"Rosemary's Baby" is not your everyday monster-on-the-loose kind of horror film. Actually, it may not even be a horror film at all.
That's the take from Shari Zeck, interim dean of Milner Library at Illinois State University and GLT's Culture Maven.
The Roman Polanski film was released in 1968, and stars Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes as a young couple with the bad luck to become friends with the devil worshipers next door. According to Zeck, although the plot concerns the machinations of devil worshipers and the young woman upon whom they prey, the film is less horror and more a classic suspense film, in the tradition of Hitchcock.
"If you think about it, the only monstery kind of thing is the rape scene. Not that that's small, but it's not a film in which monsters are popping out at every moment, or there are people with knives running around or any of those things that seem to be the distinguishing point between a suspense film and a horror film. The film is operating under the threat of something happening."
The film's release came at the time the 1960s counter-culture movement was on the rise.
"It's the proto new age era," said Zeck. "Peace, love and understanding—those aren't things that we associate with the devil, but if we think of them as opposed to a Christian hierarchy, then there were a lot of Americans who saw hippies as the work of the devil. I think the film is some kind of comment on the dark side of counter-culturalism, and an anxiety and fear of what might be operating beneath the surface of nice middle class America."
As Rosemary, Mia Farrow has the baby bump from Hell—literally. Although the character displays spirit, Zeck found her lack of outrage at her rape to be discouraging.
"Even before it's been revealed to her that she was raped by the devil, her husband raped her. He admits it the next day and she even says it felt like a rape. He's horrible from the get-go. But that's the moment that we want to say, 'OK, you tell him goodbye now.'"
"We have the old, old story of selling oneself to the devil for wealth, fame, money. But the husband actually sells his wife. His wife! It's not his life that ultimately becomes ruined because of this pact with the devil. It's his wife's."
The success of "Rosemary's Baby" sired a flock of devil children movies, such as "The Omen." The children depicted in these films are a blank slate onto which we project our fears, said Zeck.
"I think when evil is imbued in a child, it's about our fears about a loss of power and the future swallowing us up and ruining us. So it's a fear of a changing world that we don't feel safe in anymore."
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