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Dissecting the curse of Roman Polanski's horror classic 'Rosemary's Baby'

Happy endings make me puke.” – Roman Polanski

Over the years, the myth surrounding Roman Polanski’s 1968 film Rosemary’s Baby has only grown in stature. The iconic work has gone down in film history as one of the pioneering efforts of the genre, exploring counter-culture symbolism as well as launching a philosophical yet entertaining investigation of the relevance of theological institutions in the modern world. Rosemary’s Baby is still appreciated by audiences all over the world, 52 years after its release, but it is also important to note the “cursed” history of the film’s production in order to gain a more complete perspective.

The so-called curses which are attached to these kinds of projects often turn out to be publicity stunts and marketing strategies to boost the number of people who buy tickets. It can be said with almost complete certainty that there is no real witchcraft involved here but it cannot be denied that tragic events have come to be associated with the infamous film. What are these tragedies? Let’s take a look.

Writer Ira Levin and his spiral

Polanski’s classic psychological horror film stars Mia Farrow as Rosemary who moves into a new apartment with her husband (played by John Cassavetes). When Mia gets pregnant, things start getting increasingly weird as her neighbours try to control her life and consequently, the future of her child. The film is based on the 1967 novel of the same name by American novelist Ira Levin. He came up with the idea for the book in 1965, drawing inspiration from his wife who was pregnant at the time, his New York apartment and the anxiety of being a parent.

The struggling writer imagined a world where there was no God and the devil was allowed to reign freely. This is evident in the iconic ending where Rosemary finds out that her husband sold her womb to Satan and that her child is the Antichrist. Levin was catapulted into the highest echelons of the literary world due to the success of his novel and a year later, a European auteur who was looking for his own Hollywood break decided to direct the film adaptation of his novel.

However, not everyone was pleased with Levin’s attacks on religion. He faced severe backlash from the Catholic Church for his “blasphemy” and his wife left him the year the film was released. He was never the same man again, growing increasingly paranoid over the years. Levin repeatedly had to make public statements denouncing Satanism and told Dick Cavett that he had become “terrified” as he grew older. 30 years after the release of the film, Levin came up with a sequel titled Son of Rosemary but it tanked.

Producer Problems

William Castle was the man who first recognised the potential of Levin’s work and secured the rights to make a film adaptation. Best known for his work on B-grade horror films, Castle wanted to direct it initially but Paramount Pictures executive Robert Evans agreed to go ahead with the project only if Castle worked as a producer. In April of 1969, Castle was hospitalised because of severe kidney stones. He was already under a lot of stress due to the sheer volume of hate mail he received, a terrible consequence of being attached to Rosemary’s Baby. In his autobiography, he claimed that he began to hallucinate scenes from the film during his surgery and even shouted, “Rosemary, for God’s sake drop that knife!” Although Castle recovered, he never reached that level of success again.

Producer Robert Evans was not exempt from this alleged curse either. He had risen to the top with major hits like Rosemary’s Baby and The Godfather. However, he was convicted of cocaine trafficking in 1980 and got a suspended prison sentence. As a part of his plea bargain, Evans had to make an anti-drug commercial. Three years later, the producer would get caught up in the high-profile murder of Roy Radin which has come to be known as the “Cotton Club murder”. Despite two witnesses testifying that Evans was involved in the case, he was later cleared of the charges. In 1993, he told The New York Times, “I had 10 years of a horrific life, Kafkaesque. There were nights I cried myself to sleep.”

(In)famous Deaths

This is arguably the most renowned story that is related to Rosemary’s Baby. In autumn of 1968, composer Krzysztof Komeda, who worked on the film, fell off a rocky escarpment while partying and went into a four-month coma. Coincidentally, this affliction is exactly what the witches in Levin’s book subject Rosemary’s suspicious friend to. Komeda never came out of the coma and died in Poland the following year.

John Lennon was assassinated outside The Dakota in 1980, the famous building where they filmed Rosemary’s Baby. Producer Robert Evans claimed that the whole time he was on set at the apartment building he felt a “distinctly eerie feeling”. Lennon was gunned down by alleged “fan” Mark David Chapman who was influenced by Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye and the loneliness of protagonist Holden Caulfield. However, the fleeting association with the film has led fans of the film to link Lennon’s assassination with the “curse” of the film.

It can be said that the primary reason why the myth of the curse came about was the brutal murder of Polanski’s wife, actress Sharon Tate. Polanski even wanted to cast Tate as Rosemary but Evans was adamant about Mia Farrow’s involvement. A year after the film’s release, Tate and her friends were stabbed to death by followers of cult leader Charles Manson. Tate was eight-and-a-half months pregnant at the time of her demise. The members of the Manson Family delivered around 100 stab wounds to the four victims and wrote “Helter Skelter” on the wall in blood.

Polanski’s Fate

After his wife and unborn son were killed, Polanski indulged in substance abuse to cope with things but he ended up exemplifying human depravity. While guest editing the French edition of Vogue in 1977, the director preyed upon a 13-year old girl and persuaded her to participate in multiple photoshoots. During the second shoot at Jack Nicholson’s house, he incapacitated the minor with champagne and half a Quaalude before sexually violating her multiple times.

Although he was arrested for the felony and spent 42 days in jail, Polanski became a fugitive and fled to France in order to avoid facing charges. Since then, he has lived the life of a criminal and has avoided travelling to countries where it is possible for him to be extradited back to the US.