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Release Date(s)1968 (October 30, 2012)
Studio(s)Paramount (Criterion - Spine #630)
When you think of great horror filmmakers, you probably think of names like David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, maybe even Alfred Hitchcock. But one name that comes up infrequently in these discussions is Roman Polanski. This has always struck me as a little odd. John Landis is referred to as a Master of Horror despite the fact that he’s only made a small handful of genre movies. Polanski has made cult favorites like The Fearless Vampire Killers and The Tenant as well as indisputable classics like Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. Even his version of Macbeth emphasizes the horror elements in Shakespeare’s play.
Rosemary’s Baby was Polanski’s first Hollywood picture and it’s hard to imagine a more unlikely convergence of talent. The movie was produced by gimmick-meister William Castle and starred Mia Farrow, then best known as a TV starlet and as Mrs. Frank Sinatra, indie film icon John Cassavetes and old pros like Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer. Somehow, these disparate personalities came together to craft one of the horror genre’s all-time classics.
Author Ira Levin excelled at combining horror and humor in novels like Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives. Polanski translates that mix to the screen as well as anyone ever has. The movie isn’t funny-ha-ha. It’s funny-peculiar. Polanski makes sure that every laugh is just a little uneasy. It’s also one of the few movies to successfully pull off the old maybe-it’s-all-in-her-head trick. Lots of movies try it but most overplay their hand in one direction or another, making it obvious whether it’s real or not. Rosemary’s Baby doesn’t. But thanks to Polanski’s direction and Farrow’s performance, the suspense is just as great if it’s all a paranoid delusion or if Rosemary really is carrying the son of Satan.
Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition of Rosemary’s Baby is a dramatic technical improvement over Paramount’s old DVD. The transfer, approved by Polanski himself, is stunning in its level of detail. Color levels have finally been made consistent, allowing you to really appreciate Richard Sylbert’s production design and William Fraker’s cinematography. Best of all, it looks like a film, not a high-def video. This really is like getting a brand new 35mm print delivered to your home. The audio is presented in its original uncompressed monaural state and is perfectly balanced.
The bad news with the release is that the two bonus features from Paramount’s DVD are not included. So if you want the vintage documentary Mia and Roman or the 2000 retrospective interviews with Polanski, Sylbert and Robert Evans, you’ll need to hang on to the DVD. The good news is that the new extras are outstanding, starting off with a new set of interviews with Polanski, Evans and Mia Farrow. All three have great anecdotes to share and tell them extremely well. Evans in particular is such a first-rate raconteur that he should be interviewed on every DVD, even on movies he had nothing to do with. There’s also an interesting 1997 audio interview with Ira Levin from Leonard Lopate’s radio show New York & Company. Levin was promoting his novel Son of Rosemary at the time and discusses the film adaptations of his work and hopes for a movie version of Son of Rosemary with Brad Pitt as Mia Farrow’s adult son. There’s also a feature-length documentary on composer Krzysztof Komeda, a Polish jazz musician and composer, that was considerably more compelling than I expected. The usual Criterion booklet includes an essay by Ed Park, Levin’s 2003 afterword to the novel’s reissue, and excerpts from Levin’s notebooks.
Rosemary’s Baby deserves a spot on any list of the best horror movies of all time. Criterion’s amazing new transfer alone makes this an easy upgrade to recommend even with the missing bonus features. There’s never been a better way to spend some time with all of them witches.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke