Category Archives: Rape

My Childhood on Planet of the Apes

“Damn you,” cried the practically naked Charlton Heston as he fell to his knees on the beach in front of the half-buried Statue of Liberty. “God damn you all to hell.”

Summer, 1968: the hottest film in our world was the sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes, where three astronauts crash-land on a seemingly deserted planet, only to discover that in this topsy-turvy world, the apes can talk, read, write, ride horses, and shoot guns, while the mute humans are beasts, herded and captured, enslaved and oppressed. The film had just hit drive-in theatres, where kids got in free. We went to see the movie with our parents, with our friends and their parents, with the kids we ignored in school and their parents. We went with absolutely anyone to see Planet of the Apes. Again and again and again.

All the neighborhood children were so enamored of the film that we’d memorized the dialogue and played Planet of the Apes every day at an abandoned construction site on the other side of the railroad tracks. Since the site was vast and filled with gigantic concrete culverts and miscellaneous construction materials, it really was like we’d landed on another planet. It was the perfect setting for our Planet of the Apes games.

The first thing we did each day was draw straws to see who’d get to be the apes and who’d be the humans. We had very strict rules on our Planet of the Apes. Only the apes were allowed to talk. The humans were allowed to grunt, point, and use sign language. Sometimes the humans would huddle together in a corner of the site and whisper, but if the apes caught them doing that, they got mad and hit the humans really hard. The apes got to be up on top of the concrete culverts, and the humans’ goal was to get all the apes off the culverts so the humans could be on top. It was a Planet of the Apes King of the Hill.

The apes were allowed to use pieces of board as weapons, but only if the wood didn’t have any nails in it. Sometimes the apes would pretend the boards were guns and make shooting noises, but none of the humans ever fell down when they did that, so the shooting was just gratuitous sound effects. Given their naturally less evolved status on this planet, the humans were only allowed to use rocks as weapons. More like pebbles, actually. The apes had only agreed to pebble-sized rocks after one of the apes hit a human hard enough to break open the skin on his knee and he threatened to tell his parents what had really happened and which ape had done it. The humans had to be extremely careful about how hard they threw the rocks at the apes, however, and on which part of the apes’ bodies the rocks landed. The apes got really violent if the rocks hurt too much.

Neither apes nor humans were allowed to hit someone on the head or face: our parents would know we’d been playing Planet of the Apes at the construction site, and they’d all forbidden it. The apes could hit the human with their stick-guns on the back or butt. The humans could throw the rocks at the apes’ legs, arms, and backs.

The most important rule in our world was that nobody had to be a human two days in a row. It was only fair.

One day, one of the apes found a long section of rope and decided that each of the humans needed to have a choke-collar and leash, similar to the leather collars with leashes the humans wore in the film when the apes were transporting their captives from one place to another. The rope choke-collar and leash worked fine for a while, though the apes got yelled at a few times for pulling too hard or wrapping the rope too tightly.

Then Bobby Webster, who was human at the time and who fancied himself a young Charlton Heston, decided that humans had evolved sufficiently to develop speech and to have an intelligible language. In fact, according to Bobby, humans had become so evolved, they understood English, which was known to be the apes’ language.

“Take your dirty, stinking paws off of me, you damned dirty ape,” said Bobby as he ripped off his choke-collar and leash, shoved his ape-guard down, and raced up on the few apes already on the culverts.

The rest of us humans got so excited that we immediately learned to speak English and pretty soon had all the apes defeated. We shouted a thundering victory song as we stomp-danced on top of the culverts.

The apes were furious.

They insisted that humans weren’t allowed to talk on this planet. Ever.

Bobby Webster pointed out that Charlton-Heston had talked partway through the real movie, so we, too, should be able to talk. Sometimes. Of course, the rest of us humans agreed.

The apes didn’t.

That day, the fighting on the Planet of the Apes was real.

When we got home, cut and bruised, bleeding and crying, our mother was livid.

“You’ve been playing Planet of the Apes again, haven’t you?” she said as she knocked us each on the side the head. “How many times have I told you to stop playing that? Somebody’s going to get hurt.”

