Saturday, May 17, 2014

"What did you do to his eyes?"

This is not the best gif technically, but it will do: it captures the "reveal", the most sublime moment in Rosemary's Baby, which I watched for the third time last night on DVD. 

Though this hardly seems possible, I saw it on TV in about 1969 - I know it's true because I watched it in the den when I was sleeping in the pull-out bed, and we  moved away later that year, so there were no more late-night fright nights. Back then, it usually took quite a few years for a movie to go from theatrical release to television, and then only in adulterated form. How could it have shown up on TV, pretty much intact, in only a year?

Then the movie completely disappeared. It never came on television, not even on Turner Classics. It was never re-released. I could not find a trace of it anywhere, so was finally forced to buy a rather shitty DVD with grainy quality, perhaps a knockoff.

43 years had gone by, but what I retained from that night in the pullout bed was amazing.

I remembered so much of it, in fact, it became apparent on second viewing that it had burned itself into my brain. Some movies barely register, but this one became part of my neural network.

Why? IT'S BLOODY GOOD. Everything about it is enthralling and strange, especially the dream sequences. Mia Farrow is excellent in it, creating sympathy while at the same time setting up doubt that any of this is real, that it isn't just a product of her fevered "pre-partum" brain.

And John Cassavetes - HE is the devil, as far as I am concerned. He is evil incarnate, far worse than the dotty old people chanting about Lord Satan. One of the creepiest scenes is when he tries to justify to Rosemary the sacrifice of their child to Satanic forces:

"Think of all we're getting in return."

Roman Polansky's reputation was forever besmirched by a statutory rape case, though the victim came out a few years ago and (bizarrely) came to his defense. That aside, there is no doubt that this is an inspired work. The sense of weirdness, of the world slipping sideways, the eerie tension juxtaposed with normalcy, does not let up for a second. It pulls tight and lets go, taking us with it.  That horrible sense of "they're all in it together", a prime feature of paranoia, plays on our fears of surrendering control. And having one special, beloved ally, one person who "gets it", then losing him to those dark forces,  is heartbreaking. 

OK, so then, why did I watch this masterpiece again? Because one of the networks decided to do a remake, which was so atrocious I only watched it to see how truly bad a remake could be.

In stark contrast with the original, nobody was good in this, and they changed all the best parts, including that astonishing "reveal" (one of the great moments in the horror genre). 

Leave it alone, I tell you! But nobody does. Did they think they could make this any better? They even wrecked the quirky charm of the short-skirt, go-go '60s by trying to "bring it up to date". 

But we've lost the ability  to make movies like this, that ruthlessly pull and claw at the emotions.  All is slash-and-splatter now, and somehow or other it does not have anywhere near the impact of a 98-pound waif  wielding a butcher knife. Married to Sinatra, in the bargain.

Order The Glass Character from:

Thistledown Press