Rosemary’s Baby Review: Terror in Plain Sight

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Rosemary's Baby (1968) movie poster
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Roman Polanski’s 1968 disturbing film, Rosemary’s Baby can technically be counted within the supernatural horror sub-genre. In truth, the horrific nature of this film lays within the details. The deeply disturbing psychological trauma, sexual assault, and domestic imprisonment that our pitiably petite Rosemary endures is what is horrifying. After all, what is psychological horror if not a gut-wrenchingly elongated and personally traumatizing?

We summarized Rosemary’s Baby last January when it was featured on Netflix, but we never explored this psychological horror show. There are many different topics to focus on as they exist within the walls of Rosemary’s bourgeois prison. Women face danger as the direct result of the history of inequities between men and women. Therefore, I decided to analyze the grotesque nature of these inequities as they existed as little as sixty years ago.

As a woman who has experienced domestic violence, I feel uniquely qualified to dissect this movie; one in three women will experience domestic violence at one point or another in their lifetime. The horrors that Rosemary faces in her own domestic prison hit so close to home for women everywhere. My own experience with an abusive husband taught me the code of red flags. When it comes to identifying them as they present themselves, I could spot them at sea with a spyglass. Rosemary has one up on me; I’ve never given birth to the antichrist and I only joke with my daughter that she’s demon spawn.

The Psychological Horror Show and the Slow Burn

From the offset, we see what is effectively being masked as a happy and healthy marriage. The relationship between meek and dreamy Rosemary and her D-List actor husband is pruned for the public. She nearly swoons every time someone asks what he does for a living; recalling every role he’s played as if to impress upon others how successful he is. I recognize this as a coping mechanism they use to convince themselves that, “he’s actually a great guy!” Guy, Rosemary’s husband, is definitely charming when there is company around—abusers usually are. Domestic strain isn’t visible from the outside looking in, instead we see it in the details—after all, that’s where the devil usually lies.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Mia Farrow as Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Satanic Cults and the Antichrist

We’ve talked about Satanism and the religions that are associated with the image of Lucifer and Baphomet; we’ve discovered how they aren’t actually evil, or dark as might be suggested by modern media or popular culture. You can find more about them in our article here.

I decided to start the discussion here because it’s arguably the least horrifying thing that Rosemary actually experiences. In fact, this movie is about as supernatural as a park bench; any supernatural elements that are present within the movie are seemingly confined to drug-induced dream states—until the end…

Rosemary: Mother of the Antichrist

Early on in the film, Rosemary befriends a woman around her age by the name of Terry. They two share an innocent interaction where Terry, still under the spell of the Castevet’s elderly charm, sings their praise. Before they are able to speak again, Terry’s skull is cracked open on the sidewalk; in a disturbing mystery of how she fell from the apartment she shared with the elderly couple. It’s never fully explained in the movie and I haven’t read Ira Levin’s novel; so, I’m unsure of the reason behind her death according to canon. There are, however, several different theories to go along with her death. All of which are quickly swept under the rug as characters continue on, relatively unmoved after Terry’s apparent suicide.

Paranoia, Superstition, and the Unlikely truths

Whether Terry killed herself instead of submitting herself to the Devil for the benefit of the cult, or she was killed because of her unwillingness to comply, it’s clear that she was previously designated to be the host for Satan’s child. The Castavets had kept their distance from Rosemary and Guy prior to Terry’s death, having only made an appearance through their voices carrying through the shared walls. Luckily for the Castavets, they have a new host who consistently puts the interests of others before her own, Rosemary made the perfect candidate for their cult to impregnate.

Domestic Abuse and Rape Culture Explored

There is the age-old argument that marriage makes any intimacy automatically consensual—this certainly would have been the attitude of the time in which this film was created—or the years directly preceding its creation, since the time it was based in was the mid-1960s, versus the late 1960s. Fortunately for women, this attitude has changed dramatically and consent is what establishes whether or not rape has been committed.

There is an incredibly disturbing moment within the film, however, where anyone who has been taken advantage of sexually might feel their skin crawl. It’s the morning after Guy and Rosemary have a romantic dinner at home, complete with desert courtesy of their neighbor Minnie Castevet. This is not discounting of course the scenes that stretch the span between the desert and the next morning—where Rosemary notices that her chocolate treat “has a chalky undertaste,” and Guy coerces her into eating it by guilting her into believing she’s an awful person if she doesn’t. He leaves the room long enough for Rosemary to dump most of her cup into her cloth napkin, which she later dumps into the trash, and then she pretends she’s eaten the rest by the time he comes back into the room.

Drugging Rosemary for the Purpose of Rape

As Rosemary is getting rid of the evidence in her napkin, she nearly falls over—she’s clearly drugged—and Guy comes to her rescue. What a gentleman. When she finally collapses as he’s helping her down the hall, he scoops her up and hurries to the bedroom with her. What follows is, the half-drugged waking dream sequence where Rosemary has lost all control of the situation—a horror for any woman—and she as well as the audience is unsure of whether or not what she’s seeing is real. It is and it isn’t—at this point we’re not sure, but one thing we are certain of is that her neighbor drugged her desert so that her husband could get her into a vulnerable position.

Why would this be necessary if they were already trying to conceive a child you might ask? Well, as her dream sequence reveals, it’s so that her husband Guy can be assured that his wife won’t wake up as he and the residents of the apartment building perform a satanic ritual in which she becomes pregnant with the antichrist. It makes you wonder, if she had eaten all of the pudding (chocolate mousse) would the following paranoia and suffering have occurred at all?

There are some moments of clarity for Rosemary as it’s all happening where she realizes, even in her drugged state, that what is happening to her is not right and that she has not consented to what is being done to her. When she wakes up the next morning, she assumes that she’s just had a bad dream until she notices the scratches that run down the length of her side—the ones that the Devil gave to her in her waking nightmare. Guy, already aware that they’re there, immediately tells her not to be upset that he scratched her, that it was an accident because he was in too much of a rush to take advantage of her.

