DVD+Digital: Satanic cults, Halloween videos and Rosemary's Baby

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Director Roman Polanski made his Hollywood debut in 1968 with Rosemary's Baby, a psychological thriller so thoroughly creepy that it has since ascended into the pop culture superconsciousness. Some films just seem to hit a nerve. The film has been re-released to DVD and Blu-ray this week from the archivists at the Criterion Collection, with the usual suite of film-nerd extras.

For the uninitiated (heh), Rosemary's Baby is quite literally a cult classic. Its depiction of a secret Satanic coven kicked off a decade of diabolical thrillers like The Exorcist and The Omen. Mia Farrow stars as Rosemary Woodhouse, a sweet and naïve newlywed who has recently moved to New York City with her husband Guy (John Cassavetes), a struggling actor.

The young couple soon make the acquaintance of their elderly neighbors, Minnie and Roman Castavet, played by Sidney Blackmer and a wily Ruth Gordon. On the off-chance that you're unfamiliar with what happens next, I'll leave off with the plot points. Suffice it to say that Rosemary does indeed deliver a baby, although the paternity is in some dispute.

Check out the original 1968 trailer — they don't make 'em like this anymore:

Rosemary's Baby is one of my personal favorite films, and it's great for a Halloween scary movie night at home. Polanski made his bones in Hollywood with this picture, which was a giant critical and commercial success. The film is a real testament to Polanski's skills. With a few hallucinogenic exceptions, nothing particularly scary actually happens in the movie, yet the entire affair is drenched in a kind of ambient dread.

When people talk about a film's texture, I always think of Rosemary's Baby. Polanski had a good story (the film was based on the hit novel by Ira Levin) and he got some great performances, especially from Farrow and Gordon, who won an Oscar for the role. But Polanski stitches everything together in such a way that the movie becomes more than the sum of its parts. By suggesting that horrible and appalling things are happening just out of frame, Polanski encourages viewers to create their own frightening scenarios.

Both the DVD and Blu-ray editions of the film feature a new HD digital restoration, plus new interviews with Polanski, Farrow and producer Robert Evans. There was a good deal of intrigue going on behind the scenes with Rosemary's Baby, particularly in regard to Farrow's marriage to Frank Sinatra. Also included is a full-length documentary on the life and work of composer Krzysztof Komeda, who wrote the score; an old radio interview with novelist Levin; a booklet of critical essays; and Levin's foreword to the 2003 edition of the book.

More Scary Movies

It's been an off-year for good horror movies, but there are a few bones worth chewing over. All of the following are available now on DVD/Blu-ray, or various digital distribution channels via cable, satellite and online.

The sensibilities of producer Joss Whedon are all over The Cabin in the Woods, a self-aware neo-slasher that skewers the bloody tropes of the genre even as it celebrates them. Five college kids go into the woods to smoke pot and have sex. They are dutifully punished, as the genre demands, but the filmmakers have an interesting take on who's doing the punishing, and why.

Ridley Scott's underwhelming Prometheus doesn't really work as a sci-fi movie, but it's got plenty enough scares to justify a Halloween movie night rental. Watch in particular for Noomi Rapace's self-administered surgery scene, which goes into the pantheon of seriously twisted movie moments.

Lovely Molly is an effective horror indie from Blair Witch co-director Eduardo Sanchez, with some interesting notions on the horrors of addiction and a brave leading performance from newcomer Gretchen Lodge.

Fans of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft might want to track down the inventive micro-indie The Whisperer in Darkness, based on one of the author's most ridiculous sci-fi/horror hybrid stories. And by ridiculous, I mean awesome. The film gets the most out of its super-low-tech approach by shooting in black and white, and in the style of old monster movies from the 1930s.

A relatively low-key scary movie experience, The Innkeepers chronicles the fate of two employees of the fabled Yankee Pedlar Inn, said to be haunted by the vengeful ghost of a jilted bride. Director Ti West likes to get his thrills the old-fashioned way; his 2009 retro-thriller House of the Devil celebrates the Satanic cult mania of the 1980s. Might be a good double-feature with Rosemary's Baby, actually.

Also New This Week: Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis in The Candidate; Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass in Safety Not Guaranteed; Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan in Ruby Sparks; and French filmmaker Mathieu Demy's cross-cultural drama Americano.

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