Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


SON OF ROSEMARY Ira Levin. Dutton; 1997. WARNING: This review contains spoilers.

In 1976 there was a made-for-TV sequel to the film version of Levin's novel Rosemary's Baby starring Patty Duke as Rosemary and Stephen McHattie as her grown-up son entitled Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby. In it Andrew/Adrian (McHattie) struggled with his divided feelings over good and evil. Not much has been heard of the telefilm since it was first aired.

About twenty years later Levin decided to write his own sequel to the story.
Levin had been fairly lucky in that the film version of the original novel was given a pretty faithful adaptation by Hollywood. But Son of Rosemary has never been filmed -- and it's no wonder. I had forgotten the book existed or that I had read it until I read it for the second time and then remembered why the darn thing had fled from my mind.

First let's quickly examine the original novel. Rosemary's Baby was a credible suspense novel. Throughout the book the reader wonders if these neighbors of Rosemary's really are a coven with sinister designs on her baby, or if she's having paranoid delusions. It would have been more than enough if they were simply a bunch of nut jobs who worshiped Satan, but Levin has to introduce Satan himself in a "nightmare" scene and has Rosemary deliver the anti-Christ at the end of the story. [This, of course, influenced movies like The Omen trilogy which its slowly aging anti-Christ figure.] Levin even goes so far as to make Satan the old hokey stereotype with the tail, claws, eyes and even little horns atop his head.

In other words, as entertaining and influential as it was, Rosemary's Baby was basically geared to the sub-literate.

Which is certainly the case with Levin's sequel. It's an understatement to say its approach is unintellectual; in fact, it's as essentially mindless as any bad movie inspired by the original book. Writing for a quick buck, Levin adds absolutely no depth to either the situations or the characters.

As the novel begins, Rosemary wakes up from a thirty year or so coma. Her son has grown up to be a kind of Christ figure, a goodwill ambassador attempting to unite the world in peace and harmony. Reunited with his mother, he tells her that he has renounced Satan and is only out to do good. The best aspect of the novel is the undeniable suspense the reader feels as he wonders if "Andy" -- as he's known -- is telling the truth or has a deep, dark secret [for much of its length Son of Rosemary is absorbing and a "good read"]. Of course, as soon as Andy tries to make out with his own mother you know that all is not well in paradise. Although disturbed by this, Rosemary sort of glosses it over, which is definitely where things begin to go awry in Levin's story-telling.

There are other irritating things as well. Levin introduces an anagram that's supposed to have profound significance, but this is basically an inside joke that goes nowhere. We discover that Rosemary's stinky husband Guy never became a big movie star as he'd hoped, but Levin never tells us exactly what happened to him. But worst of all is the ending, in which Rosemary confronts the Devil himself, then wakes up to find out it was all a dream, including the events of the original novel. However, there are hints that Rosemary is still dreaming. Whatever the case, it is clear that Levin's imagination failed him, as Son of Rosemary certainly has no satisfactory ending and it left even fans of the first book frustrated and angry.

The book is dedicated to Mia Farrow, but if Levin was hoping she would star in a film version, it didn't work.

Verdict: Some sons should stay in the shadows. **.


Jay Miller said...

You are a snob to say that "Rosemary's Baby was basically geared to the sub-literate" just because they "make Satan the old hokey stereotype..." The short scene in which the devil is shown was made way before the days of what we now consider conventional special effects and includes one of the creepiest dream sequence ever made. The film was made by some of the greatest talent available and is a well regarded classic not only in horror films, but in films in general. Ira Levin's second Rosemary novel would not be better than the first, but could still be made into a great film.

William said...

If you say so.

You may not realize this, but none of the Satan, anti-Christ, demon novels and movies of the period were exactly considered intellectual for Pete's sake!

Jay Miller said...

I thought at least this picture would be an exception. Ruth Gordon got an oscar for it! I can tell you have a lot of respect for the movie/book and other great old horror films. Horror movies have been regarded by many critics as childish or just trash. I had hoped that would change when Kathy Bates won an oscar for "Misery" and the following year "The Silence of the Lambs" swept the Academy Awards. "The Wizard of Oz" was considered a flop in 1939, but I don't think anyone today would regard it as such. Please keep up your appreciation for great works.

William said...

I'll certainly do my best. Thank you for your comments.

Pidell Weeb said...

Rosemary's Baby is a great horror story, and Roman Polanski's film realized it perfectly. I am not sub-literate. I'm probably more literate that you could hope to be. I have an English degree and have read supernatural stories from Melmoth the Wanderer (ever read it? I didn't think so.) to the present. I have no idea what your tastes would deem literate. Stephen King? (God help you.) Don't knock what you are not qualified to understand.

William said...

Fuck you! What sort of name is "Pidell Webb" for Pete's sake? I'm sure you were born with it. Do you practice witchcraft and have warts?