Rosemary: What time did I go to sleep?
Guy: You didn’t go to sleep. You passed out. From now on you get cocktails or wine, not cocktails and wine, hm?
Rosemary: The dreams I had.
[Rosemary notices the scratches]
Guy: Don’t yell. I already filed them down. I didn’t want to miss baby night. A couple of nails were ragged.
Rosemary: While I was out?
Guy: It was fun, in a necrophile sort of way.
Rosemary: I dreamed someone was raping me, I think it was someone inhuman.
Guy: Thanks a lot. Whatsa matter?
Rosemary: Nothing.
Guy: I didn’t want to miss the night.
Rosemary: We could have done it this morning or tonight. Last night wasn’t the only split-second.
Guy: I was a little bit loaded myself, you know.

Rosemary is outwardly upset about the fact that he openly admitted to having sex with her while she was passed out, but even more disturbed when Guy jokes that “it was fun, in a necrophile sort of way.” She is obviously bothered by the whole thing but doesn’t press the issue further—evidence of the abusive silence and gas-lighting that must regularly occur in their relationship already.

Paranoia, Superstition and the Unlikely Truths

The tumultuous whirlwind of paranoia, superstition, and wild theories that follows her rape and impregnation by the Devil is more than a little difficult on Rosemary—physically, emotionally, and psychologically it’s almost like she’s carrying the child of Satan. I kid, of course, because obviously she’s carrying the child of Satan. She doesn’t know that though, she chalked the dream up to be nothing more than an alcohol-addled nightmare and upon finding out she was actually pregnant was as happy as she could possibly be. The weeks and months that followed her impregnation were spent being taken under the wing of her controlling and abrasive neighbors Minnie and Roman Castevet. They get her to go to a doctor of their choosing, by saying they’re doing her a favor—he’s the best doctor, after all, plus he’s a life-long friend and won’t charge her as much as he usually does.

More Gas-lighting and the Final Reveal

Her obstetrician, doctor Saperstein dictates that her neighbor Minnie will be providing her all the prenatal vitamins she needs through herbal remedies in drink and cake form—he demands that she doesn’t read any books or talk to any of her friends about her pregnancy because “every pregnancy is different,” at first he seems to be a little domineering, but well-meaning. Eventually it becomes clear to Rosemary that something is wrong, after finally speaking to her friends—they tell her she looks awful and when she indicates she’s been in pain for a length of time, they suggest that she get a second doctor’s opinion. This doesn’t go over well with Guy. Luckily for Guy, the Castevets, and Dr. Saperstein, just as Rosemary is about to get a second opinion the pain suddenly vanishes and the rest of her pregnancy is generally problem free. That is, until she receives a book from her friend Hutch, which explains how they are all witches that have formed a plot to take her baby. Rosemary misunderstands though, they’re witches of course, they definitely want to take her baby, but not to use as a sacrifice—that’s their dark lord and savior growing in her womb.

This is where she once again is gaslit by all of the people in her life—the only people in her life—the ones who control every second of every day and have become a living prison for Rosemary. Rosemary’s paranoia has amped up, at this point, to such a degree that she tries to escape the clutches of those around her—eventually getting to the office of her one-time obstetrician Dr. Hill and explaining how there is a plot against her. Dr. Hill pretends he is on her side, puts her in one of his birthing rooms and has her take a nap. When she awakes, Dr. Saperstein and Guy are there to take her home. We learn through all of Rosemary’s paranoia and investigation that her husband became complicit in this plot as a means to achieve fame and fortune—a price he has to pay now that the role he lost to another man was suddenly given to him after the other man suddenly and mysteriously went blind.

When Rosemary finally has the baby, they continue to sedate her and when she finally starts hiding the pills and is coherent enough to question what happened to her baby, she’s told that her child died shortly after birth. Cool story bro, except why is there suddenly a baby crying in the Castevet’s apartment? Rosemary tells them all that they can miss her with that bullshit when she forces her way into the room with the crying baby and discovers her child as well as “his eyes.”

Rosemary’s baby is the son of Satan and when the film ends, we see her warming up to the idea of actually mothering the antichrist.

Feminism and Women’s Rights in the 1960s

It’s frightening to think that less than sixty years ago, women in the United States still didn’t have the basic freedoms that we take for granted today. Unmarried women couldn’t have credit cards,—what’s more is that 1960s scientists and psychiatrists often believed that a man beating or raping his wife while under the influence could actually be considered a good thing. They considered it, “violent, temporary therapy,” that remedied a man’s insecurities over letting his wife run the house and remedied a woman’s guilt over emasculating her husband. This of course is complete and utter bullshit.

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Unfortunately for Rosemary, having grown up in an era of repression, she does what she’s told (for the most part, without question). It’s only when she’s encouraged by her less repressed group of friends that she begins to think for herself. Even after being clued into what is really going on by her girlfriends and her former landlord, Hutch, she still doesn’t leave until the last possible moment. When she does eventually try to escape, it’s not for her own well-being, but for that of her child. Just as we fear, the one person she believes she can trust, her former obstetrician Dr. Hill chalks her fears up to paranoia and hysteria from pre-partum stressors. In the end, he betrays her trust and hands her back to her abusers.

Rosemary’s Baby Explained: Realism and Control

Final Thoughts

There are more disturbing elements in this movie than could ever possibly be discussed in one article. However, since I’m an overachiever, I dug at all of the issues that I found pertinent to the conversation. If you think I’ve missed something and you’d like to discuss it further, feel free to leave a comment! If you disagree with anything I have said here, I encourage you to share your opinion! I would love to discuss this movie further with fans of the genre.

All of that being said, there are a couple of things that I wanted to address about this particular movie. These things don’t necessarily have to do with the content of the movie itself, but they’re worth mentioning.

Polanski—The Predator

There are very few people who are not aware of the criminal background of Polanski, but Rosemary’s Baby was actually filmed before the scandal ever came to the forefront of public knowledge—so viewing this film with the knowledge of Polanski being a predator might not be the best lens through which to focus.

