SEAT AT THE BACK - SCRIBBLES! ~ Films on the Seat at the Back playlist right now: KIDS IN LOVE; JUNE; CURVE; WILD, BARELY LETHAL; GODDESS OF LOVE; THE VATICAN TAPES .. What a night in!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

'LOOK WHAT'S HAPPENED TO ROSEMARY'S BABY' (1976) ~ In Which Groovy Disco Dancing Teens Replace a Rock Star Devil Child as the Next Best Thing to an Apocalypse!

* Plot spoilers may be asleep in the crib ~ watch before waking *

At the end of Roman Polanski's 1968 movie 'Rosemary's Baby', often considered one of the greatest horror movies ever made, Rosemary has been through Hell - an odd assortment of neighbours and hangers-on and a possible occultist clan in the Manhattan apartment (a place apparently with a long history of demonic ritual) that she moves into with husband Guy, have overseen her copulating with the Devil (in a dreamlike, and not exactly certain to be reality, kind of way) and a baby subsequently born just before the end credits roll.

Rosemary's first glance at her baby, Adrian, indicates a horrific sight - we get teased with a glimpse of some demonically glinting eyes. It turns out the baby may be the son of Satan after her husband's striking of a deal to further his acting career by letting satanists use his wife to produce the antithesis of regular virgin birth. Could Rosemary look after the baby, she's asked - be a good mother to the son of the Devil? Her furtive eyes reveal that Rosemary has other plans for Adrian that don't involve forked tongues and black candles at midnight. Now, fast forward eight years to 1976 and look at what's happened to Rosemary's baby now!

It's little use trying to compare the TV movie japes of Look What's Happened To Rosemary's Baby with the original Polanski classic. The director is different (as are most of the cast) and while it's a film with some cult appeal, in no way on this Earth could it be considered a classic of horror film-making. Although, I quite enjoyed the film and thought - while it's often ridiculous - this sequel to one of the greatest horror movies ever conceived probably did the right thing by going a bit bonkers and chucking in everything but the sink full of holy water. I think this is called mind-boggling the viewer into submission to ensure you don't have time to remember how much better the original was. Still, I say again: Look What's Happened To Rosemary's Baby has a Hell of a lot going for it...


The plot is perfunctary. Rosemary goes on the run with Adrian (now called Andrew) and along the way gets snatched by the satanist clan from back home (still led by oddball weirdo, sickly-smiling old couple Roman and Minnie). Adrian gets taken to a Vegas casino by local good-time-girl Marjean, his snatcher. In an oh-so-70s twist, Adrian becomes a pop singer at the casino (though we never actually get to hear him sing anything) and is befriended by a deeply religious chap called Peter Simon (geddit?) who seems destined to protect Adrian from the returning old cronies of evil who want him to commit one last act of evil to a disco beat and so usher in his reign as resident Antichrist.

Things don't go according to plan and Adrian (who now says his real name is Andrew because that's what his mother called him, thinking - I guess - it would fool Lucifer or at least dear old Ray Milland who has somehow been cruelly shunted up into all this mumbo) ends up in an insane asylum straight out a less than convincing (and boring) episode of 70s TV series Hammer House of Horror (of which I reckon there were only about two duds, with the rest being perfect). Soon the forces of evil track Adrian/ Andrew down and the poor boy (well, more tall, strapping, hunky young man by this point) is fighting for his life. Like in the original Rosemary's Baby, there's a twist at the end that I didn't spot coming. Then again, it would be hard to spot anything coming in this movie as it seems to have been written and directed by an imaginary wannabe Stephen King after a few boxes of magic mushrooms.

There's more demonism in a jar of peanut butter (personally speaking) than there is in Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby, but - if you relax, ignore the fact that there's a better Rosemary's Baby movie out there, and take some hallucinogenic dandelion coffee granules in one pipe and smoke it  - then you may well enjoy the film all the way to the end!

There's little horror in this sequel and no sense of wickedly smart, subtle (or quite as strangely sexy) mating rituals or sense of new parental unease that defined the original and that never quite became a clearly defined enough statement of horror to confirm whether the madness was all in Rosemary's head or more  real and actually going on around her - much like the madness in Polanski's Repulsion was more a part of the mind playing tricks than an actual crack in the wall.

The leaders of the original Satanic Surburbanites in Rosemary's Baby were headed by the iconic pairing of Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer as Minnie and Roman Castevet. Only Ruth Gordon returns in the sequel with Roman now played by a deliciously drawling Ray Milland (though he does look a little uneasy with the dialogue he's been given, I can't ever imagine Milland putting in a performance than doesn't mesmerise, even when sleepwalking through it). Ruth Gordon, great actress though she is, has been turned into something less sinister, more batty. Make-up is all very heavy lipstick with over-generous (in colour and amount) application and she looks less a threat, much more in need of a weak tea with plenty of sugar. When the Castevets visit Rosemary's husband Guy (now played by a devilishly scheming and internally sweating George Maharis instead of the original's John Cassavetes), Minnie is more interested in whether she will meet Charlton Heston (Guy, thanks to them, is now a famous Hollywood star, just as he always wanted) than ushering in the reign of Satan's son as she should be doing.


While Rosemary is back (briefly) at the start of the film, (now on the run with her 8 year old Adrian/ Andrew who, as played by Philip Boyer - and who hardly appeared in anything else except a couple of TV roles in shows such as CHiPs - out-acts pretty much everyone, even the great Ray Milland, almost) she doesn't appear for long as the yummy mummy is snatched in the back of a bus while young Adrian/ Andrew is bundled into the back of a car. I don't think mother and son are likely to ever be reunited in this life.

