This blog is devoted to all those pieces of 20th century culture too often pooh-pooh'ed by the so called 'high brow' crowd. The stuff that conjoures words like 'vibrant', 'garish' and 'lurid'. Cheap paperbacks, b-movies, exploitation, fantasy, horror and hokey sci-fi - all have a place on this blog where the trash of yesterday is recognised as the classics of today.

Friday, October 29, 2010

'Rosemary's Baby' by Ira Levin

Happy Halloween folks! As the great festival for all things creepy, spooky and demonic is this Sabbath, I will be putting out several posts over the next few days celebrating the spirit(s) of All Hallows' Eve. First up; a remarkable novel which played a large part in the popular shift towards all things occult and satanic in the late '60s and early '70s.

Popular culture in the late '60s was vastly becoming obsessed with the demonic. Anton LaVey founded The Church of Satan in 1966. Rosemary's Baby was published the following year and the film adaption came the year after that. The early '70s saw the huge success of novels and movies like The Exorcist and The Omen, as well as more low budget stuff like Hammer's The Devil Rides Out and To the Devil a Daughter. The big bad man downstairs was everywhere it seemed, popping up on magazine covers, paperbacks and movie posters. The cause for a lot of it can be laid at the door of Rosemary's Baby and Roman Polanski's near perfect 1968 film adaptation.

Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move into an old apartment block in New York City. Rosemary wants a baby and Guy is an out of work actor. They get friendly with an elderly couple living in a neighboring apartment and after the mysterious death of a fellow actor, Guy's career suddenly soars. Rosemary soon gets pregnant and that's when things start to get creepy. Horrific dreams plague Rosemary as the new life grows inside her and she becomes convinced that their friendly neighbors are intent on stealing her baby.

The book is less supernatural horror than paranoid thriller and is all the more effective for it. The terror of a mother for her unborn child and the sense that she can trust nobody - not even her own husband - is the real horror at the centre of the story. The comparison on the back to Henry James' The Turn of the Screw is one I can agree with - it is never clear until the very end whether or not it is all just some horrible paranoid fantasy on the part of the protagonist. What's really creepy is just how ordinary the villains are. There are no crimson cloaks, black masses or naked dancing in the moonlight here. Just a group of elderly people who wouldn't be out of place in any neighborhood. They could be living next door to you or I.

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