Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why, You Little Devil!

There are plenty of movies about the devil, and almost as many about his long-prophesied progeny, the anti-Christ. Now, I've talked plenty about my own personal beliefs, and frankly, these types of movies have never been able to scare me. That doesn't mean there aren't any well-made and thoroughly enjoyable films about the subject. Far from it.

Tonight I am only going to talk about two films, because IMHO, they are they only two really well-made and enjoyable movies on the subject.

In 1968, Mia Farrow was married to Frank Sinatra, Ruth Gordon was an unstoppable powerhouse; a veteran of stage and screen for many years and a young Polish director was at just beginning a long and successful (if troubled career). The movie, of course, was Rosemary's Baby, Roman Polanski's brilliant adaptation of Ira Levin's novel. And it was a huge sensation. Once again, I say "shame on you" if you haven't seen this movie that deserves more love than I have ever afforded it, despite it being no less mythological than Olympus or Valhalla.

Farrow plays Rosemary Wood, who with her struggling actor of husband, Guy (hyphenate John Cassavettes), moves into the Dakota (though how, even in 1968 they could have afforded it, is beyond me). Guy is up for an important role on Broadway and Rosemary is an optimistic 60's gal who wants it all. She even goes crazy and has her hair cut at Vidal Sassoon (again, on his salary?). Rosemary also has an old friend, Hutch (Planet of the Apes' Maurice Evans) whom she loves like a wise old uncle. He's her trusted confidante, elderly and probably gay. Hutch will be discussed again, momentarily. Then of course, there are the new neighbors, Roman and Minnie Castavet, played respectively by Sidney Blackmer and the great Ruth Gordon in a role which earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (a true rarity for a Horror movie).

Odder things than Rosemary's nun dream start to happen and Guy ends up with the role he wanted after the actor who got it conveniently suffers a debilitating accident. Seems everything is going their way until that terrible night when Rosemary dreams of being raped by a monster and then soon ends up preggers (Warning, clip may be NSFW):

Hutch then suffers a stroke and dies, leaving Rosemary a mysterious book; "All Of
Them Witches." Using Scrabble tile to unscramble the Castavets' anagramed names, the poor young thing figures out that her dear old Fairy Godfather was warning her about her neighbors. As is usually the case in such instances, she learns the truth too late...

Of course, we all know that Guy sold... well... I won't spoil it, but if you don't know, I have to ask what rock you've been living under for the last 40 years?

Of course, Rosemary's Baby is more than just a story about the birth of the anti-Christ. It's about paranoia and conspiracy theories (ripe pickings for the mentalities of Cold-War-Era audiences) and the horror of being betrayed by the ones you love and trust. Really, when she can't trust Charles Grodin or Ralph Bellamy, what's a girl to do?

Eight years later, Screenwriter David Seltzer and director Richard Donner (Superman) would give us Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Billie Whitelaw and Leo McKern in The Omen. And how many times do I need to say it's a dirty shame if you haven't seen it? A billion and four, I'm guessing. Anyway...

Peck is Gregory Thorn, a future US Ambassador and Remick is his wife Katherine, who gives birth to their beautiful son Damien on June 6th, 1976. All is apparently well until Damien's 6th birthday party, when his nanny goes a little nutso and hangs herself, proclaiming "It's all for you, Damien!" Sadly, photographer David Warner is on hand to capture the incident, as well as a picture of crazy priest bothering the Thorns with fanatical warnings. Little Damien freaks out on the way to a church wedding and a bunch of baboons freak out when Mom takes little D to a drive-thru safari. The fanatical priest is killed when a lighting rod impales him in a churchyard and the photographer realizes his camera captured the priest's and nanny's deaths before they happened, and soon sees his imminent death in a picture of himself. after convincing Peck to visit a crazy old archaeologist (McKern, in an uncredited), Warner's character meets his predicted fate:

I swear, I almost lost my 15-year-old mind. Of course, a few years later I would be losing my mind over Tom Savini's FX in Dawn of the Dead, but that's another post for later this week.

Of course, this is after Peck and Warner battle evil rottweilers, but before battles Mrs. Baylock (Whitelaw), the exceptionally Satanic new nanny:

And then Damien ends up almost killing Mom (those poor fish!) and Mrs. Baylock finishes the job. Dad comes home with a special set of knives and the damned coppers burst in just in time to ruin everything. And sure, an original plot; terrific actors and a director who knows what he's doing can make or break any movie, but it is Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-winning and iconic score that sealed the deal for this Movie Score freak:

The lamentable 2006 remake can't hold a candle to the original, though they did try.

As bad as the remake may be, you have to give props to Mia for playing Mrs. Baylock.

So, are you like me and not scared at all by movies about the Devil, demons, possession and teh anti-Christ? Or do those concepts make you want to crap your pants? For me - it has to be good, original and at least interesting. The maker's of this year's disappointing indie-surprise hit Paranormal Activity could learn a lesson or two from these films.
More terrors, anon

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