Cannibal Holocaust was banned in some countries, The Wizard of Oz bought delight to many kids but not the actors and Rosemary’s Baby had a demonic theme that may have escaped production and afflicted cast and crew.
Cursed Films II, streaming only on Shudder takes on more iconic horror films breaking apart the purported ‘curse’ that surrounded their production.
One film in the series is Rosemary’s Baby.
A 1968 released horror film directed by Roman Polanski that had dark overtones seemingly seeping in to real life.
We speak to Occultist and renowned author Mitch Horowitz who has featured on both seasons of Cursed Films about the so-called curse that surrounds Polanski’s timeless depiction of the birth of the antichrist.
Shane: Do you go by, is your your thing, an occultist or you’re a writer. Or both?
Mitch: I guess you could say I’m both. I write about alternative spirituality in history and practice. So I refer to myself as a believing historian.
Shane: How does someone become an occultist, writing about the occult. How does that happen?
Mitch: Well, in my case, I suppose it happened by lucky accident. I was always fascinated with the occult of the esoteric when I was a little kid growing up in the borough of Queens in New York City, and I consumed books on folklore and mythology and the paranormal, flying saucers, Bigfoot and I had the good fortune into adulthood through a series of twists and turns to be able to rediscover that interest and I published my first book ‘Occult America’ in 2009, which is the history of supernatural religious movements in the US. And I’ve been going ever since then.
Shane: There’s been rumors and stories for decades about the film Rosemary’s Baby being cursed. Do you think that it’s all hype to promote the film, or do you think there is something to it?
Mitch: Well, there was such an odd set of cultural circumstances that converged around Rosemary’s Baby. I don’t think of the film as being cursed, but I think of it as having become the kind of galvanizing point for all these different frictions that we’re playing out, culturally, religiously, politically, in the late 1960s.
I mean, just think of it. The novel Rosemary’s Baby, gets written and published in 1966. By an avowed atheist named Ira Levin, who lives here in New York City. At the same time, Anton LaVey, across the country in San Francisco founds the Church of Satan, and then this young director Roman Polanski gets selected to make a movie version of Levin’s novel, and there’s all this upheaval going on in the culture where accepted religious traditions, political traditions, social traditions, personal styles are being abandoned, are getting usurped.
And stepping into all of this is the advent of the Manson family, which many people see as the death knell of the idealism of the 1960s. And so, Polanski’s new wife and unborn child lose their lives in these grisly murders which have a occult undertones. And I wouldn’t say the film is cursed, but it is a really extraordinary, weird magnetic point around which all these social factors and tragedies converge, so it does give a person pause, although the term curse isn’t one that I would personally use.
Shane: They do go through and they draw the those parallels between real life and the theme of the film, you know, so do you reckon it’s just a weird synchronicity, or something else?
Mitch: It’s always hard to say, you know, the word synchronicity in itself is one of these terms that Carl Jung left us without really defining and it’s funny because of the generation that he came from and because of his medical background got very turned on by providing us with vocabulary words to describe a circumstance without really defining whether there was some occult quality to it, in fact, and even in addition to everything that I’ve mentioned in connection with Rosemary’s Baby, there was more still.
Sammy Davis Jr. appears prominently in the movie through his memoir. Which happens to be a very good book, and Sammy, several years after the movie is released, winds up joining the Church of Satan for a period of time, and there are all these other strange wrinkles.
So it does feel if you start to unpack all the different events and confluences of circumstance around the film, that there’s something that seems meaningful around it, at the very least culturally meaningful, but there may be something more going on.
Who knows what it is that brings together all these different people to create what I regard is one of the greatest horror films ever made. But the circumstances surrounding the lives of some of the people involved in it are some of the most horrific circumstances you could imagine. And the list of weird coincidences just keeps growing and growing the more one unravels the onion, so I wouldn’t be prepared to conclude that there’s absolutely nothing to it, but happenstance.
Shane: So my next question, it’s a little bit similar, but it’s more about Roman Polanski. He had quite a tragic, very tragic childhood, and then he found himself, he got himself going, and again, after Rosemary’s Baby, things really went to custard for him. So, you know, keeping in the theme of Cursed Films, do you think there was some sort of dark shadow in his background after taking on that subject? Or again, it’s just some sort of weird universal happening?
Mitch: In the episode about the movie the producer William Castle’s daughter speaks very eloquently and in a very open ended way about her refusal to discount the presence of a curse in the movie. Now, of course, I didn’t have any personal connection to the movie myself. I was just a toddler when it was coming out and it’s difficult for me to say whether anything, in Polanski’s life could be considered a curse or supernatural.
