“Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby” (1976)

There’s an admirable sort of arrogance in a filmmaker’s insistence on making a sequel to a movie that clearly doesn’t warrant one. Surely audiences must want to know what happened to Edgar Frog, the seventh most interesting character in The Lost Boys, or Donnie Darko’s other sister,  or Camp North Star, where Meatballs took place. It doesn’t matter if the original story had a satisfying ending, or even if virtually no one from it wants to be involved in a follow up, the public demands more stories set at the country club in Caddyshack.

Rosemary’s Baby, despite its somewhat ambiguous ending, neither required a sequel, nor needed to have everything carefully explained to the viewer. A masterwork in the art of subtlety, it deceives you into thinking nothing is happening, until you realize, really, something terrible is happening, and the titular heroine not only is powerless to stop it, she ultimately gives in to it, letting her mothering instinct take over and agreeing to care for the infant son born of an unholy union between her and Satan himself. To not know what happens to Rosemary, let alone her baby, is ultimately a more chilling experience.

Oh wait, did I say we never find out what happens to Rosemary and her baby? Turns out I was mistaken–there exists a made for TV movie, 1976’s Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby, that explains everything. In no way based on anything written by Ira Levin (who would write his own equally unnecessary sequel years later), absolutely no one from the original movie is present here, except for Ruth Gordon, who, sadly, was in whatever the opposite of a career renaissance is by then, appearing in nonsense like this and soon to be playing Clint Eastwood’s horny old aunt in Every Which Way But Loose.

Taking place eight years after the events in Rosemary’s Baby, we find young Adrian, lacking the hooves and otherworldly eyes he apparently had in the first movie, being raised by his mother Rosemary (Patty Duke) under the watchful eye of Roman and Minnie Castevet and their coven of senior citizen Satanists. In the extremely unlikely event that someone might not have seen Rosemary’s Baby, the plot is helpfully explained in a spooky chant: “Hail Adrian/hail Satan/Satan is his father/and his name is Adrian.”

Rosemary, still married but separated from Guy (George Maharis), seems to meekly go along with whatever the Castevets want for Adrian, which includes decorating his bedroom with cute little mobiles of demons and swastikas, and giving him a black teddy bear. Secretly, however, she calls him Andrew, the name she originally chose for him, and together they eventually escape the coven. Meanwhile, Guy is living the sweet life out in Hollywood, enjoying the successful acting career he got in exchange for allowing his wife to be impregnated with the Devil’s seed, yet still asking the Castevets for favors, like getting Paul Newman to appear in a movie with him. Again, just in case you randomly decided to watch the unofficial sequel to a movie you have no knowledge of going in, Roman (Ray Milland) reminds Guy that he blinded the last actor who held Guy back from success.

On their way out to see Guy, Rosemary and Adrian end up in Nevada. After Adrian knocks unconscious a couple of bullies with his mind, they meet a seemingly friendly prostitute named Marjean (Tina Louise), who lies to Rosemary that Adrian killed the boys, and offers to help them leave town as soon as possible. This turns out to be a trick, though, and Rosemary ends up trapped without Adrian on an empty, driverless bus to nowhere, never to be seen again (this scene, the only time the movie gets anywhere in the vicinity of scary, would later be parodied in the video for Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher”). It’s an odd choice to have the ostensible heroine of a movie disappear not even a half hour into it, but it’s for the best here, as Patty Duke inhales so much scenery that soon everyone would have been left on a bare soundstage.

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The movie skips ahead a couple of decades, though the hair, clothes, and cars still remain solidly in 1976. Adrian (Stephen McHattie), now in his twenties, is a fast living rebel, as yet unaware of the sinister circumstances of his birth, but with violent urges he doesn’t understand. Raised to believe that his parents were killed in a car crash, he lives with his “aunt” Marjean at her seedy casino on the outskirts of Las Vegas (running this dump seems to be her “reward” from the Castevets for taking care of Adrian). An aspiring musician, Adrian longs to escape to San Francisco with his best friend, Peter (David Huffman), whom Marjean doesn’t trust, probably because his full name is Peter Simon, the reverse of Simon Peter, top disciple of Jesus Christ. Peter also mostly wears white and attempts to “save” Adrian, in a bit that’s about as subtle as the crucifix scar burned into Adrian’s chest, which the camera slowly, meaningfully closes in on from time to time.

