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Here Comes My Devil Baby

written by: on October 31, 2012

In a market dominated by gimmicky Paranormal Activity sequels and abysmal remakes of teenage slasher flicks, most modern-day horror films rely on jumpy scares and gratuitous gore to keep audiences awake at night. However, a classic film like 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby doesn’t need the crutch of “torture porn” to be truly terrifying.

Directed by Roman Polanski and starring Mia Farrow in the title role, this deeply disturbing film about a Satanic cult in New York City is a masterwork of slow-building suspense. Instead of relying on cheap thrills and bloody violence, Polanski utilizes more subtle perversions–a peculiar comment here, a disturbing image there–to fill every frame with a throbbing sense of dread.

Rosemary’s Baby begins like a Doris Day movie, with wide-eyed Rosemary (Farrow) moving in to a beautiful new apartment, chatting with her overly-friendly neighbors, and desiring intimacy with her ambitious movie-star husband Guy (John Cassavetes). But before long, a dark and devilish paranoia begins gnawing at the crevices of her mind, resulting in an unexplained pregnancy and rapidly growing doubts about the motives of everyone around her.

Rosemary's Baby 2

Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy (John Cassavetes) experience pregnancy “complications.”

Still, the most bizarre aspect of Rosemary’s Baby is not the creepy McCarthy-ian subtext of it’s plot, but rather the eerie enchantment that drives it’s musical score. The melodies are lilting and dream-like, frightening yet strangely calming at the same time. Every note is distinctively feminine in nature, preying on womanhood’s most fragile vulnerabilities and darkest primal fears. In essence, the soundtrack to Rosemary’s Baby is an inverted mirror of Rosemary herself: a beatific Madonna with an unhealthy attachment to the Devil inside of her.

When selecting a composer to bring Rosemary’s Baby to life, Polanski immediately turned to longtime collaborator Krzysztof Komeda. The celebrated jazz pianist was a rising star in his native Poland at the time, and had already composed three of Polanski’s earlier films (1962’s Knife in the Water, 1966’s Cul de Sac, and 1967’s The Fearless Vampire Killers). But despite the critical and commercial acclaim of his previous compositions, the hauntingly melodic soundtrack to Rosemary’s Baby would prove to be the magnum opus of Komeda’s short life.

Just one year after Rosemary‘s release, Komeda died of a freak brain aneurysm at the age of 38. Polanski was devastated by the loss of his friend, and still credits a great deal of his early directorial success to Komeda’s avant-garde brilliance:

“Rosemary’s Baby owes much to Komeda’s empathy and creative imagination…not for the first time, a film of mine derived an added dimension from [his] wonderfully imaginative music.”

While Komeda excelled at combining low-key jazz elements with horror-tinged woodwinds and strings, “Rosemary’s Theme” still resonates as his most triumphant composition. The simple lullaby recurs in various forms throughout the film: uptempo when Rosemary discovers that she will be a mother, screeching when she tries to escape and is ultimately sedated, and more pensive when she approaches the crib to rock her little devil at last.

However, the most recognizable arrangement is the clanging, spine-tingling discordance that plays over Rosemary‘s opening and closing credits. Mia Farrow provides the iconic “La la la la” vocals, luring the audience into the film’s dark and bewitching undercurrents with her eerie siren’s song. And yet, the ethereal purity of Mia Farrow’s voice has a soothing quality as well, like the faraway sound of a mother singing her baby to sleep.