Rosemary’s Baby – The Perfect Horror.

A lecturer at uni once told me that – according to screenwriting ‘guru’ Robert McKee – the difference between a horror and a thriller was that a ‘horror’ film has to have an element of the supernatural, whilst a thriller always deals with a human threat. At risk of contradicting McKee and his apparent success it is obvious that this statement is not entirely true. Some of the iconic horror films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Psycho, and to a lesser extent, The Hills Have Eyes, Friday the 13th (this is debatable due to that scary-as-a-mother-bitch moment when Jason jumps out of the water) and Last House on the Left, include murderers that are human. However other iconic horrors, such as The Exorcist, The Woman in Black, Carrie, and A Nightmare on Elm Street deal only with the supernatural. The better horror films are ones that can successfully combine threats, the human and the supernatural. The Shining is amazing because Kubrick combines the evil at The Overlook Hotel (something we aren’t ever sure is real until the end of the film) with the fear of isolation and the threat of betrayal by a family member (something which would unnerve even the most hard of audience).

Similarly, Rosemary’s Baby takes betrayal and a corrupt view of relationships (an idea auteur filmmaker Polanski is fastidiously obsessed with) and crosses it with the threat of evil. Perhaps I’m biased because I’ve had a Christian upbringing, but the threat of evil is so much more real and scary than the threat of a knife wielding maniac (I’m looking at you Scream and Saw, you mean nothing to me!). Polanski stated that his approach to directing is to put multiple layers within a film, meaning that one person may find one element more sad, scary, or funny than another because of a preoccupation they already have. “We see far less than we think we see because of past impressions we already stored in our minds” (Polanski 270). Hence evil is scarier to those who believe in its power.

Eugenes wet dream

Eugene's wet dream

Producer Robert Evans lured Polanski to America under the false pretext of directing Downhill Racer (a romantic comedy skiing film!) yet almost straight away Evans presented Polanski with a copy of the novel Rosemary’s Baby, because Evans knew that Polanski’s sensibilities would gravitate to such a unique story, such as it had with everyone else. After agreeing to direct the picture however, Polanski was adamant that he write the screenplay, so he could change the threat of evil, something which had been real and all knowing in the original novel, into something that could be a manifestation of Rosemary’s imagination. As he puts it, he wanted “a thread of deliberate ambiguity to run through the film.”

This was a stroke of genius. To some, the most frightening part of Rosemary’s Baby is when the audience begins to suspect that Rosemary has been betrayed by her husband and her new ‘friends’. To others, it is when they first hear the séance in the next apartment, and when she is impregnated in the dream sequence. Personally, I find the latter to be the scariest thing ever to be committed to screen, in the history of cinema. Ever.


3 Responses to “Rosemary’s Baby – The Perfect Horror.”

  1. The power of ambiguity is in its ability to flux your perceptions. It is like that crazy berry that rewires your tastebuds so everything keeps shifting, transforming what you knew into something different. Being able to return to something you know and experience it in either a drastically different or a subtly different manner is thrilling. Crop Rotation as Kierkegaard dubbed it, finding regenerative experiences through altering one’s beliefs, perspective or modes of access.

    Maybe McKee is like the Illustrious One in Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha: enlightened and all knowing, yet forced to pass on information which will not lead to englightenment because it simply cannot be taught.
    Or maybe he just needs to have a cork shoved in it, and his label maker taken away.

  2. where is this Polanski quote from?

    “We see far less than we think we see because of past impressions we already stored in our minds” (Polanski 270)


  3. where is the quote in the text from?

    “We see far less than we think we see because of past impressions we already stored in our minds” (Polanski 270).

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