He’s such a polarizing figure and such an extraordinary figure and as you eluded, I mean, he escaped from extermination in childhood, his family suffered horribly. He became and remains just an extraordinary artist. I think he’s one of the greatest filmmakers of this or any generation and the tragedy and the difficulty that seemed to follow Polanski is hard to draw any conclusions around. His life has been one of horrific tragedy, and also sublime achievement. The man is all but a household name like an Alfred Hitchcock or something like that. It’s interesting.
Shane: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. But for all the tragedies that he’s had, he’s also had that success. I don’t know if it does equal itself out because the tragedies he had were quite severe, but you’re right.
Mitch: It’s just the polarity is really interesting.
Shane: Here’s a question for you. What is your favorite horror movie of all time?
Mitch: Oh, without question, my favorite horror movie of all time is Rosemary’s Baby.
So it made it such a thrill to participate in this episode. There are other horror movies that I love, The Shining and so forth. But Rosemary’s Baby to me is something really special because it may be the first horror movie, and it may be the only horror movie that’s that does it this well, in which the protagonists are the people you’re supposed to be frightened of, but are actually very charming people likable, strange, somewhat annoying, nosy neighbors.
Guy Woodhouse who’s sociopathic but at the same time in his own way, handsome, charming, funny, dashing, and you only see a monstrous figure, the figure of the devil, as portrayed in the film, once very quickly on screen so there’s only really one kind of creature cameo in the whole film and otherwise, it’s your neighbors, it’s your husband, it’s the man who runs the elevator and so forth and so on. And I, I found as a viewer, it divided my loyalties. In some ways. I really quite liked the neighbors and I like meeting Roman and I don’t like Guy because he’s such a coward, but you could see what is charming and appealing about him. And I think that was the genius that Levine brought to the novel and that Polanski brought to the screen.
Shane: I saw Rosemary’s Baby when I was about seven I think, it released long before I was born, but I’ve got to say it’s one of my favorite’s, it’s definitely a good film.
Last question. If, hypothetically, if a director decided to remake Rosemary’s Baby, which they shouldn’t, would you have any advice on a spiritual level or any advice in general before they tackled it?
Mitch: I suppose the advice would be to keep the villains likable.
It’s profoundly important that these people continue to be individuals who you might want to have dinner with or who you might regard as sometimes irritating, but altogether pleasing and likeable people. And I suppose that in the movie, we see Guy Woodhouse as this. A not so young actor who’s on the brink of either breaking through to success or falling into mediocrity.
And I think it’s very important that the emotional stakes be clear in the life of the character of Guy that the ordinary everyday likeability be present in the lives of the Satanic Coven. And that Guy and Rosemary be enormously relatable. People to this era are as they were to that era.
They were a liberal couple who grew out of the swinging 60s but they lead a more domestic life I presume.
If the film were taking place, let’s say in the United States, maybe would be in Silicon Valley, maybe it would be a couple that was interested in yoga, natural foods and was embarking on a tech startup. The relevancy of the story should also be preserved.
Shane: Because we talking about the Cursed Films series, anything from the cursed side?
Mitch: Advice from the curse? They might have to look very hard to find a director and a screenwriter who’d want to embark on a remake.
I agree with you. I don’t think it should ever be remade, although it wouldn’t surprise me if various discussions have been underway. That’s a very interesting question. I wonder if history would repeat itself maybe the filmmaker, screenwriter, whoever it would be might feel safe feeling that lightning wouldn’t strike twice. But of course, lightning does strike twice and it has a world record for hitting one man, a park ranger here in America, Virginia, seven times. So I guess one would just have to feel very dedicated to his or her art and be willing to deal with whatever comes.
Shane: For Rosemary’s Baby there’s likely directors and writers out there probably wouldn’t touch it.
Mitch: Well, Hollywood is a superstitious place. But Hollywood is also a voraciously ambitious place and Hollywood is more dominated by Guy Woodhouse than those who fear superstitions. So I think Guy would win the day and they’d probably find a very significant team to remake the movie.
Shane: So what’s next for you?
Mitch: Well, I have a book of essays coming out called Uncertain Places, and it’s a collection of my occult essays in which I consider all kinds of issues from out of body experience to inter-dimensionality to the nature of UFOs and mysterious beasts. So I’m looking forward to that book
Shane: When does it release?
Mitch: It’s pre sale right now and it comes out in October (2022) to coincide with Halloween.
Shane: Well done. Perfect timing.
Cursed Films II is now streaming only on Shudder.
Filmmaker Magazine: “A genius at distilling down esoteric concepts.”