As soon as the boy is kidnapped by the forces of evil and taken to live in a Vegas casino he grows up and is played by Stephen McHattie (well known for sneering, wildcard roles, especially that of James Dean in a movie made the same year as the Rosemary's Baby sequel). I'm going to maybe surprise you here but McHattie gives a laconic, tortured, wink-in-the-eye performance that to be honest - as good as makes the movie as good as it can be. He also has nine movies in production this year, so the Rosemary's Baby sequel hardly killed his career. Unless, of course, like his dad in the film - he has sold his soul to the Satanists to get on in Hollywood. Like, possibly, most of the rest of the big name stars here have also done!

The new Rosemary, played by Patty Duke, doesn't seep enough slow-building fear and promise of motherly strength into her role and it's pretty much sheer panic from the off. But unlike Mia Farrow in the original, there's no time to slow-build her fate - she's already in the middle of the madness, and you do actually miss Rosemary when she disappears early in the movie never to be seen again in a terrific sequence where the desperate mother boards a bus, the doors close, there's no driver and away she goes - leaving her child behind (the film tapping into parental separation fears again here for the better - much like a 'tube train doors closing on mum while baby is still on the platform and she can't get off' kind of urban legend we all know and secretly love).

But the film is mostly deliberately played for laughs. There's a hilarious scene with young Andrew still with his mother who leaves him outside a phone box while she makes a call to her husband and he wanders into a group of local children who start mocking him. The boy's eyes glow red and all the children fall down. The cops arrive and Rosemary and son do a runner into the motorhome (a few metres away it seems) of local good time gal, Marjean. Cue a scene in which Rosemary grabs a knife from the kitchen, hides it behind her back and asks Marjean: "Did he hurt anyone?" We know he didn't as we have just witnessed an explanatory scene with the sheriff outside telling bystanders to move on as the children get up, fully recovered. "Nobody has been harmed," he says cheerily to snoopy Marjean, who was possessed by Satan down a public telephone line on the way back to Rosemary from listening to the Sheriff (all this happens just a few metres away from the motorhome so Rosemary may have been better just looking out the window for herself). And so Marjean tells Rosemary a not very likely fib: "Oh yes," she says, "your boy snapped all their necks." And Rosemary believes her. It's clearly time for the character to leave the script in disgrace.


The best sequence in Look What's Happened To Rosemary's Baby takes place in the casino. The Satanists (mostly the OAP contingent now, and a bit slower walking than the busybodies in the original) arrive to turn Rosemary's teenage son into the Prince of Darkness. This means drugging him and - ooh! - painting his face white and making him wear a mime mask to the disco downstairs. Adrian/ Andrew dances on stage and looks like he is about to sing, but (as proved earlier when confronted by a gang of bikers that he was expected to wipe out) - he can't kill. But he can "corrupt the youth of today" and that seems to be good enough for Minnie and Roman Castevet as girls in braless t-shirts dance around the boy and the camera shots become as lusty and low-shot as they were in 1970's episodes of Top of the Pops. The sequence ends on a shot of Peter Simon (who, being a serious goody two shoes if not a reincarnated disciple or something - hey, I didn't write this script, leave me alone! - was never going to last long) being dramatically electrocuted in a buzzing Christ-like pose  (not sure this was in the Bible) and displayed for everyone to see through the square window - his hair frizzed-up and arms outstretched and looking much like Tom would look like if Jerry had inserted a live plug up a place where Jerry shouldn't be going.

Tragically, the actor who plays Peter Simon - David Huffman (and who does a convincingly sincere, engaging and straight-faced performance, despite the silliness of the part he's been given) died tragically young - murdered after trying to stop a mugging outside the California theatre where he was appearing in the play 'Of Mice and Men'. He died aged 39, having also appeared in a string of great cult movies including F.I.S.T, Blood Beach and Firefox.


Look What's Happened To Rosemary's Baby is directed by noted movie editor Sam O'Steen (who edited the original Rosemary's Baby) but has directed only a handful of films, mainly TV movies, some very good. I'll say this about Sam - he's not a static director and sure knows how to party! The script is only loosely based on characters created by author Ira Levin, who wrote the original novel that Polanski directed unexpectedly faithfully - religiously sticking to every page . Levin wrote a more official sequel to his original novel with 'Son of Rosemary', a bestseller in 1997 but so far unfilmed.


The ending of 'Look What's Happened..' takes place under an on-screen chapter called 'The Book of Andrew' (previously we had 'The Book of Rosemary' at the start and 'The Book Of Adrian' in the middle - very high concept all this!). Andrew is befriended by a friendly nurse at the insane asylum he has now ended up in after seeing his best friend frazzled and starts a passionate affair with her that may result in (hooray for the old gang of Satanists almost let down by the old son of the Devil - he's back and on the job that he should be on) even more babies one day!

Andrew's still good though and soon goes on the run with his new ladyfriend (who wears a sizzling short nurse's uniform, unlike old pal Simon Peter who just wore sandals and moaned at him about fighting sin) and has to escape the pursuing OAP Satanists and even his own dad. We still don't know where Rosemary herself is, though she may have moved on to another husband without cloven hooves and a forked tongue, should there be any men out there who don't have such things.

There's a surprise for anyone who has made it to the end of the movie so watch out for this if you haven't given up on the film halfway through, like Rosemary herself did. She should have stayed around to watch the youth of today get corrupted by evil and start dancing to popular tunes wearing next to nothing. And then I realised - the sequel to Rosemary's Baby isn't a horror movie. It's a public information broadcast to the teenagers of 70's America. God knows whether it worked.


Words: Mark Gordon Palmer

No comments:

Post a Comment