Cults in Horror Movies: “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968) – by Thomas S. Flowers (Part 2)
[Read Part 1 of Thomas S. Flowers' essay here.]
Following a night of strange chanting sounds coming through the yellow sunny wall, the Woodhouses discover a frightening scene in front of their apartment house. Police tape is being strung. Reds and blues are flashing. People are gathering and murmuring among themselves. And on the pavement, the bloody aftermath of Terry Gionoffrio, dead from an apparent suicide. “She must have jumped from her apartment window,” the police say. Before the scene ends, we are introduced to our un-seeming antagonists, an elderly couple, Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer) and his wife Minnie (Ruth Gordon), who are both perhaps eccentric and maybe a little intrusive, but otherwise kind and thoughtful. They were taking care of Terry, you see, and are heartbroken to discover that she killed herself, though Roman states he is not entirely surprised, as Terry was known (according to him) to get “deeply depressed every three weeks or so,” which I can only assume is a quip about her menstrual cycle. Perhaps, given the rest of the story, Terry was incapable of conceiving a child, which also begs the question…did she know?
Fast-forwarding a little, after accepting a dinner invitation, following another passed-over part for our thespian-husband Guy, the Woodhouses are being entertained in the apartment home of the Castevets. The dinner was actually entertaining to watch, even more so for a second or third screening of the movie, looking for those clues about where the betrayal took root. My guess is the scene following Rosemary helping Minnie in the kitchen washing dishes and Guy and Roman sitting on the couch together, Roman looking nondescript, smoking a pipe, while Guy glares at him mouth agape. Roman is a very warm character, despite the things he did or eventually does. Blackmer did a fantastic job with that role, from charming to near-homicidal/comical, shouting to the (forgive me) heavens, “The end is near! Satan has won!” But not yet, not until the end.
Things begin progressing, sometimes fast, other times slow. One distinct thing is for sure, Guy is beginning to act differently. Sometimes his indifference is pointed out to us, mostly by Rosemary, who complains they are not talking to each other like they used to, or that he doesn’t look at her anymore. The biggest difference, for obvious reasons, happens soon after Guy lands a huge acting part, a part that had been given to another actor who then was mysteriously blinded. Guy tells Rosemary he wants to make a baby. Rosemary is beside herself with joy. Date night. Dessert delivered by Minnie, a dessert with a strange aftertaste. And as the night progresses things begin to get a little dark and strange. Stuck between a dream world and reality, Rosemary drifts between being on a boat to being stripped nude and surrounded by a crowd of naked strangers and not-so-strangers, such as the Castevets and her husband Guy. And then, she thinks she and Guy are having sex, but Guy’s face becomes…something else, something beastly and demonic. There are a few religious notions sewn into the movie. The Pope shows up and we know that Rosemary had been brought up Catholic, but I do not think religion is the focal point of the story. The focal point is the as the title suggests, Rosemary’s baby, and of course Rosemary herself.
Now, I’m going to have to really speed things up here to the end. The movie is actually quite long and I would think it unfair to force any of you fine folk to read something equally as long.
As you can guess, following the deranged night of naked cultism, Rosemary is pregnant. And then we get our next montage scene, and Rosemary goes from newly pregnant to full blown balloon. And Guy, well, his behavior remains strangely distant, in fact, when the baby kicks inside her womb, he withdraws his hand rather quickly, as if he’s afraid. In the interim, Hutch, suspicious of the Castevets and Rosemary’s condition, slips into a coma and passes away. But he doesn’t go quietly in the night. He leaves behind a book for Rosemary, a book that fuels her own suspicions about not just the Castevets, but her husband as well. It a tome entitled All Them Witches, a phrase she repeats towards the end.
Positive that her husband is involved with the Castevets in a plot to steal her baby for some kind of cult ritual, Rosemary runs to her doctor, someone she believed she could trust. Discovering her obstetrician is a member of the coven, Rosemary runs to her original doctor, a very quaint, farm-boy-looking fellow, all-American and down to earth. He pretends to believe her wild claims about witches trying to steal her baby and asks her to rest while he gets her checked into his hospital. But the kind warm face betrays her, intentionally or not. He calls Guy and Dr. Sapirstein to come collect her.
Rosemary attempts to escape again but is given a sedative. Under the drug, she goes into labor. Then she wakes and baby is delivered. She’s told it’s a boy and everything is fine. Still sedated, she falls asleep. Next, she’d told the baby has died and goes into hysterics. Again, Rosemary wakes, this time hearing the muted sound of a baby crying somewhere in the apartment house. She’s told it’s a new neighbor that has moved in, but does not believe the lie. Discovering that the once-barricaded closet is actually a secret passageway, she creeps into the Castevet home, knife in hand, ready to take back what is hers, her child. What she discovers is a celebration of sorts. Neighbors are gathered, some new, some we’ve seen before, sharing drinks and toasts around a coal-black bassinet.
No one stops her, which I found to be chilling. They know, somehow, she will not harm the baby. Peering inside the bassinet, Rosemary smiles and then cringes with a look of heart-stopping horror. “My baby, my baby, what have you done to my baby? What have you done to its eyes?” she utters, stumbling backward, dropping the knife to the floor. To this, Roman says matter-of-fact, “Nothing. The boy has his father’s eyes.”
Here we finally discover the actual parentage of Rosemary’s baby. The Devil, not Guy, is the real father. Some theatrics follow. Roman’s shouting jubilation. Others are toasting and smiling and conversing with one another. Later, Roman suggests Rosemary be a mother to the boy, stating the other women are too old for such a thing. Rosemary cringes again at his suggestion, “That’s not my child,” to which Roman quips, “Isn’t it?”
In the end, we see one of the most memorable scenes in horror history, Rosemary stands and walks to the bassinet, dismissing one of the older ladies, and begins to rock the cradle. And what was once a cringe, turns suddenly into a smile of warmth.
Then the movie ends.
And if you’re like me, watching this for the first time perhaps, as the end credits roll you’re thinking, “What the heck did I just watch?” Which is part of the beauty of Rosemary’s Baby. The plot is non-complicated. In fact, it’s downright simple. The mesmerizing thing about the movie are the characters and the actors who played the roles. Everything was believable, so much so that even when the unbelievable end came, it no longer mattered, we were a part of the story, no turning back. Her rejection of the cultist devil worshipers is expected and warranted, but so is her eventual acceptance of her own child, regardless of what it is, in this case, the Anti-Christ. And then the camera pans away, showing us again the panoramic view of the city and that same (now utterly) chilling lullaby, “la-la-la,” as if to say, the horrors of the world lie hidden behind the curtains of modernity.
And isn’t this what Rosemary’s Baby ultimately teaches us? That even in a city as sprawling as New York, evil is present behind the faces of those we thought we could trust?
Author’s Bio: Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character-driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Lanmò. His Subdue Series, including both Dwelling and Emerging, is published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean.org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics.