 100th post I wanted to write about my favourite movie.  A difficult choice, but it always comes back to Mia.  Rosemary’s Baby has always stayed close to my heart; it inspired the name for this blog, and it is chilling and comforting at the same time, fulfilling my ultimate horror need.  There is a mythology that comes with this classic film-from the original book by Ira Levin published in 1967, to the choice of director, to the actors; Mia’s infamous Vidal Sassoon haircut and finally the location that spins a near perfect tale.  The sets, the transformation of the characters, and the horror that builds from one scene to the next has yet to be duplicated.  There has been chatter of late on a new film about devil spawn, called Devil’s Due.  Many people see it fit compare the classic film to this new addition to the genre for obvious reasons, but it may not be as easy as pointing out the obvious.

No matter how many times I watch Rosemary’s Baby, I always get goose bumps at the ending.  Mia Farrow’s haunting vocals as the credits roll and the camera pans away from the iconic Dakota (starring as the Bramford in this film) always gets me.  After watching it for the umpteenth time, I have to correct myself. This film is not near perfect.  It is perfect.  From the first few minutes, there is a sense of gothic foreboding, even as Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse (Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes), the modern young couple in love, start their lives in a new apartment.  When Guy is offered success in exchange for Rosemary as the mother of Satan’s spawn, the temptation is too much for him to resist.  Most of us have seen the film and know what the outcome is, however, the plot is played out with such subtle horror that we can imagine this actually happening.  Key coven members Minnie and Roman Cassevets (played brilliantly by Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer) masquerading as nosy neighbours, coupled with Guy’s ruthless ambition and Rosemary’s vulnerability created a tale of supernatural conspiracy that grips you until the final frame.

In Devil’s Due, Zach (Zach Gilford) and Sam (Allison Miller) are happy newlyweds.  Zach has a persistent need to document every waking moment of their lives via video, giving us an intimate look at  their wedding, new life and unexpected baby news.  Yes, the happy couple is expecting.  Only problem is that baby is not Zach’s.  During a night out solicited by a suspiciously friendly taxi driver (Roger Payano) on their honeymoon, Sam blacks out and is taken to a subterranean ceremony where she has been impregnated by the Devil.  As we watch the couple prepare for the baby, we also see Sam change from a vibrant young woman to a sullen, short fused and voraciously hungry host to the demon seed.  They are also being watched by shadowy figures, and Zach begins to notice the change as well as weird things happening in the house.  Devil’s Due takes us on this couple’s journey to place where wedded bliss can’t rescue them.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this film.  While, I didn’t read reviews, I saw the occasional 2-5 star rating here and there, and the general consensus that it was a bad film.  I had no expectations, but the story held my attention.  I liked that it was shot from the husband’s point of view, and the paranoia came from him instead of what we typically (and unfortunately) expect from the female characters.  It was refreshing to see Sam’s character as the sinister one, succumbing to the evil she carried.  I really felt for Zach and his growing concern for his wife, mixed with happiness and fear over her condition.  It was an unknown that he tried to understand and support, with a supernatural complication that no father could expect.

One of the problems I had with the story was how they agreed to go along with the taxi driver, especially after a weird visit to the local psychic.  It’s just common sense to be aware that the locals may not have your best interests in mind.  And the dog.  Are we to assume that Maverick, their golden retriever, was at doggy daycare when the watchers tended to their business in Zach and Sam’s home?  Some pets will betray you by snuggling up to intruders, but I don’t recall seeing him when the watchers were mucking about the house.  I should also point out that if you get motion sickness, you may not want to sit through this film.  I found the shaky camera work to be distracting at first, but got used to it as I watched.  It also annoyed me that Zach brought the camera everywhere.  If he were my man, I would have dropped that camera in the toilet from the get-go.  Sorry, but I don’t like my daily life filmed, especially when I’m having a meltdown.

I did like how the other p.o.v. cameras were incorporated when Zach wasn’t around or behind his camera.  I was also pleased to see a diverse background cast!  From church parishioners to Zach and Sam’s neighbours, visible minorities were a part of everyday life without being forced.  And I loved the ending!  I won’t give it away, but as a perpetually (happy) single person, I kind of snickered because it sticks it to traditional values that I have been criticized or pitied for not adopting.

Character wise, even though Rosemary and Sam were the expectant mothers and their experiences were somewhat similar,  I thought Zach had more in common with Rosemary.  They both had good instincts.  They knew when something wasn’t right and stuck to their guns, even thought they cared about their spouses, and made sacrifices in order to work on the relationships.  The major difference with husbands Guy and Zach was that Guy knew what was happening and why as well as being totally self absorbed, while Zach was in the dark until the end like Rosemary.  I also felt that as a character, Sam got lost in the plot and became merely a device to present the demon birth.

It’s really interesting as I comment on the two films, how film has changed as a whole.  Rosemary’s Baby has such style, such ambiance.  It is said that Polanski wanted to make a classy horror film, and he succeeded.  His use of suggestion and intrigue created a monumental paranoia that is hard to duplicate and the performances of the veteran cast projected the story to cult status.  In contrast, Devil’s Due is a bare bones, sometimes sloppy, vision of the same subject, and although a seasoned horror fan may tire of the found footage genre, it seems appropriate for this age of reality based T.V., voyeurism and all its trappings.   The sloppiness kept the audience guessing even though the plot was fairly obvious.  Despite its appearance, it created a decent amount of dread and suspense and turned out to be a passable horror movie with a punch line ending.

In all truth, I don’t think it’s fair to compare these two films.  They convey a similar storyline, but that’s as far as it goes.  Devil’s Due is an entertaining film you should see on a Friday night; a film you may eventually forget once the hype dies down simply because this fledgling film doesn’t have a history, and the filming style may make potential viewers skip it.  Rosemary’s Baby is an incredible book adaptation that even the original author held in high regard.  It has stood the test of time, was directed by a master, and became a masterpiece.  Both films take the mundane of everyday life and make it haunting and sinister, one with timeless finesse, the other with an in your face guerilla style point of view.  But like most offspring, it’s not healthy to pit one against the other.  There is another baby brewing as well, a remake of the iconic film for T.V. starring Zoe Saldana.  Can’t say I’m thrilled at all.  Does anyone remember the made for T.V. sequel Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby?  Total ’70’s weirdness. Can we stop with the remakes already?!  At least Devil’s Due didn’t claim to be a remake, because in this case, big sister Rosemary will always be the favourite child.  So lay off people…it’s a hard act to follow!

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