October 27, 2009

Rabid Reads for Halloween: "Rosemary's Baby" by Ira Levin

Title: Roseymary's Baby
Author: Ira Levin
Publisher: Signet Books (1967)
Genre: Horror
Pages: 320
ISBN 0451194004
ISBN 13: 9780451194008

It has been over a decade since I first watched Rosemary's Baby. It was on some cable station late at night; it might have even been a double feature with The Omen or something like that. The movie freaked me out, I remember that much. Dated in appearance and manner, but I think that is what added to its charm. If someone made a modernized version of this story, I don't think I could watch it. They just can't capture the magic of those films from the sixties and seventies.

I read the novel last fall, but figured I'd go back and review it for the week leading up to Halloween. I'll likely see if I can borrow a copy of the movie from the library over Halloween weekend too, just to refresh my memory of Roman Palanski's work.

The story is told through the perspective of Rosemary Woodhouse, as she and her husband, Guy, move into a new apartment. It's idyllic, almost too good to be true. Their neighbors, the Castavets, seem pleasant enough, as does most everyone else in the building. But it doesn't take long for Rosemary to wonder if there may be some secrets held in the building, especially her apartment, considering the untimely death of the previous tenant. Hutch, a friend of Rosemary, aids her in trying to learn about the past of the Castavets and the apartment building.

In the meantime, she's pregnant for the first time. It was something she wondered might not be in her future, and given her waifish frame and fragile demeanor, she and Guy take every precaution to ensure it is a healthy pregnancy. And the Castavets take a keen interest in the child's well-being too.As the pregnancy progresses, Rosemary experiences strange occurrences and grows ever more suspicious of everyone around her, including Guy. And she has reason to be suspicious as far as she's concerned, given her memory of the baby's conception entails a hallucinatory dream in which she's raped by a demon. That would put anyone on edge.

Rosemary becomes more isolated and weak as the pregnancy progresses and she worries she might lose the baby. And as more deaths occur and her thoughts of conspiracies and demons intensify, she begins to doubt her own sanity.

I really liked this novel when I read it last year and the story still sticks with me to this day. It's just one of those classic pieces of horror and suspense. Ira Levin provides a great blend of chills, scares, and a dash of satire through this story. There's even a certain campiness to the film by some measure, and even with the novel, given the time frame it takes place in. It's a major reason why I don't think it would translate well with a 21st century coat of paint. I could very well be wrong on that, as it all depends on who the visionary is writing and/or directing it.

I'd say fans of suspense and horror have read this already, but in case they haven't they should. I have a copy of Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives sitting on my bookshelf that I should read for the first time--probably early next year. Now there's a movie that didn't translate well when it was remade. Am I wrong? Personally, I did not care for the story, which may have been due to a less dark tone and less than impressive casting choices. The first film based on the novel was better, at least in my estimation. But in any case, no matter how poor a film adaptation might be, it can't diminish Levin's novels.


  1. I agree, this was a good book. Levin was good at just layering on the tension steadily until-snap!-the whole world comes crashing down.

  2. Yes he was. This novel has assured me that I should read more of his work.