We can't ignore the inclination to indulge in a scary movie (or two) in the month of October. One of the all-time classic scary films with a stylish aesthetic is of course, Rosemary's Baby. For decades this movie has been scaring the wits out of viewers while at the same time enthralling with its stylish New Yorker characters.
Rosemary's horror - image: snakkle
Why is it Influential?
Although it is nearly fifty years old, Roman Polanski's foray into the horror genre still makes top horror movie lists year after year for good reason. Not only was it Polanski's first major Hollywood film, but the story itself was also groundbreaking for mainstream film at that time and paved the way for other notable horror classics with a satanic twist such as the Omen, and of course, the unforgettable Exorcist. The original novel the film was based on was written by Ira Levin, and he credits Polanski with remaining very close to his book. The backlash that Levin had expected to get from the novel (1967) was actually realized when the film premiered in New York in the summer of 1968. It was besieged by protestors and several religious groups condemned the film outright including the Catholic church, which slapped the then-notable 'C' rating (for Condemned) on the work.
....and of course, as with any great horror movie, there are lingering rumors of a curse afflicting anyone associated with the film.
The timing for a film like this was ideal as it hit upon a general fascination with the occult that began to sweep the USA and the UK from the late 60's through the 70's. There are many societal factors that contributed to this trend. There was an overall perception that humanity was unravelling and society in decay, as well as a proliferation of new drugs which gave the sensation of entering an alternate state. Many popular rock & roll bands of the day were making reference to the occult; even the Beatles had shaken off their clean cut image and were dabbling in mysticism. In addition, there was a growing opposition to Christian religious doctrine giving rise to various cults; in a bizarre twist of fate, the notorious Manson cult would have a shocking and ironic impact in Polanski's own life a year after Rosemary's release. Another pivotal development - the Church of Satan formally organized in the US in 1966 bringing to a head a stew of various counterculture and pagan influences that had been percolating on the West Coast since the early 50's.
If you are observant, you will notice a scene in the film where Rosemary (a lapsed Catholic) is confronted with a Time magazine cover asking "Is God Dead?". In some ways, this film seemed to be at the forefront of a cultural explosion.
The storyline is built around some pretty basic fears as well as turning some deeply entrenched truisms on their heads. The young couple, Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes), decide to move to a bigger apartment as they are hopeful to be starting a family soon. Guy is also optimistic about his acting career, which has not taken off yet. They first meet some nosy but seemingly harmless elderly neighbors, the Castevets, under unpleasant circumstances: a the police scene of a suicide. Although the elderly couple sort of worms their way into their lives, they are not alarmed because their age renders them harmless (or so it seems). They begin to trust them as neighbors and elders. After Rosemary does eventually become pregnant during a truly disorienting and surreal dream sequence, the couple elderly couple immediately push upon them a high profile obstetrician to manage Rosemary's care. The whole thing feels like such an immense favor, that Rosemary feels obligated to agree to switch doctors.
Throughout the pregnancy, you see Rosemary growing more and more sickly looking and exhausted. As her apprehensions about the pregnancy grow, the tension builds. Any parent can probably relate to some of the anxiety being experienced during a first pregnancy and some of those common fears are exploited here as you watch things seeming to spiral downward. The doctor in which she places so much trust does not very much to help her even when she is experiencing discomfort that does not seem normal at all. She has no reason not to trust a doctor, whose primary concern is supposed to be his patients' health and in that day and age, people placed almost absolute trust in doctors; the film is calling into question various groups have been historically trusted by society.
As the plot unfolds and Rosemary becomes convinced that there is something diabolical going on, it becomes more difficult to extract herself from her situation. She is sure that her husband has collaborated with Satan-worshippers in her building to further his career and in the bargain has agreed to hand over their child for their destruction in some sort of rite. The tension of the harrowing scene where she tries to secure herself in their apartment to safely deliver are only topped by her realization of the full horror of the situation in the final scene of the film.
the meddling neighbor Minnie Castevet (Ruth Gordon) - image:acmi
The Set and Atmosphere
One of the most convincing elements of most horror films is the music - you only have to think of Halloween or Jaws to hear the chilling score in your head and stay spooked for the rest of the night. In this aspect, Rosemary's Baby does not disappoint; the eerie chanting heard throughout the film imbues the scenes with as much dread as you would expect in a movie about the unborn antichrist. The soundtrack is the work of Krzysztof Komeda, a young and talented composer who had already worked with Polanski on two previous projects. Unfortunately, Komeda met with a freak accident 6 months after the premier of Rosemary, slipped into a coma, and died shortly thereafter.
