During his lifetime, Robert Bloch traveled through the horror subgenres in pursuit of any and all things strange, morbid, or macabre. He started his writing career by imitating his mentor H.P. Lovecraft and subsequently becoming Lovecraft’s peer when he began to expand upon the Cthulhu mythos. It’s fair to say that without the influence and encouragement of Lovecraft, Bloch may never have become the successful and prolific author of horror fiction.
The Wildly Successful Novel?
It’s true that “millions of people across the globe know Psycho very well,” (Hood and Szumskyj, 102) but the Pyscho that they know is the Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation—to say that as many of them are familiar with the original novel by Robert Bloch would simply be false. Truth be told, however, without the masterful original inspiration, there would be no Psycho film franchise and massive following that it has had over the years.
All in all, Bloch himself was quite satisfied with how the movie adaptation came out, not to mention the fact that he regularly quoted Hitchcock when he reminded people that, “Psycho all came from Robert Bloch’s book. The scriptwriter, Joseph Stefano, a radio writer, he had been recommended by my agents MCA, contributed dialogue mostly, no ideas.” This apparently tickled Bloch so much that he even repeated it in his own unofficial biography Once Around the Bloch. He wanted everyone to know how much he endorsed the movie as a great representation of his book, this was a change in direction for Hitchcock, who had a history of taking artistic liberties when adapting other novels to the screen—consider, for example, the differences between Hitchcock’s The Birds (19363) and Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds and Other Stories.
Was Psycho (1959) Based on a True Story?
Bloch had a pretty obsessive fascination with psychopaths and serial killers in general, in fact, the inspiration for his masterful novel Psycho (1959) was loosely based on “the infamous real-life Wisconsin serial murderer Ed Gein” (Hood and Szumskyj, 104). In 1985, Bloch gave an interview to Ron Leming where he disclosed the fact that at the time Gein’s crimes were discovered, he had lived only twenty-nine miles away from where Gein had lived in Plainfield, Wisconsin. It was upon this discovery that Bloch became obsessed with the idea of this psychotic murderous person living in plain sight, perhaps even being the seemingly kind neighbor who would fly under the radar. Although Bloch didn’t intend for the novel to read like a biography of Gein’s life, he did take elements from his life as inspiration for his main character, Norman Bates. Ed Gein was, during his early years, a poor loner raised by troubled parents; his father was an alcoholic and his mother a domineering and fanatically religious woman who exerted her monstrously controlling influence upon Ed and his older brother Henry. It’s not terribly surprising that Henry ended up dying in a fire under suspicious circumstances in their family home.
Alfred Hitchcock’s Film Adaptation: Psycho (1960)
When Alfred Hitchcock purchased the rights of Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho (1959) for a meager $9,500 he did so anonymously—it wasn’t until closer to the release of the film that he came to find out. Hitchcock’s screenwriter Joseph Stefano remained incredibly true to the original story, altering the screenplay only minimally to fit the infamous director’s vision.
Hitchcock’s wildly successful film continues to dominate the public consciousness and, indeed, its dreams and nightmares: the stark, indelible black-and-white images, the characters, the suspense and horror of the storyline, the infamous shower scene, Norman Bates as masterfully portrayed by the unnerving Anthony Perkins, the ultimate unveiling of “Mrs. Bates,” the unforgettably desolate setting of the little neglected dark motel off the road far from the main highway and the house behind it—all this has, by the present day, become such a part and parcel of our culture that for many, Psycho is just one of Hitchcock’s most popular and shocking films, now as then upon its release in 1960.
Scott D. Briggs, “The Keys to the Bates Motel: Robert Bloch’s Psycho Trilogy” in The Man Who Collected Psychos (2009)
Trickery in the Theater
Hitchcock was possibly at the height of his showmanship when the 1960s thriller Psycho came out. Now, when we look back at how he maximized the attention of this legendary film’s release, we can see how blatant of a publicity stunt it really was.
Kudos to Hitchcock though, because he committed to it to such a degree that he made it abundantly clear that, in no uncertain terms, no one was allowed into the theater once the feature had begun.
Stationed outside each box office where the film was being featured was a five-foot-tall cardboard standee of Hitchcock himself, holding a sign that warned theater attendees of the following:
WE WON’T ALLOW YOU to cheat yourself! You must see PSYCHO from beginning to end to enjoy it fully.
Therefore, do not expect to be admitted into the theatre after the start of each performance of the picture. We say no one – and we mean no one – not even the manager’s brother, the President of the United States, or the Queen of England (God bless her)!
– Alfred Hitchcock
Now, if you have seen this classic thriller, you’ll know exactly why Hitchcock didn’t want people to walk in late and spoil the movie for themselves, but if you don’t know why—consider the following:
The synopsis of the movie is that “a Phoenix secretary embezzles $40,000 from her employer’s client, goes on the run, and checks into a remote motel run by a young man under the domination of his mother.” To go along with this, the theatrical trailer for the movie shows the star of the film as Janet Leigh—Leigh’s part in the movie, while substantial to the story, is tragic and short-lived. This was incredibly controversial and shocking to audience members who, having watched the trailer, expected her to be in the entire movie. Classic Hitchcock.
