‘Rosemary’s Baby’ Spawns a New Version, and It’s a Horror
Every mother has her horror stories.
This Mother’s Day, TV’s out to top them.
Even moms who hope to enjoy a Bloody Mary or two at Sunday brunch may blanch at the amount of fake blood spilled that evening, as NBC’s remake of Rosemary’s Baby moves to Paris.
It’s a bit longer than the Roman Polanski classic. And a lot more graphic.
And if that’s not enough horror, in its second hour the four-hour adaptation of the Ira Levin best-seller, which concludes on Thursday, goes head to head with Showtime’s new Penny Dreadful, a Victorian monster mash-up that swirls the stories of Frankenstein, Dracula, Dorian Gray and Jack the Ripper into an unsavory, intermittently intriguing stew.
Levin, who died in 2007, will miss the second coming of one of his iconic creations (he also wrote The Stepford Wives), but he’d long expressed regret about some of what Rosemary’s Baby spawned, telling the Los Angeles Times in 2002 that he felt “guilty” because he believed it had led to work like The Omen and The Exorcist and had caused more people to consider Satan a reality.
NBC’s version, written by Scott Abbott (Queen of the Damned) and James Wong (American Horror Story) and directed by Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa), lacks the undercurrent of humor that ran through the 1968 film (aided by the casting of the great Ruth Gordon as Rosemary Woodhouse’s overly attentive neighbor, Minnie Castevet). Hyper-faithful to Levin’s book, Polanski’s Baby was as much a cautionary tale about real estate as it was about the pregnancy from hell.
Forty-six years later, Rosemary’s Baby must contend not only with the memories of everything from The Omen to ABC’s short-lived 666 Park Avenue but also with What to Expect When You’re Expecting, a screening-happy medical establishment and, one hopes, an increased acceptance of the idea that it’s more than a marital faux pas to cause a woman to become pregnant while she’s unconscious. Even if the devil isn’t involved.
Zoe Saldana’s Rosemary, a dancer who formerly supported her writer husband, Guy (Patrick J. Adams, Suits), wouldn’t normally be as easily pushed around as Mia Farrow’s character was by her older, actor husband (John Cassavetes).
Move her to Paris, though, and give her only the most limited knowledge of French, and she’s far easier to isolate and thus to scare silly.
I’ve a weakness for pretty much anything filmed in Paris, and Rosemary’s Baby is inarguably scenic, making excellent use of the local gargoyles.
Nevertheless, I quickly grew suspicious of the couple’s new acquaintances — and not just because they all spoke flawless English and didn’t appear to resent having to exercise it.
Jason Isaacs (Awake) plays the ultrasophisticated Roman Castevet and French actress Carole Bouquet, a former Bond girl, is a far cry from Minnie as his wife, Margaux. What could these two possibly want with Guy, a blocked writer on the lowest rung of the academic ladder at the Sorbonne, and his lovely wife?
NBC’s Baby spends much of its extra time on the setup that brings the Woodhouses into the Castevets’ orbit and on the terrible things that occur to people who get in their way.
Such incidents were kept offscreen in the original, but viewers accustomed to NBC’s Hannibal or Fox’s The Following may appreciate each gory, devilish detail. Or not.
What this Rosemary’s Baby has going for it, mostly, is Rosemary herself. Saldana’s terrific as a gutsy mother-to-be who knows something’s wrong but can’t get anyone to believe her. And Holland’s direction maintains whatever suspense is possible. Which is only so much.
This Rosemary’s Baby is being reborn into a world in which an infant’s sex — and even its first baby pictures — may be posted to Facebook months before birth.
If you’re looking to be truly surprised, stick with Game of Thrones or The Good Wife.
I’ve always loved the term “penny dreadful,” reeking as it does of Louisa May Alcott, who got her start writing the 19th century pulp fiction for the papers known as “penny dreadfuls.”
She made them sound like dangerous fun in “Little Women” (though Fritz Bhaer disapproved).
I’m not sure, though, how well the description applies to Showtime’s new “Penny Dreadful,” which doesn’t look cheap - not with Timothy Dalton, Josh Hartnett (“Black Hawk Down”) and Eva Green (“Casino Royale”) and a slew of special effects - and isn’t exactly dreadful.
Though I certainly dreaded watching it.
Horror-challenged as I am (you can look it up), I know I’m not the target audience for this. I’m already an outlier on NBC’s “Hannibal,” which plays with its food in a way that leaves me colder than it does many critics and I’m no more enthusiastic about the gore in “Penny Dreadful.”
I do love Billie Piper, though, and the appearance of the former “Doctor Who” companion in “Dreadful’s” Victorian London brightened things immediately, and made me want to know more.
I’d still be hard put to describe exactly what’s going on in the show’s first two episodes, though each ended with a scene stunning enough to recapture my wandering attention.
9 p.m. EDT Sunday and Thursday, NBC
10 p.m. EDT Sunday, Showtime.
Email Ellen Gray at grayephillynews.com
©2014 Ellen Gray
Visit Ellen Gray at www.philly.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services