Nevertheless, he opts to stick around at least long enough for his birthday celebration, which will include a visit from his aunt and uncle, who are, of course, the Castevets. As Roman explains in one of several expository voiceovers, this will be the year that Adrian will “take his rightful place” and assume Satan’s powers. And if it turns out that Adrian isn’t quite evil enough to take over the family business? No worries, they’ll just kill him and start all over again with another kid somewhere else. Why not, the average age of their coven seems to be around 82, they have all the time in the world.

At the birthday party (which is, hilariously, decorated with black tablecloths, black candles, gifts wrapped in black and red paper, and an open box of joints on display, in case it isn’t abundantly clear how eeeeeeeevil these people are), Minnie drugs Adrian and dresses him up in a devil outfit and mime makeup. It’s unclear why making him look like he’s in a Spiders From Mars tribute band is part of the demonic possession process, but we’ll just go with it. Though the ritual performed on him seems to have failed initially, Adrian, lured by super groovy generic disco rock, staggers out to the casino dance floor and starts gyrating like Mick Jagger, apparently putting all the other dancers under some sort of trance.

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Adrian’s only friend, the godly Peter, is murdered by Guy, who shows up for the ritual in secret, and is, improbably, even slimier in this than in the original film. Because this movie is nothing if not understated, the last time we see Peter he’s bathed in white light. When next we see Adrian, he’s in a psychiatric hospital, accused of murdering Peter but unable to remember anything that happened up to that point. He insists on calling himself Andrew, just as his mother did, and once his memories of the coven return, he confides in Ellen (Donna Mills), a kindly nurse who eventually helps him escape.

Once they’re hiding out in a motel, however, Ellen drugs Adrian and reveals herself to be–surprise (you won’t be surprised)–a member of the coven, and intent on raping him so that a new new Antichrist can be born (this is broadly hinted at earlier by Roman, who tells Guy “What we require now is temporary use of his body, or a portion thereof“). After the deed is done, Adrian wanders out of the motel room and is nearly run down by Guy, who ends up dying himself after flipping his car. Believing Ellen to have been killed by Guy, Adrian runs off into the night, presumably to lie in wait for a more efficient member of the coven to do him in.

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When we next see Ellen, she’s with her doctor, who tells her relieved grandparents that, despite being in a serious car accident, she’s uninjured and expected to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Ellen’s “grandparents” turn out to be–surprise! (again, zero surprise detected)–the Castevets, thus setting the stage for Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby’s Baby, a sequel that, thankfully, never came to pass.

I’m not sure I can give Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby a fair review, because, honestly, I have a soft spot for silly movies about Satanic cults (and that phrase is largely redundant). The original Rosemary’s Baby might be the only movie involving Devil worshipers that doesn’t have an undercurrent of goofiness to it, but it’s that very goofiness that makes its many inferior imitators so enjoyable. I attribute it to coming of age during the “Satanic panic” of the 80s, when journalists would gravely parse hair metal band lyrics and insist they were driving impressionable teens to experiment with drugs and murder their friends. The whole thing, particularly when you incorporate cloaks, chanting, daggers, and muddled dialogue about arcane symbols and prophecies, is just wildly entertaining.

Making Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby all the more enjoyable is that the actors, save for Ruth Gordon, whose dialogue consists of nothing but cranky old lady wisecracks, play it all very seriously. Stephen McHattie, who would go on to bring a special kind of character actor quirk to supporting roles in 300Watchmen, and much more, is genuinely good in a role that mostly requires him to just look confused, while Ray Milland is so pleased to do the Devil’s work that there’s practically a spring in his step. They put way more into it than the dull, seemingly half-finished script deserves.

Now that Adrian has helped in the creation of another Antichrist, is he no longer possessed? Will the coven still try to come after him? Considering that Roman Castevet was already nearly eighty during the events of Rosemary’s Baby, should we assume that he’s achieved immortality? The ending of this story is left far more open than its predecessor, and yet it closed the door on a potential franchise. Other than the aforementioned book sequel, and a (you got it, unnecessary) remake in 2014, so far we’ve heard no more from Rosemary, or her baby, or her baby’s baby.

Original airdate: October 29, 1976

Watch it here

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