None of us was allowed to eat any supper that night — or for several nights after — and she refused to let us clean our cuts with anything but our own saliva, saying that’s all we’d have on our Ape-planet. Two days later, when my little sister Amy cried and begged not to be forced to go to our father’s house for her scheduled weekend visit, complaining that she didn’t like sleeping in his bed with him, our mother said Amy had to go: it was her punishment for playing Apes. After my little brother Jimmy Lee tried to hide from his own father — Amy’s and my new stepfather — in the basement one afternoon, Jimmy Lee came up to dinner with bruises on his face and neck, worse than anything he got on the Ape-planet. When my stepfather crept into our bedroom that night and hurt me more than usual, I wanted to say, “Take your stinking paws off me,” but I couldn’t. Afterward, he said it was all my fault, for playing Planet of the Apes when we weren’t supposed to.

Of course, none of that stopped us from playing Planet of the Apes.

After all, on that planet, sometimes we got to be the apes.

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© 2019 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. All rights reserved.
No content may be copied, excerpted, or distributed without express written consent
of the author and publisher, with copyright credit to the author.
Please don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.
Though this chapter was in the early drafts of my true crime memoir,
M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door, it is not in the final version of the book.

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Filed under Childhood Sexual Abuse, Classic Films, Films, Films/Movies, Memoir, Movies/Films, Rape, Sexual Abuse, Sexual Violence

Glue-Boy

His real name was Daniel David Davison III, but nobody called him that except Sister St. James and the principal every time he got sent to her office for disrupting class. He used to make fun of his own name all the time, saying, “3-D. I’m 3-D,” erupting into uncontrollable laughter. Since we were only third-graders, we didn’t get the joke at all, and he didn’t like to be called Daniel David Davison III, so we called him “Glue-Boy.”

First graders had to use paste spooned out of a communal tub. Second graders were allowed to have individual containers of paste that had to be stored on the shelves when not in use. As third graders, however, grown-ups that we were, we got to have our very own bottles of Elmer’s glue, which we were allowed to keep in our desks, and Daniel David Davison III could do amazing things with Elmer’s glue.

All day, every day, he’d paint elaborate glue-tattoos on the back of his hands and forearms. The glue was his paint, starkly white against the perpetually darker canvas of his skin. He created dragons and gargoyles, knights and castles, vampires and werewolves from his fingers to the edge of his stiffly ironed, short-sleeved white shirt. I sat beside him, in the last seat of the third row, and every day, he hunched over his bare desk, concentrating so hard on his fantastic designs that the tip of his tongue stuck out while the rest of us watched in silent admiration.

Sister St. James would be writing our lessons on the board or gazing out the windows at the river on the far side of the church next door, or sitting at her desk with her eyes closed while we did our reading assignments, and Glue-Boy would be covering all the bare skin on both his arms with swords and sorcerers, dinosaurs and treasures, pirates with ships flying flags with skull-and-crossbones. After he finished, he’d put the bottle of Elmer’s down on his desk, hold his arms out in front of him till all the glue dried, then turn and show us his creations.

Any time that Sister turned around from the board or her reverie at the windows, or woke from her afternoon nap and saw us all watching him instead of doing our work, she’d rush back to him, her ruler slashing the air. Glue-Boy protected his creations by bending forward over his desk, stretching his glue-covered arms beneath as Sister beat him mercilessly with the ruler. Then she’d march back up to the front of the room, collapse in her chair, and order us to put our heads down on our desks as punishment. After a few minutes had passed, we’d surreptitiously look over at him, and he’d smile, his head and forearms held high, not a single one of his glue-paintings destroyed.

One day on the playground during recess, I complimented Glue-Boy on his art. He nodded without even looking up at me, so I feared I’d annoyed him. Occasionally after that, however, he would find me on the playground and show me his latest work. As the year progressed, the colors got brighter and the designs became more complex. I thought all of them were beautiful, even if I didn’t know what they were.

Even when he started using paint instead of glue, covering his face and arms with gorgeous colors, he never lost the name “Glue-Boy.” Though Sister St. James ordered him to the Principal’s office every single time he came in with his face painted, though the Principal called his parents and demanded that all his paints be confiscated, though his desk in the classroom was finally isolated in the corner so that no one could be close to him, nothing stopped him from painting. The morning he came in with his hair dyed a multitude of colors, we gathered around him in awe while all the teachers and the principal ranted and threatened.

He was wonderful.

He was our hero.

I suppose we all suspected that, eventually, his body would not be a large enough canvas, so when he pulled a box of colored chalk out of his coat pocket during recess and began decorating the playground itself, no one seemed too surprised. Even the teachers had long since stopped trying to control him: we heard that his parents had threatened to withdraw him from the school and send him somewhere more exclusive.

