Year of Release—Film: (2014/ TV)
The Devil made them do it. What else can explain NBC's decision to remake...or retell...the tale of Ira Levin's bestselling book of the same title that was turned into the classic 1968 movie Rosemary's Baby starring Mia Farrow as guileless housewife Rosemary and her conniving would-be actor husband, Guy, played by John Cassavetes.
Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into the once elegant but now aging Dakota, a Manhattan apartment building. Rosemary sets about remaking the apartment into a stylish home while Guy tries out for an off-Broadway play. An older couple Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer) and Minnie (Ruth Gordon) have a tragedy in their lives when their "ward" Terry (Victoria Verte) commits suicide and they befriend Guy and Rosemary.
During a dinner party, Guy is enamored by Roman's tales of far-away places and they begin a friendship that leaves Rosemary feeling odd man out. Guy, by way of an apology, promises Rosemary that she would get the one thing she has been dreaming of...pregnancy! During the romantic dinner planned to make this occur, Minnie brings over dessert..."a chocolate mouse...her specialty.” After eating it, Rosemary feels drugged and passes out. She begins dreaming about boating with President Kennedy and the Pope. Suddenly, the dream becomes a nightmare of Rosemary being raped by Satan as a coven of witches chant beside the bed.
The next morning Rosemary wakes up badly scratched, with Guy confessing he "didn't want to miss baby night" so he had gone ahead with sex even though Rosemary was unconscious. Soon, Rosemary learns she's pregnant and they celebrate the good news with their new and increasingly intrusive friends, the Castevets. More good news follows as Guy learns he's landed the lead role in the play that would certainly make him a star! However, not all is well as Rosemary becomes sick and is in a great deal of pelvic pain. Her OB/GYN, Dr. Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy) assures her that it is just stiff joints and has Minnie make Rosemary a daily vitamin drink.
However, as the months pass, Rosemary's pain increases until she is practically bed-ridden, now paranoid about Guy close connections with their next-door neighbors, the Castevets! Was the nightmare really just a nightmare? Moreover, why does Rosemary hear chanting and flute plying from the Castevet's apartment? What did Rosemary's friend, Hutch (Maurice Evens), mean when he instructed from his deathbed that Rosemary be given a book titled All of Them Witches? And what about her husband's sudden success on stage? Was it a conspiracy against Rosemary? Or is it about her baby? For those who have been living under a rock or in a cave for the past 40 years and have never read Ira Levin's best-selling novel or seen the Oscar-winning and enormously successful movie or even the 2014 retelling of it, I'll not give spoilers.
What made the 1968 movie was the sense of creeping horror as the viewer is drawn along with Rosemary's dawning realization that something isn't right in her World. However, it was Roman Polanski's riveting style as director that gives Rosemary's Baby it's spooky atmosphere and morbid humor as he slowly but surely ratchets up the tension and horror. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote in his June 29, 1968 review “...the brilliance of the film comes more from Polanski's direction, and from a series of genuinely inspired performances...” and “the best thing that can be said about the film, I think, is that it works. Polanski has taken a most difficult situation and made it believable, right up to the end. In this sense, he even outdoes Hitchcock. Both ‘Rosemary's Baby’ and Hitchcock's classic ‘Suspicion’ are about wives, deeply in love, who are gradually forced to suspect the most sinister and improbable things about their husbands.” The original Rosemary's Baby sits comfortably at number 9 on the AFI 100 Years...100 Thrills list.
Now let's examine 2014 re-telling of this story...what worked ... and what didn't. This new version, penned by Scott Abbot and James Wong, radically updates the Ira Levin novel. This time around, Rosemary (Zoe Saldana) is a ballet dancer and sole breadwinner for herself and her husband Guy (Patrick J. Adams). After a miscarriage, she and Guy move to Paris where he has been offered a position as a teacher at the Sorbonne. After an apartment fire leaves them homeless, they are invited by their new elitist friends, Roman Castevet (Jason Isaacs) and his wife Marguax (Carol Bouquet) to live in the Castevet's exclusive private apartment complex. In the Polanski film, the devils are an old couple in a dusty Manhattan building. In the newer version, Roman and Marguax are younger, more glamorous, seductive and extremely wealthy. One can see that they would think everything has it's price. Guy has what they want. A vessel for Satan's unborn child! A child he is willing to sell, if the price is right! While Saldana played her part very convincingly, Patrick Adams played Guy as blandly as vanilla ice cream. Not very convincing and at one point actually acted guilty about his part in the conspiracy and offered to flee Paris with Rosemary. That ruined the whole plot. In addition, if you watched any of the commercials for the mini-series, you might have noticed that all of them were shots from the second part, and wondered, ‘why’? The answer is that the first part was as stagnant as pond water. I could almost hear Joel singing, “Slow the plot down, boys … Slow the plot down!” Disappointing!
Polish-born director Agnieszka Holland explains in a May 8, 2014 interview for the New York Times “my Rosemary is much more willful and stronger.” But she added that Rosemary remains a victim to the nature of motherhood, “dependent on the people who decide, instead of her, what to do with her body. The notion of postnatal and prenatal depression, and the feeling that you don’t own yourself anymore, that you’re not yourself anymore, it’s a quite important subject of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.”
The 2014 version is far more gory than the original, replacing the chicken heart Mia chews on with a human heart. In the 1968 version, Guy gets the lead in the play because the other candidate went blind. In the 2014 version, Guy's competition for the teaching position goes crazy during the job interview and attacks the interviewer with a letter opener before slicing her own throat.
And while all that red might look interesting against the somber, almost blue and white film, it loses the psychological horror to replace it with rivers of gore. Bad move. The original pulled the audience along with Rosemary; we shared her increasing sense of dread, realizing that only when Rosemary knew, we'd know! And to borrow a line from late-director Dave Friedman, the remake was all sizzle and no steak. But, the worst part of this is that audience members might be put off watching the original Rosemary's Baby or reading Ira Levin's marvelous book. And therein lays the real shame.