“Rosemary’s Baby”

Roman Polanski's unnerving classic deserves to be seen in all its gloomy glory. But good luck erasing it from memory afterward.

Topics: Roman Polanski, Movies,

“Rosemary’s Baby”
Directed by Roman Polanski
Starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon
Paramount; widescreen (1.66:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Retrospective interviews with Polanski, production executive Robert Evans and production designer Richard Sylbert; making-of featurette

“Scary” just isn’t the right word for Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby.” It’s an unnerving, artful, vaguely unpleasant picture that settles deep into your bones, leaving you feeling just a little unclean, as if you’ve been made uncomfortably privy to one woman’s very intimate suffering. Rosemary (Mia Farrow, looking as close to a daisy perched on two delicate stems as any human being possibly could) and her husband, Guy (a shiveringly nasty John Cassavetes), move into a new apartment building, where they’re instantly befriended by its aggressively affable elderly denizens, led by Roman and Minnie Castavet (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon, respectively).

These creepy and decidedly uncreepy (at least at first) seniors have evil plans for sweet Rosemary, arranging for Satan (whom they worship — in the nude, no less) to sire her baby without her knowing it. “Rosemary’s Baby” unfolds as a menacingly gentle fugue of paranoia, as Rosemary slowly unravels what’s happening to her. Polanski keeps the creeping sense of horror in the air without ever dangling it cheesily in front of us: When the drugged Rosemary is being prepared to meet the Dark Prince, we see her floating, fully clothed, on a mattress that’s been set adrift on a hopelessly blue Mediterranean-looking sea. Polanski cuts the sound, and the silence feels like the treacherous roar of the ocean.

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The extras here are minimal but satisfying. A making-of featurette that’s edited like a student art film (this was 1968, remember) shows the youthful Farrow dancing like a wood sprite around the set and decorating an otherwise Spartan-looking storage shed with effusive flower-power blossoms.

The other feature, made for the release of the DVD, is built around retrospective interviews with production executive Robert Evans, production designer Richard Sylbert and Polanski, which sketch in interesting bits of background: For instance, Sylbert knew immediately that Guy and Rosemary’s apartment building simply had to be New York’s Dakota, an imposingly elegant, Gothic-type structure that looks as if it has a million secrets bricked into its walls. The Dakota seems particularly foreboding on the fresh DVD transfer, which is lovely, restoring “Rosemary’s Baby” to all its gloomy glory. In its newly spiffed-up state, the picture deserves to be seen. Good luck trying to rinse it from memory afterward.

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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