The Backstory—Our Disclaimer

At the time of the film’s release, Polanski had only been married to Sharon Tate for about five months and it’s alleged that Polanski wanted to cast Tate for the part of Rosemary, but Maurice Evans—the man who played Hutch—insisted upon Mia Farrow for the role. A little over a year after the film’s release, in August 1969, Tate and her friends were stabbed to death by the followers of Charles Manson. Tate, at the time, was over eight months pregnant with Polanski’s child.

Less than a decade after all of this, Polanski was charged and convicted of drugging and raping a thirteen-year-old girl. Polanski fled the country before he was able to be incarcerated. To this day, Polanski is still alive and well, with dual citizenship in France and Poland. Since his conviction and subsequent identification as a pedophile and child rapist, Polanski has continued to be a celebrated name. Disturbingly, he’s been nominated for over fifty awards and won quite a few of them since his conviction. Some of the nominations and awards were received as recently as 2020. Needless to say, this gross corruption of the entertainment industry is far from an isolated event; the last thing Polanski should be remembered for is his creative “genius,” when “child rapist” is a more suitable title.

Fuck Roman Polanski.

Work Cited

Dockterman, Eliana. “Domestic Violence: 50 Years Ago, Doctors Called It ‘Therapy’.” Time, Time, 25 Sept. 2014.

“The Horror Film BIRTH TRAUMAS: PARTURITION AND HORROR IN ROSEMARY’S BABY.” Cinematernity: Film, Motherhood, Genre, by Lucy Fischer, Princeton University Press, 2014, pp. 73–89.

Huntley, Chris. “MenuDramatica® The Next Chapter in Story Development.” Dramatica, dramatica.com/analysis/rosemarys-baby.

McElhaney, Joe. “Urban Irrational: ROSEMARY’S BABY, POLANSKI, NEW YORK.” City That Never Sleeps: New York and the Filmic Imagination, by Murray Pomerance, Rutgers University Press, 2007, pp. 201–213.

McLaughlin, Katie. “5 Things Women Couldn’t Do in the 1960s.” CNN, Cable News Network, 25 Aug. 2014.

Sharrett, Christopher. “The Horror Film as Social Allegory (And How It Comes Undone).” A Companion to the Horror Film, by Harry M. Benshoff, Wiley Blackwell, 2017.

Night of the Living Dead: Social Commentary in Horror Cinema

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Night of the Living Dead (1968) was hardly the first zombie film—in fact, it was the fortieth, for those of you who like useless trivia facts—but it is possibly the most memorable of the older zombie classics. It’s not hard to see why it has persisted for the last fifty-three years, enduring beyond the renown of such modern zombie sensations, such as The Walking Dead (2010 – Present) and Train to Busan/Busanhaeng (2016). What most modern films and television shows of the horror genre seem to gloss over is their captive audience. Therein lies the opportunity for commentary on the civil rights issues that are still incredibly relevant in the present day.

One notable exception to missed opportunities for commentary being Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017)—but we can get to that one later. For now, we’ll just focus on the message of Night of the Living Dead. As Tom Gunning explained in his essay, “confrontation rules the cinema of attractions in both the form of its films and their mode of exhibition. The directness of this act of display allows an emphasis on the thrill itself—the immediate reaction of the viewer,” (“An Aesthetic of Astonishment”, 122)—this thrill that we get from controversial messages and images on display within films is one of the main reasons we watch horror. Excitement is king.

They’re coming to get you, Barbara!

Johnny in Night of the Living Dead (1968)
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A line of undead ‘zombies’ walk through a field in the night

What is Night of the Living Dead about?

At face value, this movie is just a story about survivors of a zombie apocalypse stumbling upon one another, clashing personalities, and finally a begrudging combining of forces to fend off the zombie hoard that surrounds the farmhouse that they each found and decided to hunker down in for safety. One by one, these survivors each ends up dying, until we see the last man standing—Ben, emerged cautiously from his secure space in the cellar of the farmhouse to find that police and other volunteers were roaming around, killing the zombies, and reclaiming their land for the safety of the living.

Unfortunately for Ben, these rescuers are less focused on finding survivors and more focused on mindlessly putting down anything they find that moves. While that might simply be interpreted as bad luck for our main character, Romero’s decision for this ending was actually fairly controversial considering the time in which it had been created. Now you might be asking yourself, where does the conversation of civil rights factor into this? Well, buckle up, buttercup—we’re just getting started.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) Movie Poster
Night of the Living Dead (1968) Movie Poster

Controversial Social Commentary

“Curiositas draws the viewer towards unbeautiful sights, such as a mangled corpse, and ‘because of this disease of curiosity monsters and anything out of the ordinary are put on show in our theatres,’” (Gunning, 124). Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) gives us these “unbeautiful sights” in spades. Consider the special effects that were available to directors at that time—the glimpses of a woman with her face eaten off at the top of the stairs and zombies ripping flesh off of bones after an unfortunate accidental explosion of the getaway vehicle were the literal encapsulation of this concept. The intangible concepts within this film are the reflections of society and how little progress has been made since 1968.

Ben giving Barbara slippers in Night of the Living Dead
Ben giving Barbara slippers

Freud pinpoints the appeal of the horror story. He begins by discussing the etymological root of the word “uncanny” in German, a word long associated with the horror genre, demonstrating how both the word and its opposite are very close in definition and usage… ‘it may be true that the uncanny [unheimlich] is something which is secretly familiar [heimlich-heimlisch], which has undergone repression and returned from it, and that everything is uncanny fulfills this condition.’ … Freud … hit upon the key to understanding the core of the horror genre. Horror is dissimilar from much of [the] science fiction genre in which the threatening ‘monster’ (often created because of the interference of science or technology)—whether it be alien, atomic mutant, or cyborg—is portrayed as the Other which must be destroyed or controlled by science, often in conjunction with the military/industrial complex, in order to save humanity. Horror tends rather to concentrate on another type of ‘Other,’ an ‘Other’ which is very familiar and because of that much more frightening, an ‘Other’ which is rooted in our psyche, in our fears and obsessions.