The set design and cinematography also contribute greatly to the morose feeling of doom and the building of tension throughout the film. The apartment building that the couple moves into is full of heavy, dark wood. Their apartment, which only became available because the most recent occupant had died, is gloomy and dim despite the fact that they spend some time brightening it up with new paint and wallpaper. There is a scene in the creepy basement laundry room where Rosemary meets a seemingly cheerful and optimistic young lady who soon after throws herself out an upper apartment window to her death (mentioned above). A closet in their apartment is mysteriously blocked off by a very heavy armoire - anyone living in New York would not be eager to block off closet space unless they had a very good reason.
Polanski used a yellow-orange lighting in all the apartment scenes to give a very off-putting tint which adds to the feeling of unease. He also employed several points in the plot where tension builds and is quickly diffused to keep you on the edge of your seat til the final scene. A prime example of this is the scene where Rosemary has finally figured out that nobody she has been surrounding herself with since she conceived can be trusted, and is pleading for another doctor's help on a call from a public phonebooth (remember those?). The music, Rosemary's unhinged tone of voice, and the confined space of the phonebooth are stressful enough, but to make matters worse she and you, the viewer, become convinced that Roman Castevet is lingering outside the phonebooth to capture her. You realize it is a "false start" when you see that is is just a stranger waiting his turn to use the phone. This device is cleverly used to keep the tension high.
Why is it a Fashion Film?
Throughout the film costumes and styling set the tone and provide important clues about the characters and where the storyline is going. Vidal Sassoon, who built a cultish following in that era, gave Mia Farrow the pixie cut that became synonymous with his brand as well as with the actress' own persona. For the character of Rosemary, the cut represented a pivotal point in the development of her character. When faced with Guy's disdain for the new 'do', she declared how thoroughly modern it was - a sign that she is taking steps to think for herself. Remember, this is a point in the women's movement where women were starting to assert themselves more in society and also for jurisdiction over their own reproductive care. Roe v. Wade is still 5 years in the future at this point, and these issues are at the forefront of a sexual revolution simmering in the US. The haircut represented a modern woman.
Vidal Sassoon giving Mia that iconic pixie cut o the set of Rosemary's baby
The costumes, especially Rosemary's, set the tone as well. The babydoll dresses and peter pan or portrait collars Rosemary wears underscore her innocence and child-like nature. They also correspond with her tendency to be infantilised by her husband, the neighbors, her doctor, nearly everyone who comes into contact with her. Her attempt to assert herself (with the modern haircut) is thwarted as she becomes more encumbered in pregnancy. Indeed, her most rebellious act, to contact a second doctor, is derailed when he delivers her, like a helpless child, back to her tormenters. The prints and sweet loose dresses are not only indicative of the waifish style of the period which suited Mia Farrow so well, but also of Rosemary's character. The meddling neighbor, Minnie Castevet, is appropriately dressed in garish prints and colors, bright makeup, and overbearing accessories - all these hint at her obnoxious and pushy persona. The men's fashions I find to be less enlightening about their specific characters, but they are good examples of what an urbane man of the day would wear. Dr. Hill, the nefarious obstetrician, wears three-piece suits while at his office, which lend a dependable air of respectability and would reinforce Rosemary's initial trust that he was a professional, and an authoritative figure. Her husband, Guy, is usually shown in pretty bland outfits - oxford shits, corduroys or khakis, v-neck pullovers. Roman Castevets cuts a more dapper figure, and is usually wearing a sportscoat, with a colorful pocket square, bowties, and stylish hats. He is a good foil to Minnie's wild look as it would be odd pairing to have her matched with someone not stylish. His style also reflects a man who is confident.
If you are looking for a movie that is long on style and big on thrills and suspense, Rosemary's Baby will not disappoint.
This film has influenced many designers since its release. It has been a key inspiration for our current trend prediction for A/W 2019-20 "Crystals & Mystics" - check it out in our trend market!
...and here is a selection of some of the print inspired by this trend also available now on our site!
prints featured from left to right: Colorful Crystals | Runes & Crystals | Watercolor Crystals | Eye of the Storm | Mystic Woman
It was actually really hard to choose a film for this genre - there are so many good ones to chose from. We'd love to hear your suggestions, so let us know what your favorite stylish horror film is below!
Other Sources: IMDB | Criterion | YouTube | Time | Vox | Vanity Fair | Techgnosis | Phoenix Rising
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