I was never a horror fan, hence it would come as no surprise that the Shining and Rosemary’s baby were always pushed to the bottom of the pile of ‘films to watch’. Recently a friend made me bite the bullet. The resulting experiences, especially with the Shining, confirmed my initial reluctance. Watching them left me with a feeling of dread, they suggested the enemy was not a hairy monster or a prison escapee-psychopath (Cape Fear anyone?). No, they pointed the finger to the cosy family unit – a woman and man. “Man cannot be trusted” – they whisper. He, on the road to success, will be monstrous to the family.
Both films are based on Popular American Novelists – Ira Levin and Steven King. Levin’s fiction has been consistently transferred to celluloid and undoubtedly aims to ‘get at’ underlying gender issues, he also authored “The Stepford Wives”. His work on Rosemary’s baby was described by Prof. Barry Keith Grant as an instance of “yuppie horror”. Levin’s work is intricate and secretive and thus was once complimented by King for its Byzantine plot structure. In Rosemary’s baby and the Stepford wives banal daily reality is stripped with immaculate suspense to reveal the malevolence lurking beneath. Steven King, a master of horror clarified that the genre capitalizes on pre-existing anxieties. In the Shining, he utilised his own worries about the line between expressing anger towards one’s children and abuse. The Kubrick film barely covers the theme, except for that memorable scene, “I hardly touched the boy” says the main protagonist to the ghostly bartender.
In the both films the husbands are frustrated in their pursuit for success: Kubrick’s protagonist has writers’ block and dreams of distraction free days, Polansky’s slick actor wants the role which will put him “on the map”, but is constantly the understudy. Their wives cater to their needs, they are for the most part innocent and docile. They are mothers, betrayed by their spouses. The women, played by Mia Farrow and Shelley Duvall have the same doe-eyed look, which faced with the horror of unfolding circumstances is replaced by wide eyed horror- the kind that leaves a feeling of dread, the sense that family life is not safe, at least not as long as an ambitious husband is near.