He Has His Father’s Eyes – A (Semi-Grudging) Happy Birthday to Roman Polanski, 79


She’s got a pretty strong case for that one. I say “semi-grudging” in the subject line because I’m not too thrilled about how he’s treated a few certain women. He has, however, gone through some unusually horrifying tragedies, such as the brutal murder of his 8-months-old pregnant wife, and both he and his father survived Auschwitz. His mother was murdered there. Now that I think of him living through that, I feel like an icy bitch, so I’ll focus on two of his movies rather than his personal life.

Rosemary Woodhouse: Awful things happen in every apartment house.

She’s got a hell of a point. Regardless of what I think of Polanski as a person, it’s undeniable that he made two very influential movies that actually helped broaden what a horror movie can be.You might even be able to go so far as to say that with Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968), he helped change the face of horror.
A beautiful but unbalanced woman who is slowly losing her mind, seeing waking nightmares, leaving fresh meat out to rot and draw flies in her kitchen, and soon after, dead bodies to rot and draw flies in her bathroom (though the landlord has it coming), and is still so frightened she won’t come out from under her head. Outside of Hitchcock, there weren’t too many psychological thrillers with female protagonists in the 60s.

A woman who only wants to protect her baby, going up against what turns out to be a conspiracy when no-one (outside the conspiracy) believes her, and that conspiracy is even more monstrous than she imagined.  When Rosemary figures out that her baby is alive, and finally pulls the curtain to the bassinet back (a moment that gives me chills to this day) only her horrified and shocked reaction is shown and is one of the best examples in cinema history of leaving a sight to your imagination. She also spits directly into her husband’s smug face when she discovered he has betrayed her to further his career, in one of the truly satisfying moments in the film (to me, anyway).

There’s three movies I recall that, when I was in grade school, my parents ordered me out of the room when they aired on TV and announced loudly that it was “time for bed, now!”. The first was the Omen , the second was The Exorcist, and the third was Rosemary’s Baby. I got to watch maybe the first 20 minutes of DePalma’a Carrie, so I guess that doesn’t make the list. With The Exorcist, I don’t even think I made it through the credits or opening scene before getting hustled off to bed.

You know what? I think that was actually a good call. I was way too young to see them, and they really would have haunted me forever, especially The Exorcist, which actively frightens me as an adult. Speaking of that, I’ve only seen Repulsion once in the mid-80s, and there’s stuff that sticks with me to this day.  The hands coming out of the walls, the manicure mis-fire, the skinned rabbit, all the POV shots are as fresh as they ever were. That movie—Polanski’s first English-language movie, by the way—is fucking disturbing. It was so nightmarish that I only needed to see it once.

I have two trailers for Rosemary’s Baby; I should add that the trailers for both movies are bursting with spoilers, so skip them if you’ve been meaning to watch either and haven’t got around to it yet. The first one is considered rare:

not to mention creepy as shit, too. The next one is arguably the most frightening  trailer:

Repulsion’s trailer here is also chock full of spoilers (and cymbal clashes), but so amazing I couldn’t stand to omit it.

There’s barely any blood in either movie, and what there is just seems kind of quaint now compared to modern horror movies.

For every quote where Polanski came off sounding like an arrogant, there are ones that I, and many movie fans, passionately agree with. My personal favorite is “Cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theater.” Now that’s the test of a good movie.

Here’s some fun trivia:

  • One of my personal heroes, William “Step Right Up” Castle, had previously acquired the rights to Ira Levin’s novel Rosemary’s Baby. He’d looked forward to directing it, but studios weren’t so thrilled with his reputation for gimmicks like “Emerg-O” for The House on Haunted Hill (an inflatable, glow-in-the-dark skeleton that would get wheeled over the audience during a similar scene in the movie) and… OK, that’s a different article. No way could I (or anyone) beat the piece John Waters wrote on Mr. Castle*, anyway.  Castle ended up producing the movie (which worked out well for him financially) and having a quick cameo.
  • Mia Farrow was not the first, second, or even third actress they wanted for Rosemary.
  • She really did eat raw meat during the kitchen scene.
  • Ira Levin was very, very happy with the movie adaptation of his novel.

Last night, Rosemary had the strangest dream…

*I highly recommend “Whatever Happened to Showmanship?” (1983) in Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters.