Seriously, it’s like you need a degree to make sure you mix your lady slipper with your night shades in just the right concentration or else your intended victim will only end up with an embarrassing rash instead of a life-stealing hemorrhage. There are way too many thistle facts to remember, way too many boiling points for fennel species and don’t even get me started on mugwort.
Of course, there’s also the fact that you only get to hang around with old people if you show up to party, and chances are they’re all going to be naked. That’s kind of a bummer.
These are only some of the lessons you too can learn from viewing Rosemary’s Baby.
But there are one or two about faith that pop up, too.
If that’s not planting a seed to make you keep reading, then I don’t know celandine from cinquefoil.
It has probably prevented as many pregnancies as Barry White has caused.
And though it’s almost fifty years old, it still out-heebies many contemporary creep shows.
Mia Farrow’s biggest claims to fame back in 1968 were a recurring role on Peyton Place and an unexpected marriage to Frank Sinatra. But when Rosemary’s Baby hit theaters that same year, it launched her career as a box office heavyweight.
And it put Satan on the map in a Big Screen way—as if he needed any more help.
The film drew critical acclaim because of its plausible plot and dramatic performances. It was intelligent and slick, unlike the clunky bastard brood it spawned. In Rosemary’s wake, a string of would-be usurpers to the crown of occult horror tried their best, but none were as polished or well-produced. It would stand the test of time, still heralded as one of the all-time best horror films. Last year, it was selected to be preserved on the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.
At its heart, it’s a simple story. Based on Ira Levin’s novel of the same name, the film centers on a young socialite couple, hungry for success, who move into a Manhattan high rise. Rosemary Woodhouse (Farrow) wants to start a family, but her husband Guy (John Cassavetes) is focused on getting his acting career off the ground.
They fall in love with an apartment on their first tour, right down to an oddly placed dresser that completely obscures a towel-filled linen closet at the end of the hall. The realtor blames the curiosity on the previous renter’s senility. But the couple receives another strange bit of information from their current landlord and author friend, Hutch (Maurice Evans). He tries to dissuade them from moving into the building, claiming it’s reputed to have been home to Satanists, witches, and cannibal murderers. Undeterred, Rosemary and Guy chalk his stories up to urban legend and sign the papers.
Rosemary meets one of her new neighbors while doing laundry in the building’s basement. She introduces herself as Terry (Victoria Vetri) and Rosemary immediately notices the silver clasp around her neck. Terry says it was a gift from an elderly couple, Roman and Minnie Castevet (Sidney Blackmer and Ruth Gordon), tenants who helped her overcome drug addiction. The clasp contains a pungent smelling herb called Tannis Root, Terry explains, identifying it as one of the methods the Castevets used to help her kick her habit.
A few nights later, Rosemary returns home to see a swarm of police in front of her building. Terry lies dead on the sidewalk, apparently taking her own life by jumping from her bay window. The Castevets arrive upon the scene, and distraught, introduce themselves to the Woodhouses, inviting them for dinner later in the week.
The dinner turns out to be almost comical for Rosemary and Guy: their hosts are so erratically eccentric that it’s hard to get a read on them. Roman claims to have lived all over the world, holding court as if he is the toastmaster of a formal club. Minnie scarfs down food as if she’d never seen it before and peppers Rosemary with questions about she and Guy’s interest in children. Guy can’t get enough of the kooky pair and is soon fraternizing with them more and more. Rosemary tries to keep her distance, but it’s tough when the Castavets keep showing up at her door.
Soon afterward, Guy gets a leading role when his rival suddenly goes blind. Within days, he decides that he wants to start a family. Guy has done the anatomical math and it turns out that same night should be ideal for the couple to conceive. As they are sitting down to a romantic dinner, Minnie drops off dessert: a decadent chocolate mousse that Rosemary finds bitter and unappetizing.
As the couple prepare for bed, Rosemary begins to feel faint, stumbling around the apartment. Guy helps her to bed and tucks her in. She dreams that she is surrounded by the building’s older tenants, including the Castavets—all of whom are naked—as she also lies naked on a bed. In the dream, Guy begins to make love to her, but is soon replaced by a demonic suitor with flaming eyes and scaly claws.
Rosemary wakes the next morning, disturbed by the dream—and the jagged scratches along her back and arms. Guy confesses that took liberties with her as she slept, in an effort to ensure conception. Lucky girl; it worked.
Guy notifies the Castevets of the pregnancy before Rosemary gets the chance. The couple insists she see Dr. Abraham Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy), a family friend, instead of Dr. C.C. Hill (Charles Grodin), whom her friends had recommended.
Minnie brings the same Tannis Root charm, insisting that Rosemary wear it constantly. She also begins to stop by daily with an herbal shake she claims will aid in the pregnancy. The drink causes Rosemary to lose weight at a breakneck pace. When Hutch happens by and meets Roman, the two lightly spar about Dr. Saperstein’s unconventional methods. Hutch leaves, so concerned by Rosemary’s emaciated appearance that he researches the Tannis Root. He discovers that it is used in witchcraft and is commonly referred to as “Devil’s Pepper.” He calls Rosemary with his findings and they arrange a meeting, but Hutch mysteriously lapses into a coma and dies just days before.
Guy begins to turn on Rosemary, insisting that the Castavets and their ever-increasing circle of older “friends” from the high rise know more about her pregnancy than she does. As she begins to feel more and more isolated and uneasy, she turns to Dr. Hill…who quickly returns her to Dr. Saperstein’s care (by way of a tag-team strong-arming with Guy). Saperstein forces her back to the apartment, drugs her, and she immediately goes into labor. Her baby has a face only a mother—or a creepy old folks’ cult—could love. The weirdest baby shower in history commences, as Rosemary if forced to accept her fate.
The Devil has a son, too. And she’s just delivered him.
Rosemary’s Baby is a slow burn of terror, with the all-too familiar feeling of almost-familiarity bubbling just below the surface—the quasi-familiarity we have with our neighbors, co-workers and casual acquaintances—the way we know them, but don’t know them. It’s about the invisible masks we wear, whether to hide our true selves or our true feelings. We bite our tongues so we won’t offend. We go with the flow so we won’t be ostracized.
As Christians, we (hopefully) aren’t secretly moonlighting in covens, but we nevertheless fall victim to our own duplicitous nature when we live contrary to Christ’s teaching. Our ensuing shame sometimes makes it difficult to share our burdens with other Christians, but scripture tells us that’s exactly what we’re meant to do. “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25).
Rosemary allows herself to get swept up into an inescapable swell of doom because of her unwillingness to speak up for herself and against the masses. She’s uncomfortable with the strange ways of her acquaintances (‘cause they’re hardly friends) and the continued pressure to adopt their values and viewpoint. She waits far too long to speak up and when she does, it’s too late. It happens in the real world too, especially if we, like Rosemary, have no foundation, no spiritual scale with which to weigh such challenges.
In Matthew 7:15, Jesus warns his disciples to “beware of false teachers who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know recognize them by their fruits.”
But if we’re not nurtured by the True Vine, how will we recognize the good fruit?
Psalm1: 1-2 says “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked , nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
We must be armored with wisdom to avoid being deceived. We need to be honest with ourselves and our fellow man. And we need to remember that it’s okay to ask for help from our brothers and sisters in Christ when we can’t go it alone.
Just watch your delivery. The devil’s in the details.