James Ursini, pg. 4 of the Introduction in The Horror Film Reader

The Civil Rights Movement

From 1954 to 1968 the Civil Rights Movement empowered Black Americans and their like-minded allies. They battled against systemic racism (or institutionalized racial discrimination), disenfranchisement, and racial segregation within the United States. The brave efforts of civil rights activists and innumerable protesters brought meaningful change to the US, through changes in legislation; these changes ended segregation, voter suppression for Black Americans, as well as discriminatory employment and housing practices.

The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

There were tragic consequences for two of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. With the assassination of Malcolm X on February 21, 1965, and the subsequent assassination of Civil Rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968. Each of these losses to the movements provoked an emotionally-charged response; looting and riots put even more pressure on President Johnson to push through civil rights laws that still sat undecided.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968

The Fair Housing Act became law on April 11, 1968. It came just days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.; too little too late, but it prevented housing discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, and religion. It was also the last piece of legislation that was made into law during the civil rights era.

Casting a Black Actor in a Non-Ethnic Role

The way the lead character Ben was written originally with Rudy Ricci. Surprisingly, however, when 31-year-old African American actor Duane Jones auditioned for the part, the decision to cast him was unanimous. Even Rudy Ricci was on board with the change in plans, stating that, “Hey, this [was] the guy that should be Ben.”

Duane Jones—the Anti-Ben

Romero recalled that Jones had been the best option when it came to casting the part of Ben, and remarked that, “if there was a film with a black actor in it, it usually had a racial theme.” He even saw fit to mention that he resisted writing new dialogue for the part just because they had cast a black lead. It was assumed that Jones was the first black actor to be cast in a non-ethnic-specific starring role, but that barrier was broken by Sidney Poitier in 1965.

Interestingly enough, the role of Ben was supposed to be a gruff, crude, yet resourceful trucker. His essence was that of an uneducated or lower class person. On the other hand, Jones happened to be very well-educated, with fluency in several languages, obtained a B.A. at the University of Pittsburgh, and an M.A. at NYU. Jones was the one who flipped the script, improvising through the dialogue to portray his interpretation of Ben as a well-spoken, educated, and capable character. Therefore, as originally written, white Ben was a stereotype whereas Jones turned the character into the antithesis of a stereotypical black ben.

So why was Night of the Living Dead so controversial?

Even though Ben is the protagonist, he was never meant to be the hero—in fact, Ben was supposed to represent just an everyday Joe, who “simply reacted to an irrational situation with strong survival instincts and a competence that, though far from infallible, surpassed that of his five adult companions trapped in that zombie-besieged farmhouse,” (Kane). What we would expect in terms of racially heated arguments, we only witness the palpable tension that displays what goes unsaid. What also may not occur to modern viewers as being controversial, is the portrayal of a black man and a white woman being locked up alone in a house together. Segregation may have begun over a decade prior, but racism doesn’t die overnight just because laws are changed.

The “Final Guy”

The tragic ending of Night of the Living Dead was a commentary on real injustices that were happening at the time, as well as a foreshadowing of an issue that has doggedly limped into the systemic racism of the twenty-first century. The world was facing its end of days. The threat of the undead rising from their graves and feeding off of the living was enough to pull everyone together to stay alive—but racism was still alive and well. Unlike most of his African-American male successors of horror, Ben does not fall victim to the black character stereotype by being the first character to die. Ben makes it to the end—the so-called “final” guy—he was able to save himself when the house was overrun by the living dead. Then, after all of his hardship, he ends up dying at the hands of the gun-toting police officers.

Ben was wielding a gun, he was clearly not a revenant, and the sharpshooter who put one between Ben’s eyes could very obviously see this—his death affected not a soul in that situation, his life in plain language was unworthy of continuing in the eyes of the men who were supposed to serve and protect the living, who instead of seeing a human being, perceived a threat. The ending that Romero’s film allowed to linger in the minds of the audience was controversial because it made people think. It made them look at the social and political issues that were washing over the United States all around them; Romero delivered in that two minutes ending, a message that was unforgettable. It has thusly endured through the culture of horror and has continued to inspire modern horror cinema.

Final Thoughts

If classical Hollywood style is posited as the norm, then filmmaking practices that deviate from it risk becoming seen as “primitive” (such as early cinema) or “excessive” (such as genres where spectacle often seems to trump narrative, including musicals and horror films).

Adam Lowenstein, “Living Dead: Fearful Attractions of Film”

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Interested in watching the full film now that you’ve read this article? Well, you’re in luck—this film is now in the public domain and can be watched online for free.

Work Cited

Gunning, Tom. “An Aesthetic of Astonishment: Early Film and the (In)Credulous Spectator.” Viewing Positions: Ways of Seeing Film, by Linda Williams, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 1995, pp. 114–133.

Lowenstein, Adam. “Living Dead: Fearful Attractions of Film.” Representations, vol. 110, no. 1, 2010, pp. 105–128. JSTOR. Accessed 19 Jan. 2021.

Kane, Joe. “How Casting a Black Actor Changed ‘Night of the Living Dead’.” TheWrap, 1 Sept. 2010.

Harper, Stephen. “Bright Lights Film Journal: Night of the Living Dead.” Bright Lights Film Journal | Night of the Living Dead.

Ursini, James, and Curtis Harrington. “Introduction/Ghoulies and Ghosties.” The Horror Film Reader, by Alain Silver, Limelight Ed., 2006, pp. 3–19.

The Horrific Truth of Folklore in Nazi Germany

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Horror. It’s the balm that helps to relieve the chronically stressed—but we often forget exactly where the concept of horror began. Horror stories are spun from the fabric of the past, present, and future just like all other literary genres. The Holocaust is one such example of historical horror. The Jewish lottery of birth was arguably the greatest cause for fear within this period in history. Antisemitism and the “Big Lie,” that ran rampant within Nazi Germany is where real-life horror began within the twentieth century.

The Holocaust is what most people think of when the topic of World War II arises. That’s not surprising, since most of the war effort focused on ending Hitler’s atrocities and freeing survivors of concentration camps. By contrast, the political environment through which Nazi ideology was spread is not considered as often. Now you may be wondering, what does Word War II, Nazi Propaganda, and folklore have to do with horror? Well, read on friends.