And the teachers didn’t try to make me skip rope or run relay races with the other girls: they accepted that it was my job to hold Glue-Boy’s colored chalks while he worked. By the time the Monsignor came over from the church to watch, everyone had accepted that this was just the way of the world: this was Glue-Boy’s purpose in life. The principal and the Monsignor stood by in silence, watching as the colored chalk covered the exterior walls of the elementary school, in ever more fantastic and elaborate designs, as high as Glue-Boy could reach.

On the day I told Glue-Boy about my father and my divorced mother’s boyfriend, about what they did to me in the basement, in the garage, in my own bed late at night when my mother was asleep, Daniel David Davidson III offered to pour endless bottles of glue down their noses and mouths and throats and to keep pouring till the glue dried and hardened.

“Then,” he said, “they won’t be able to hurt you anymore.”

Glue-Boy was the first person who ever offered to protect me.

That made him my first love.

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Glue-Boy

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His real name was Daniel David Davison III, but nobody called him that except Sister St. James and the principal every time he got sent ...
Continue reading
My Childhood on Planet of the Apes

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"Damn you," cried the practically naked Charlton Heston as he fell to his knees on the beach in front of the half-buried Statue of Liberty ...
Continue reading
The Louisville Slugger

The Louisville Slugger

I did my last three years of high school in a district that was cramped for space. Because there was only an elementary school and ...
Continue reading

© 2019 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. All rights reserved.
No content may be copied, excerpted, or distributed without express written consent
of the author and publisher, with copyright credit to the author.
Please don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.
Though this chapter was in the early drafts of my true crime memoir,
M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door, it is not in the final version of the book.

Share

2 Comments

Filed under Childhood Sexual Abuse, Classic Films, Films, Films/Movies, Memoir, Movies/Films, Rape, Sexual Abuse, Sexual Violence

Walking Around in Someone Else’s Skin: The Classic Film, To Kill A Mockingbird

#NoSpoilers

Usually considered to have originated with Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto (1764), which was subtitled “A Gothic Story,” Gothic fiction is literature that attempts to combine elements of romance, mystery, and horror — without becoming either too fantastic or too realistic. Initially featuring decaying castles, curses, ghosts or other supernatural creatures and events, madness, murder, and “oft-fainting heroines,” Gothic fiction was hugely popular entertainment.

About a generation after Walpole, Ann Radcliffe introduced the brooding Gothic villain in her novel A Sicilian Romance: a tempestuous, moody, sometimes secretive, and extremely passionate male who usually encounters a heroine that completely upsets his life. Later this type of “villain” would be called the Romantic era’s “Byronic hero.” Radcliffe also introduced more independent heroines to Gothic fiction with her bestselling The Mysteries of Udolpho. Though Radcliffe’s heroines are still pretty helpless and faint far more than anyone I’ve ever encountered, they inspired “gothic feminism” which critics claim the author herself expressed as “female power through pretended and staged weakness.” Further, Radcliffe changed the infant genre of Gothic fiction by introducing the “explained supernatural,” where all the apparently supernatural events, from ghosts and moving furniture to strange knocks and cries in the dark, turn out, eventually, to have perfectly reasonable, natural explanations.

Gothic fiction and its various, evolving components spread into the literature of the Romantic era, appearing in the poetry of Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, Byron, and Poe. In the Victorian era, Gothic elements were more prominent in fiction, and are found in the work Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol), Bram Stoker (Dracula), Robert Louis Stevenson (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights), and Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre).

Many of these Victorian authors added strong moral elements to their Gothic fiction, producing novels that questioned everything from man’s relationship with newly developing technologies and medical advances to man’s responsibility for feeding and educating the poor. Gothic literature became more than entertainment to pass the long hours of a dark and rainy night: it explored the meaning of life, morality, social responsibility, and man’s relationship to the Divine.

As Gothic fiction spread to authors in America, especially in the South, it became a sub-genre called Southern Gothic. Authors like Faulkner, Caldwell, McCullers, O’Connor, Capote, and Percy examined family relationships, sexuality, poverty, race, and the Southern myths of an idyllic antebellum past. Southern Gothic is filled with

deeply flawed, disturbing, or eccentric characters… ambivalent gender roles, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.

With its particular focus on the South’s history of slavery, Southern Gothic became a vehicle for fierce social critique.