The Remake—Psycho (1998)
While the remake from 1998 didn’t add any content or context that enriched the movie from the original Bloch creation, it did come across as a reverential and faithful scene-by-scene retelling of the original movie. Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche play our main characters and do these classic scenes a decent amount of justice. Other than being a modernized version of the original film, there isn’t much that this movie brings to the table—I still personally enjoy watching it occasionally.
Author. Artist. A little bit Alaskan. Mary lives with her dog in a rural cabin outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. They explore the bounty of the Alaskan wilderness during the summer and cozy up in their log cabin during the winter.
In his seminal novel Dune, author Frank Herbert writes, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer”. This idea, that fear steals and kills who we are, is taken to a terrifying new level in the space horror comic Rogue Planet (2020) where the fears of our main characters literally come to life and hunt them down in a strange alien landscape. Though the story shackles itself within its sci-fi horror conventions, if you’re a fan of the Alienfranchise or H.P. Lovecraft then you will probably still have a good time with this one.
In a faraway galaxy there is a “rogue” planet (i.e. one not bound to any planetary system or star) where aliens worship a grotesque and horrifying elder god. The comic wastes no time introducing us to some of its main elements, namely the towering fleshy monument of the god and the lengths the inhabitants will go through to appease its bloodlust. We see an alien father sacrifice his own son in front of the multi-eyed obelisk, which really helps set the dark and dangerous tone that runs throughout the story.
After this jarring opening we cut to the salvage ship Cortes, where the crew is just beginning to wake from hyper-sleep. They’ve found a distress signal and followed it to the unknown world, hoping to loot whatever treasures they may find. However, upon discovering a massive ship graveyard they begin to feel something is amiss. This uneasy feeling quickly turns to outright terror as they are attacked by a massive tentacled monster, and they spend the rest of the comic fighting for their lives against numerous bizarre and deadly enemies.
No spoilers here, but the Rogue Planet comic makes it clear pretty early on that none of the crew are safe from the planetary nightmares they face. While this ramps up the stakes and tension, it would have been even more effective if we cared more for our main characters. We do get scenes of expository banter that lend layers to their personas, but for the most part they remain static archetypes typical of the sci-fi horror genre. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it adds to the feeling of “been there, done that” that permeates the story.
For a story about a ship following a distress signal to a hostile world, it plays out about like one would expect. The humans are placed in increasingly dangerous scenarios as the mysteries of the planet are slowly revealed. The aliens are all fairly nondescript, resembling a primitive tribe that has been intruded upon by foreigners. Following its cosmic horror roots the plot also dips into a baffling spirituality and mythos in its final act. True to the genre I was left wondering what I’d just read, but unfortunately it didn’t have the unnerving impact that the best in cosmic horror carries.
Where Rogue Planet really shines is in its unsettling imagery, abundant violence, and eye-catching artwork. The chaotic evil force is presented in various ways: there’s a gargantuan, veiny, many-mouthed worm (reminiscent of Junji Ito’s manga Remina), a host of hollowed out astronauts with streaming tentacles where their heads should be, and even a larger, bonier version of the facehugger from Alien. All iterations are unnerving, and all represent new levels of dread and mayhem for our misfortuned crew. These creatures are particularly creepy thanks to the bold illustrations from Andy Macdonald and the shimmering colors from Nick Filardi.
In terms of sci-fi horror, Rogue Planet doesn’t break any new ground. But the comic also manages to elevate above being a completely awful rip-off. There’s enough here – between the intriguing concepts and provocative artwork – to keep readers engaged in the story, even when they’re confused or find themselves feeling déjà vu. Though previous entries in the genre have tackled the same concepts with better results, the creepy images and stellar coloring make this one still worth a read. Just lower your expectations and you’ll have fun with it.
Ben’s love for horror began at a young age when he devoured books like the Goosebumps series and the various scary stories of Alvin Schwartz. Growing up he spent an unholy amount of time binge watching horror films and staying up till the early hours of the morning playing games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Since then his love for the genre has only increased, expanding to include all manner of subgenres and mediums. He firmly believes in the power of horror to create an imaginative space for exploring our connection to each other and the universe, but he also appreciates the pure entertainment of B movies and splatterpunk fiction.
Nowadays you can find Ben hustling his skills as a freelance writer and editor. When he’s not building his portfolio or spending time with his wife and two kids, he’s immersing himself in his reading and writing. Though he loves horror in all forms, he has a particular penchant for indie authors and publishers. He is a proud supporter of the horror community and spends much of his free time reviewing and promoting the books/comics you need to be reading right now!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Author. Artist. A little bit Alaskan. Mary lives with her dog in a rural cabin outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. They explore the bounty of the Alaskan wilderness during the summer and cozy up in their log cabin during the winter.
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