The Horror of Hate Spun from Propaganda

The Nazi Party established Ministry for Propaganda and Public Enlightenment in March of 1933; Joseph Goebbels was then appointed as Minister of Propaganda and he began to execute Hitler’s vision shortly thereafter. German culture was reshaped through the rewriting of folklore and films; one such film, Jud Süss (1940) was rewritten from the British film made in (1934). The original Jud Süss was adapted from the historical novel of the same name. The original story tells of a Jewish man in the 1700s who helped his people by rising to power; inevitably, his enemies destroyed him. Unlike the propaganda film, the original message was pro-acceptance, with narrative on how meaningless racial distinctions actually are.

The British adaptation is of course more true to the original text than the following Nazi propaganda film, wherein Süss is portrayed as a monstrous villain who ends up sexually assaulting a young Aryan woman while torturing her fiance. The original script, which was revised by Goebbels to, “serve the politics of the state,” brought to life the most notorious and vile anti-Semitic film of the entire regime. As a representative of the most foul anti-Semitic propaganda, the German film Jud Süss has been censored from the general public since 1945, only being made available to scholars and historians.

Censorship and the Removal of External Influence

When reshaping the entire body of a culture’s literature, it makes sense to start with the foundation of a culture’s sense of self—that meant starting with the folk tales, the stories that German peasants most closely identified with. The ensuing power struggle came well before the beginning of the attempted extermination of the Jewish people. The National Socialist (Nazi) Party’s recognition of German Folklore as an “excellent means to educate young and old in the spirit of the new Weltanschauung,” that led to the changing of history. The Weltanschauung, or worldview and philosophical view of life, left no room for new culture or ideals that might challenge the progression of a “pure” master race. The new censorship policy affected “every author, artist, composer, publisher, bookseller, librarian, researcher, and teacher, as well as the general public.” New values and policies would obligate them to uphold these devastating principles (Kamenetsky 1977:168).

The National Socialist German Student’s’ Association which gathered together amongst German University students were some of Goebbels’s’ first allies in this censorship program, beginning in the early Nazi movement of the late 1920s. Middle-class, secular student youths were deeply anti-Semitic and ultra-nationalistic, and after the First World War, they became intensely vocal. Their opposition to the Weimar Republic drove them directly into the National Socialist Party, which provided them a safe community of like-minded politically discontent and hostile peers. On April 6, 1933, the Nazi German Student Association’s Office for Press and Propaganda asserted that they would be taking, “action against the un-German Spirit.” Thus, the Weltanschauung brought, “seemingly spontaneous book-burning ceremonies,” to the public in the early 1930s, as well as, “radical cleansing,” throughout all of the country’s libraries of, “undesirable and so-called ‘decadent’ literature,” (Kamenetsky 1977:168).

The Book Burning at The Bebelplatz in Berlin, Germany (May 10, 1933)
The Book Burning at The Bebelplatz in Berlin, Germany (May 10, 1933)

The Book Burning at the Bebelplats

May 10, 1933, sadly marks the most famous book burning in history. In order to have German society mirror Nazi ideologies, they needed to get rid of any “un-German” intellectual influence. Goebbels attempted to instill those influences within the artistic community and culture. Thus the purge of all cultural organizations whether Jewish or otherwise foreign began.

The Voice of the Peasant

During this time of extreme propaganda, there were new editions of Grimm’s Kinder und Hausmärchen printed, and upon their release, they re-emphasized the importance of a return to the ancient cultures and life of the peasant. It is also said that this endorsed the idea of the peasant being the, “pillar of the state,” and Hitler’s public aversion to decadent city lifestyles, despite his private indulgence in such frivolities he wanted to deny the German people as a means of control. Grimm’s tale of Hansel and Gretel comes to mind when considering this conflicting stance—as a tale where a family is stricken with famine, so much so that the evil stepmother is able to coerce the father into leaving their two children in the woods on their own to starve before being able to find their way back home.

The tenacity of these peasant youths is an image that would have been welcome in Hitler’s Germany, one where they overcome the evil witch, which could have been easily replaced with the image of an “evil Jew,” who was there to consume them, albeit not literally. Hitler was even quoted in 1933 saying, “we know from history that our Volk can exist without cities, yet it is impossible to conceive that it could exist without the peasant!” (Kamenetsky 1977:169)

Upon reflection of this kind of statement, as well as the transformation of, “the innocent folktale … into an ideological weapon,” it is clear that, while Hitler’s assertion of the importance of the peasant, he truly intended to drive most of the German people into poverty while the Nazi Party reaped the benefits. Furthermore, he aimed to brainwash his people, starting with the youngest generation through the tales they would be told in their childhood. “A closer examination of the National Socialist guidelines for educators, librarians, and youth leaders, throws light upon the folktale’s role and function in the Party’s indoctrination program for children and young people.” (Kamenetsky 1977:170)

Rewriting an Entire Culture’s Folklore

Re-education was conducted under the guise of bringing the collective mind of the country and to the nostalgic version of their nation’s past. It was a presumed appeal to the best of times, that is to say Hitler’s idealized version of the best of times. Kamenetsky further states that the purity of German Folklore was of utmost importance to the Aryan agenda and that they made tremendous efforts to isolate and aggrandize traditional German Folklore. As a result, it was the Ministry’s attempt to keep these stories from being muddled and decayed by international influence which meant it, “needed a thorough cleansing process to restore it to its original form and meaning,” (Kamenetsky 1977:172). Professor Strobel, a notable figure in Nazi re-education, made an emphasis on removing any “alien,” elements out and can be quoted as having written the following in 1937:

“The aim of folklore is and remains to give an unfalsified representation of that which is true to the Volk. However, a precondition for such a representation is an understanding of the Weltanschauung which is based upon the principle of the blood and on the right faith in distinguishing that which belongs to our race from that which is alien to it.”