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic of both American fiction and Southern Gothic. A coming-of-age story set in the fictional “tired old town” of Maycomb, Alabama from 1933-1936, during the Great Depression, the novel examines everything from family relationships and mental health to societal responsibilities, poverty, violence, and crime. The 1962 film version, adapted from the novel by Horton Foote, eliminated some of the novel’s childhood adventures to concentrate on the aspects of its storyline that make To Kill a Mockingbird so important to American literature and film: the ugly and intractable racism between whites and blacks, a bigotry and intolerance that still exists over most of the country.

Mary Badham as Scout (forefront) with author Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

The film’s (unseen) narrator looks back on her six-year-old self and on the events that changed her from an innocent to a more mature child. In 1933, Scout (Mary Badham) and her brother Jem (Phillip Alford) live in Maycomb, Alabama with their widowed father Atticus (Gregory Peck).

Mary Badham as Scout, Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, and Phillip Alford as Jem, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Together with a visiting neighbor, Dill (John Megna, modeled after Harper Lee’s lifelong friend Truman Capote, who spent summers next door to the Lees with his aunts), Scout and Jem roam around the neighborhood and create their own adventures.

John Megna as Dill, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

One of their most exciting “games” is scaring each other with stories about the never-seen Boo Radley (Robert Duvall, in his film debut),

Robert Duvall as Boo Radley, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

who lives just a few doors down and who is rumored to be a crazed, scissors-wielding psychopath, once locked up in the courthouse basement jail.

Paul Fix as Judge Taylor, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Late one night, Judge Taylor (Paul Fix) comes over to request that Atticus serve as the appointed defense counsel for Tom Robinson (Brock Peters),

Gregory Peck as Atticus, and Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

a black man who has been accused of brutally beating and raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox).

Collin Wilcox as Mayella Ewell (foreground), and Paul Fix as Judge Taylor (background), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Atticus agrees, but despite his attempts to shield his children from the consequences of his decision to represent a black man in a racially charged crime, Scout and Jem soon become involved in the racial “war” brewing around them.

Collin Wilcox as Mayella, and James Anderson as Bob Ewell (both, foreground), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

In particular, the father of the ostensible rape victim, Bob Ewell (James Anderson) tries several times to intimidate Atticus into quitting the case. When that doesn’t work, Ewell threatens violence against Atticus and his children.

Phillip Alford as Jem, and Mary Badham as Scout, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Though the children continue to find “gifts” in the hollow of a nearby tree, these gifts and their former adventures pale in significance to the events surrounding the crime concerning Tom Robinson and Mayella Ewell.

Gregory Peck as Atticus, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

By the time the trial starts, most of the town is divided and angry. Though Atticus warns his children to stay away from the courthouse completely, Jem refuses to be barred from the biggest event in the county, and Scout refuses to be left behind at home if Jem and Dill are going to the courthouse.

Phillip Alford as Jem, Mary Badham as Scout, and John Megna as Dill (L-R, foreground), with William Walker as Reverend Sykes (background, wearing suit and tie) To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Without Atticus’ knowledge or permission, Scout, Jem, and Dill sit in the gallery, in the “Negro section” of the court, and watch the entire trial.

William Windom as District Attorney (L), James Anderson as Bob Ewell (center), and Paul Fix as Judge Taylor (background R), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Judge Taylor presides as the District Attorney (William Windom, in his film debut) badgers witnesses and makes his opinions about Tom Robinson’s guilt clear. Despite the fact that viewers can have no doubt whatsoever about the jury’s eventual verdict, the courtroom scenes are intensely riveting, especially when Atticus cross-examines Mayella herself.

Gregory Peck as Atticus, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Though the verdict is not in question, Mayella’s father, angry at the Atticus’ not-so-subtle accusations of incest and child abuse, provokes Atticus repeatedly in an attempt to draw him into a physical confrontation. Then, he decides to provoke Atticus by going after his children.

Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, To Kill a Mockingbird won three Oscars:
Best Actor for Gregory Peck, Best Adapted Screenplay for Horton Foote, and Best Art Direction (set design, Black-and-White).

The film also won Golden Globes for Best Actor in a Drama (Gregory Peck), Best Original Score (Elmer Bernstein), and Best Film for Promoting International Understanding (to director Robert Mulligan).

