Rosemary’s Baby (11/2/12)

Rosemary's BabyMovie Two Hundred Forty Eight

When a young couple moves into a new apartment and gets pregnant, weird happenings cause the expecting mother to worry that something sinister is afoot in Rosemary’s Baby.

Guy (John Cassavetes) and Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) move into a large, gothic apartment after the previous owner passed away. They meet their neighbors, Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman Castavet (Sidney Blackmer), and the young woman staying with them named Terry (Victoria Vetri). After Terry is killed after jumping out a window and Guy and Rosemary decide to spend more time with their elderly neighbors. Guy immediately forms a strong bond with the couple despite Rosemary’s reluctance and when Rosemary becomes pregnant under strange circumstances, the Castavets take a strong role in the Woodhouses lives until eventually Rosemary suspects that there is much more going on to their story and suspects them of witchcraft.

Roman Polanski’s Hollywood debut, Rosemary’s Baby, is one of the most chilling stories put to film. There is a sense of dread from the very beginning, even if you know nothing of the story that *something* is going to happen. As small hints are dropped or strange things are happening, you start to wonder what exactly is going on and what is really happening with the Woodhouses and Castavets. When witchcraft and Satanism start coming up you almost don’t want to believe that it’s really happening; maybe Rosemary is just being delusional but you know that probably isn’t true.

The really haunting thing about Rosemary’s Baby, however, is that while everything happening seems a bit weird, it isn’t so weird that it would raise any red flags  in most of our lives, and that is what makes the tale so chilling. We can’t all go around assuming the worst of people or that their motives are probably evil. If we move into an apartment next door to an elderly couple we wouldn’t want to offend them. The progression of the plot is not at all far-fetched and even when Rosemary suspects witchcraft she is scoffed at. Even at its weirdest, Rosemary’s Baby is fairly grounded in realism which makes it all the more frightening.

I’ve long held an opinionated distinction between horror movies and terror movies, sometimes classified as psychological horror movies. Nowadays, horror films are filled with blood, guts, and gore – which is fine. I find movies like Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, or The Shining to be more terror movies,where the reliance to chill is on mood rather than violence. The experience for watching these films is disquieting and difficult to shake even after the film is over. Rosemary’s Baby may not appeal to modern horror fans in the same way that it does to me, but I would rank it quite highly.

Criterion Collection recently released a new restored version of Rosemary’s Baby that gives Polanski’s film a fantastic presentation. The visuals and sound have likely never looked better, or at least not since it debuted on the big screen. The special features, which I didn’t fully dive into, include an interview with Polanski, Farrow, and producer Robert Evans on the film. As far as Criterions go, this is a brilliant set for a fantastic film.

Rosemary’s Baby doesn’t get the attention I feel it deserves, even when discussing classic horror films. There are few films that give the same sense of dread so well. Though I just missed watching it in time for Halloween, be sure that Rosemary’s Baby will make a solid place in my annual film rotation come Halloween season.

I give it 5 tannis root necklaces out of 5.

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Shadows and Fog (7/27/12)

Movie One Hundred Seventy Seven

In Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog, there is a serial strangler on the loose and a bookkeeper gets caught up in the town’s madness.

A vigilante mob on the search for a strangler wakes up Kleinman (Woody Allen) to help them track the killer down. Outside of town, a group of circus performers is staying. Irmy (Mia Farrow), a sword-swallower,  and Paul (John Malkovich), a clown, are having a dispute which causes Irmy to travel into town for a place to stay. She finds herself in a brothel, and after receiving $700 from a young patron (John Cusack), she is arrested. Kleinman is also at the police station and as the two are leaving, they become close to avoid any danger from the strangler still on the loose.

Woody Allen pays homage to German Expressionism in Shadows and Fog and apparently it was a huge miss with audiences and many critics. I found myself quite taken with Shadows and Fog, partly because of the star studded cast but also because of the natural comedy from having Woody Allen in a noir-like setting. On the surface, this is not a typical Woody Allen film but it’s definitely a Woody Allen film, it’s just in a different wrapper.

When I first heard of Shadows and Fog, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I imagined a serious film where Allen completely steps out of his comfort zone and does something totally unexpected. This isn’t the case, however, despite having a dark feel, having Allen injected into the film’s world significantly changes the tone. This is what makes Shadows and Fog so confusing. It’s clearly an homage to films like M, but Allen keeps you laughing more than worrying. I understand why Shadows and Fog was one of Gene Siskel’s picks for worst of the year, but I also found myself enjoying it.

As one of Allen’s most expensive pictures, Shadows and Fog was a huge flop at the box office and it seems to be fairly unknown from what I can tell. I’m not sure who the target audience should be for a film like this and I’m finding it difficult to even recommend it outright. I will say that I enjoyed watching Shadows and Fog because I was keen to try something new from Woody Allen.

I give it 4 Third Man tributes out of 5.

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