Kamenetsky, 1972:226

Strobel believed it was the folklorist’s responsibility to remove any of these foreign elements that somehow sneaked their way into Nordic-Germanic myths, customs, and rituals in order to propagate folklore that would have been as “purely as possible related to ‘the ancestors,’” (Kamenetsky 1972:226). In this respect, not only did the Reich manipulate folklore to suit their needs, but in effect, they also manipulated history to reflect their own Aryan agendas and policies. Truly, they needed to instigate an image of instability for mixed folklore if they didn’t want anything to taint the otherwise noble and superior race they wished to establish. “If we want to walk safely into the future … then [we] will have to walk upon the firm soil of our folklore,” (Kamenetsky 1972:223).

It is true too, however, that the history of Germany was rife with anti-Semitism even before the beginnings of World War II. Martin Luther’s essay, “Von den Juden und ihren Lügen,” is one of the earliest anti-Semitic sentiments in literature, which dates back to the mid-1500s. This essay featured quotes such as, “into the fire, into the fire with the synagogues! Into the stables with the Jews! … let one drive all … Jews to hard labor … No indulgence, no sympathy for the Jews!” So, as you can see anti-Semitism being propagated through folklore was hardly the first instance of literary hatred for the Jewish people and it’s far from the last, but it was possibly the most damaging of all.

And if that’s not truly horrific, then I don’t know what is.

Works Cited

“Big lie.” Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable, edited by Adrian Room, and Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, Cassell, 2nd edition, 2009. Credo Reference. Accessed 15 Nov. 2020.

“Fortress Europe.” Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable, edited by Adrian Room, and Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, Cassell, 2nd edition, 2009. Credo Reference, http://login.proxy.library.uaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/brewermod/fortress_europe/0?institutionId=5478. Accessed 15 Nov. 2020.

“Jew Suss.” Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable, edited by Adrian Room, and Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, Cassell, 2nd edition, 2009. Credo Reference, http://login.proxy.library.uaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/brewermod/jew_suss/0?institutionId=5478. Accessed 15 Nov. 2020.

Kamenetsky, Christa. “Folktale and Ideology in the Third Reich.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 90, no. 356, Apr. 1977, pp. 168–178., DOI:10.2307/539697.

Kamenetsky, Christa. “Folklore as a Political Tool in Nazi Germany.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 85, no. 337, July 1972, pp. 221–235., DOI:10.2307/539497.

Mieder, Wolfgang. “Proverbs in Nazi Germany: The Promulgation of Anti-Semitism and Stereotypes Through Folklore.” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 95, no. 378, Oct. 1982, pp. 435–464., DOI:10.2307/540750.

“Nuremberg Rally.” Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase and Fable, edited by Adrian Room, and Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, Cassell, 2nd edition, 2009. Credo Reference, http://login.proxy.library.uaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/brewermod/nuremberg_rally/0?institutionId=5478. Accessed 15 Nov. 2020

Book Burning. (n.d.). Retrieved January 04, 2021, from https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/book-burning. Accessed 3 Jan. 2021

The Bizarre Horror Novel That Outsold Dracula

Categories
Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

How ridiculous would it sound if I said that the infamous novel Dracula by Bram Stoker—yes, the guy that essentially created the foundation of what we think of when we envision vampires—was originally outsold six to one by a novel that you probably have never heard about?

Well, it’s true. Richard Marsh, author of The Beetle: A Mystery gave Stoker a run for his money in 1897, however, after his novel fell out of print in the sixties, Marsh’s novel has been all but forgotten.

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The Beetle (1897) by Richard Marsh

To put this in better context, most people know about Dracula even if they have never even heard of Bram Stoker’s novel. Since the novel’s initial publication, Dracula has become the benchmark for vampires within horror culture. With Gary Oldman’s 1992 depiction of Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or the most recently created Dracula Untold (2014) it’s clear that Dracula has been an influential character for over a century.

The character, with or without Stoker’s name attached, has made so many cameos throughout pop-culture that it might be near impossible to create a comprehensive list. Then again, unlike Marsh, Stoker had the good fortune to remain in print ever since its first publication in April of 1897.

After having read The Beetle: A Mystery (1897) I now know how strange this supernatural mystery-horror this novel truly is. A tale of possession, revenge and literal transformation, the author of this literary oddity was Richard Marsh—born Richard Bernard Heldmann—was actually more successful as a short story author throughout his career. That didn’t stop the fierce competition that this book posed for Stoker’s insanely popular novel. Now, I may have roused your interest on how, exactly, The Beetle: A Mystery is so bizarre? Well, I’ll give you a brief synopsis of it, but be warned, there may be spoilers if you haven’t read it and plan to.

The Beetle: A Mystery (1897)

This Victorian-era mystery is told from the perspective of four different characters; this aptly described motley crew of middle-class individuals find that they are the last hope for civilization when they discover that a shape-shifting monster has arrived in London from the East (specifically Egypt). Now, our ragtag group of gumshoes includes an actual detective by the name of Augustus Champnell, a man named Sidney Atherton, a forward-thinking young lady named Marjorie Lindon, and Robert Holt an out-of-work clerk who can’t seem to catch a break. This seductive, yet inhuman creature has its eye on a British politician by the name of Paul Lessingham (who happens to be the fiancé of Marjorie Lindon), but after enslaving Holt this creature decides to attack London society.

The story itself is presented as a series of elaborate testimonies gathered by Champnell himself, who gives the context of the creature’s motives as well as the status of the rest of the Londoners, who were involved in the adventure, after the fact.

It’s up to these four Londoners to solve this mystery and stop the monster from achieving its goal—but when they find that the monster is actually a gender-swapping female that can transform into a giant Scarab beetle (I mean that part is pretty obvious from the title, but still wtf!) they’re a little bit more than unsettled! The situation gets even more terrifying for our protagonists when they learn that this evil creature, which originated in Ancient Egyptian civilization, is actually a High Priestess of a cult that worships the goddess Isis and has been kidnapping and subsequently sacrificing white British women to her goddess. Now, this is all happening years after Lessingham had been vacationing in Egypt when the Beetle monster, in her female form, had hypnotized him and then forced him to live as her sex slave until he was finally able to break free. During his escape, he attacked the Beetle and fled for his life; as a result of their previous run-in, the Beetle came to England specifically to seek her revenge through torturing and kidnapping his fiancée Lindon and then finally, killing Lessingham.

