When deciding which movie was best-suited for rounding off the Features Creatures’ Spook-Fest, I sleuthed long and hard through endless lists of “Best Horror Movies.” I wanted something classic, well-made, suspenseful and psychologically-sound enough to allow me, a 20-year-old girl alone in her apartment, to at least get a good night’s sleep before midterms week plagued my slumber.
Friends, my mom and my own cinematic desires eventually led me to Roman Polanski’s seminal 1968 film “Rosemary’s Baby.” Pixie cut darling Mia Farrow moves into a new apartment, and her strange, nosy neighbors may be up to something; she then becomes pregnant with Satan’s baby. Sounds like exactly what I was in the mood for.
This is my ideal horror movie. No grotesque death or gore, no stalkers trying to mercilessly kill packs of teenagers in a small, unsuspecting town and no screams or jump scares. It was 135 minutes of intense nervousness. Whenever you thought something truly horrible would happen, the suspense petered out in an equally-gripping exhalation of relief. Granted, it was one that did not last long.
Watching “Rosemary’s Baby” was equivalent to questioning my own reality and understanding of everything I’ve grown comfort in through the course of my life. No one could be trusted, and the paranoia was all-consuming. Husbands, friends, doctors, the written word — none of these typically-comforting sources were on Rosemary’s side as she struggled to understand just what it was growing inside her.
As someone who is already a natural skeptic of such traditional institutions like marriage, maternity and modern medicine, these elements certainly hit close to home. How do I really know what to believe? At the heart of “Rosemary’s Baby” is this crisis of faith, something that undoubtedly everyone goes through at some point (hopefully on a much, much smaller scale).
Interestingly, Halloween is the day to celebrate this crisis. We are allowed, for one day only, to suspend our belief in what’s real in order to transform our minds into portals for the supernatural, extraterrestrial, anamorphic — you name it. If it’s imaginary, then there’s a costume for it, packaged and for sale at your local Halloween costume emporium.
Maybe that’s why people love scary movies so much; it allows them to press pause as they press play. There is an appeal to unpacking what you think is true in order to temporarily accommodate for a more intoxicating, enthralling, even dangerous way of life. When you watch scary movies, you go beyond the screen, with the movie world and the living world blending in nerve-wracking ways. And for some people, this is exactly what they want.
Since starting this series, I’ve found myself asking people whenever I got the chance if they like horror movies and why/why not. Across the board, the answers fell into one of two options: yes, because being scared is fun, or no, because they hate being scared.
The point of writing these pieces this month has been for David and I to figure out why we’re in the latter category, and maybe slip over to the dark side of enjoying horror. Speaking for myself, I can say that I’m not necessarily going to marathon all of the really gruesome, scary movies in the days leading up to Halloween, but I think I’ve gained a stronger understanding of horror’s appeal. “Rosemary’s Baby” showed me that, yes, the tension and anxiety of watching a character walk down a dark corridor with the swelling, piercing musical score guiding her can actually be enjoyable!
You may choose to cinematically commemorate this Halloween with “Halloweentown High” instead of something scarier and, hey, that’s okay. There is fun in fear, but everyone has their limits.