Of course, our characters are all intertwined in solving this mystery and defeating the beetle, but instead, it turns to a chase in an effort to save the life of Lindon after she had been abducted by the Beetle. They end up catching up with the monster, just to find that Lindon and her captor had been in a trainwreck—while Lindon was found relatively unharmed, they only find scattered burnt rags and bloodstains where the creature should have been. Of course, this uncertain ending marks where Champnell decided that he had exhausted his investigation, but had high hopes that the Beetle will never return.

Final Thoughts on The Beetle: A Mystery

Marsh wrote this novel to be a sort of literary fake, describing the events from each of the narrator’s points of view as if it were based on true events and insinuating that names had been changed to protect the identities of those involved. Even the year in which the events occurred is left ambiguous, with the reference to it having happened in the year of 18— around June 2, on a Friday. It was initially released piece by piece over the course of several weeks then finally released as a full novel later in the year—think of this in terms of Edgar Allan Poe’s Great Balloon Hoax in the paper, or H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds radio theater broadcast. Marsh, at the time, was an extremely prolific short story author so this story served as a heightened form of entertainment for the era.

I have a few objections about this novel, despite the fact that I thought it was a good read; to me, this novel was a little xenophobic—in the sense of what comes from the “exotic” East is dangerous or evil. In contrast to that blatant xenophobic message, there is also a message that speaks against colonization—that warning of something bad happening when we trespass into the lands of others and assume to have any authority. This, in my opinion, is a strange stance for a Victorian-era author like Marsh to take, but this was written during England’s colonization of Egypt during the late 1800s and England wouldn’t end its occupation of Egypt until the early 1920s. It’s safe to say that fear of foreigners was fairly commonplace, but that is but one of the

This novel provides a general commentary that would have been accurate at the time, with its anxieties over gender and sexuality—both of which are still providing consternation from the more conservative people in society. It also addresses the panic that white people may have had (or still have) in regards to traveling to non-English speaking countries, in fear of their precious white bodies and in particular white women’s bodies would be harmed or taken advantage of by the so-called evil foreigners.

The Beetle: A Mystery was published in 1897, so it’s well within the public domain laws and can be read here, or you can purchase a physical copy here. If you’re interested in learning more about Bram Stoker and his novel Dracula, you can always take a look at our article dedicated to the topic.

Works Cited

Rutigliano, O. (2020, April 27). This is the weird horror novel that outsold Dracula in 1897. Retrieved November 07, 2020, from https://lithub.com/this-is-the-weird-horror-novel-that-outsold-dracula-in-1897/

Marsh, R. (2019). The Beetle: A mystery. Sweden: Timaios Press.

Tichelaar, T. (2018, October 25). Dracula’s Rival: The Beetle by Richard Marsh. Retrieved November 07, 2020, from https://thegothicwanderer.wordpress.com/2018/10/24/draculas-rival-the-beetle-by-richard-marsh/

The Qalupalik: Monsters of the Deep

Categories
Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

When you think of a mermaid, you may conjure images of a kind-hearted, beautiful half-fish, half-human or the dangerous siren that can lure sailors to their death—however, the Inuit legend of the Qalupalik is a little bit different. The Qalupalik is likewise a creature of the sea, but she is more often thought of as a water spirit, a sea monster, or a demon. In this respect, it is said to be more similar to the Japanese Kappa, a water demon who steals children and consumes them. Folklore recorded from Inuit sources are purposefully vague on whether or not the Qalupalik is the only one of her kind, or whether there are great numbers of these monsters living in the Arctic seas, but she is regularly referenced as being a single creature.

Legend of the Inuit Siren

Qalupalik, the Inuit Siren or Mermaid
Photography by Li Yang

In Alaskan and Canadian Inuit culture, there are Arctic ocean-dwelling creatures known as Qalupaliit (kah-loo-pah-leet)—unlike other mythical mermaids and sirens, there is absolutely nothing attractive about the Qalupalik. Despite the persistent popular mermaid princess culture that surrounds much of the lore of this aquatic creature’s cousins in lore, the Qalupalik (kah-loo-pah-leek) is not described as having any pleasant features, let alone an amenable demeanor. Wraith-like in appearance, her long black hair is perpetually plastered to her sallow, slimy, scaly skin—her ghastly despondent face is paired with her dark and hollow eyes. These creatures are often depicted as having fins that jut out of their heads, backs and arms, and their webbed feet and hands are topped with long sharp claws—all of this is enough to strike terror into the hearts of the children that the Qalupalik preys upon.

The Qalupalik is rumored to reek of sulfur—you know, the smell of rotting eggs? So it’s curious that she would ever get close enough to someone without them noticing, but adventurous children who don’t heed the warnings of their parents are the ones she seeks to claim; she hums beautiful melodies to lure them to the icy banks of the ocean’s shore where she snatches them up and stuffs them in her amauti, a duck-skin coat similar to a parka with a pouch for young children to be carried in. It’s quite normal for Inuit parents to caution their children about the dreadful Qalupalik and they would do so frequently, telling their children that if they hear the humming noise near the shore that the Qalupalik is near. Unfortunately for children, the humming is similar to that of a Siren’s song, as it is meant to entice children to come closer to the shore or out onto the dangerously thin ice.

Those who have sighted the Qalupalik report that these creatures can only be seen for an instant before they are gone, but the child victims of the Qalupalik would not be as lucky. She would leap out from under the water, sink her shark claws into their flesh and drag them forward into the water. It is said, once she seizes a child, she takes them down to the freezing depths of the ocean where she either eats them, or takes them away enchanting them with sleep and feeding off of their youth so that she may remain young forever; the child is never to be seen or heard from by their family again. Alternatively, the child would get a brief glimpse of the face of the Qalupalik, which might resemble a woman’s face that had turned green and bloated from rotting and under the sea—this child would experience their last few moments of life in pain as the freezing water rushed into their open, screaming throat, and feel the blood in their veins freeze as they heard the distant voices of their family, crying out their name.

So what purpose does the myth of the Qalupalik serve for the Inuit society? Well, the harsh arctic environment within which the Inuit people live is terrifying and dangerous; within a community that works so hard to survive, the parents and elders used storytelling as a way of aiding in the upbringing and survival of the children of the village. Essentially, the use of scare-tactics was a way for children to avoid the dangerous aspects of their environment when they were alone,. The story of the Qalupalik was created to encourage these children to fear to be alone near the dangerous shores of the sea, where they could easily fall prey to the natural elements by either drowning or dying from hypothermia.


Qalupalik, Inuit Siren, stalks the shores
Photography by Jana Sabeth

Tales & Traditions: Qallupilluit

The Central Eskimo (1888) recorded by Franz Boas

An old woman lived with her grandson in a small hut. As they had no kinsmen they were very poor. A. few Inuit only took pity on them and brought them seal’s meat and blubber for their lamp”. Once upon a time, they were very hungry and the boy cried. The grandmother told him to be quiet, but as he did not obey she became angry and called Qallupilluk to come and take him away. He entered at once and the woman put the boy into the large hood, in which he disappeared almost immediately.

Later on the Inuit were more successful in sealing and they had an abundance of meat. Then the grandmother was sorry that she had so rashly given the boy to Qallupilluk and wished to see him back again. She lamented about it to the Inuit, and at length a man and his wife promised to help her.

When the ice had consolidated and deep cracks were formed near the shore by the rise and fall of the tide, the boy used to rise and sit alongside the cracks, playing with a whip of seaweed, Qallupilluk, however, was afraid that somebody might carry the boy away and had fastened him to a string of seaweed, which he held in his hands. The Inuit who had seen the boy went toward him, but as soon as he saw them coming he sang, “Two men are coming, one with a double jacket, the other with a foxskin jacket” (Inung maqong tikitong, aipa mirqosailing. aipa kapiteling). Then Qallupilluk pulled on the rope and the boy disappeared. He did not want to return to his grandmother, who had abused him.

Some time afterward the Inuit saw him again sitting near a crack. They took the utmost caution that he should not hear them when approaching, tying pieces of deerskin under the soles of their boots. But when they could almost lay hold of the boy he sang, “Two men are coming, one with a double jacket, the other with a foxskin jacket.” Again Qallupilluk pulled on the seaweed rope and the boy disappeared.

The man and his wife, however, did not give up trying. They resolved to wait near the crack, and on one occasion when the boy had just come out of the water they jumped forward from a piece of ice behind which they had been hidden and before he could give the alarm they had cut the rope and away they went with him to their huts.

The boy lived with them and became a great hunter.


Nunavut Animation Lab: Qalupalik

Nunavut Animation Lab created an animated version of one of the traditional tales about the Qalupalik, just like all of the folklore originating in Alaskan Native culture, there is always a moral to the story. This is an example of one told to children, to inform them of the dangers of not obeying their parents and wandering by the icy coastal waters on their own. Not to be mistaken with her more traditional lore, the video (linked below) describes a circumstance where the child who was kidnapped is rescued by his father, which of course is not what would typically happen if a child were kidnapped by this Inuit monster of the deep.


Mythical Monsters Podcast: Qalupalik

Another excellent resource for this particular mythical beast is Mythical Monsters Podcast who produced this podcast episode entitled “Qalupalik”. Check it out below!


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The Qalupalik by Elisha Kilabuk

The Qalupalik (2011)

An even less traditional take on the legend of the Qalupalik was fairly recently made into a children’s book, but it errs more on the side of child-friendly, where it suggests that despite her frightful appearance, she is rather easily tricked. It’s clear through all of the recent reimaginings of the legend of the Qalupalik that this story is still very widely told within Inuit communities, where the parents and teachers alike share this story with the children of the village in order to protect them from a curious and wandering nature.

The Qalupalik (2011) by Elisha Kilabuk is a mystical Inuit tale that has been reworked from its original well-known narrative. In the original folk tale, the children are always considered the victims and much like the grim nature of the folk tales told by the Brothers Grimm, the story ends without coming to the realization of a happy ending. In this version, we see the new tradition of vulnerable children, or the underdog, outsmarting the monster that happens to be bigger, older, and stronger than themselves; an orphan gets the better of the Qalupalik and survives an encounter with the monster.

This is the first book in the Inhabit Media’s Unikkakuluit Series, which features traditional native folklore being retold in new and interesting ways—while these stories pay homage to the original oral tradition of storytelling, they give the newest generation their own stories to identify with. Despite illustrator Joy Ang creating an incredibly frightening visage for these creatures, her illustrations are incredible and the story they sit alongside can give the meekest child reassurance that even the scariest of opponents will have a weakness that can be exploited.


Works Cited

Akulukjuk, Roselynn. “PUTUGUQ & KUBLU AND THE QALUPALIK.” Kirkus Reviews, Inhabit Media, 7 May 2019.

Houston, James. “Inuit Myth and Legend“. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 04 March 2015, Historica Canada. Accessed 17 December 2020.

Hrodvitnir, Yamuna. “Qalupalik: The Monstrous Inuit Mermaid.” Medium, Medium, 26 May 2020.

INUIT MYTHOLOGY.” Inuit Mythology.

Kilabuk, Elisha, and Sarah Sorensen. “The Qalupalik.” Quill and Quire, 30 June 2011.

National Film Board of Canada. “Nunavut Animation Lab: Qalupalik.” National Film Board of Canada, 2 Dec. 2010.

Oliver, Mark. “11 Mythological Creatures That Reveal Humanity’s Deepest Fears.” All That’s Interesting, All That’s Interesting, 17 June 2020.

Pfeifle, Tess. Qalupalik. 8 Jan. 2019, www.astonishinglegends.com/astonishing-legends/2019/1/7/qalupalik.

“Qalupalik.” Mythpedia Wiki, mythpedia.fandom.com/wiki/Qalupalik.

“Tales and Traditions.” The Central Eskimo: Introd. by Henry B. Collins, by Franz Boas, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of Ethnology, 1888, pp. 212–213.

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