When released, To Kill a Mockingbird was an overwhelming critical and popular success, earning more than 10 times its budget in 1962. To Kill a Mockingbird has gone on to become a classic, with the film listed 25th on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2007 list) [#34 on the 1998 list], and taking the top spot in AFI’s Top 10 Courtroom Dramas. Gregory Peck’s character Atticus Finch reigns as AFI’s 100 Greatest Heroes.

Everyone should see this film, though children under 12 may need to be cautioned about the subject matter and the language as this film deals openly with rape, clearly suggests incest, and uses language appropriate to the time and place of its story.

Be sure to watch the black-and-white version of To Kill a Mockingbird, not the colorized one: those who colorized it obviously completely missed the symbolism behind the story’s being filmed in black-and-white instead of in color. Available for rent ($2.99-3.99 SD/HD) from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay, and Vudu.

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Filed under Actors, Books, Classic Films, Classics, Coming of Age Stories, Crime Drama, Drama, Film Videos, Films, Films/Movies, Historical Drama, Movies/Films, No Spoilers Review, Official Film Trailers, Official Movie Trailers, Official Trailers, Rape, Review, Review/No Spoilers, Sexual Abuse, Sexual Violence, Violence

At the First Meeting of The Liars’ Club

Trigger Warning
Though not graphic,
this post discusses childhood sexual abuse.

I stood, mortified into silence, in front of my second-grade class. My teacher, a tall thin woman with size 17 feet, held me so hard by the shoulders that later that day, when I got home from school and changed out of my uniform, I would find bruises from where her fingers had gouged me. The rest of the class was sitting at their desks, hands folded on top, listening to Miss Slewinski, but staring at me.

“This little girl here,” said Miss Slewinski, “is a liar. She makes up stories about her Mommy and Daddy…”

“He’s not my dad,” I said. “My real dad isn’t allowed…”

Miss Slewinski cuffed me on the side of the head.

“I called Sascha’s mother yesterday and asked her to come in and talk to me,” she said. “Her mother is a very nice woman. Do you know what she did when I told her all the terrible things Sascha has been saying?”

The entire class obediently shook their heads.

“What did your mother do when she heard about your lies, Sascha?” said Miss Slewinski, digging her fingers even deeper as she shook me. “What? Say it louder. So the whole class can hear you.”

“Cried,” I said.

“Yes. She cried. Sascha’s mother, one of the nicest women I’ve ever met, sat right here in this room and cried like her heart was broken. All because of this girl. This liar. She’s such a liar that I’m naming her the president of The Liars’ Club.”

She let go of my shoulders and stood there, glaring down at me, her arms crossed over her flat chest.

“Sascha’s going to stand here for an hour. Because she’s such a liar. Because she tells such awful stories about her parents. The rest of you aren’t going to do any work: you’re just going to sit there and stare at this terrible liar. But anybody else who wants to join The Liars’ Club can come right on up here and stand beside her.”

Miss Slewinski sat at her desk. I stood perfectly motionless in front of the class while they stared at me. Some of the girls in the class made faces at me whenever the teacher turned around to write something on the board. My hands were in such tight fists that my bones ached. My teeth were clenched so hard that my jaw throbbed. I wanted to die. I wanted them to die. I was so filled with rage that I wanted to get hold of a knife and stab every single one of them to death. Especially Miss Slewinski.

What were the terrible stories and lies I’d told which got me inducted into The Liars’ Club?

That my father did bad things to me. (I was too young to know the word “rape,” so I called it “bad things.”) That he wasn’t allowed to see me anymore because he’d done bad things to me so many times. That the judge had believed me when we were alone in his office and had asked me to show him, by pointing to my body, exactly where my father did bad things to me. That my father wasn’t allowed to even be in the same room with me when I visited his parents — my grandparents — though he’d gone back to live with them after the divorce.

What else had I told my second-grade teacher after she saw my inner thighs and asked me how I got all those terrible bruises?

That my mother’s boyfriend — who wouldn’t become her husband for at least three more years — did the same bad things to me every single night. That my mother knew all about the bad things my father and her boyfriend did to me. That my mother said it was all my fault, that she said I acted like a “cockette,” but I didn’t know what that word meant. That every time my mother caught one of them hurting me, she hurt me even worse than they did.

Miss Slewinski had promised me that she’d never tell anyone what I told her, she’d said she would help me find a new home, she said she’d do whatever it took to protect me.

Then Miss Slewinski called my mother into school and told her all the things I’d said.

“She’s such a storyteller,” said my mother, as she burst into tears. “She’s been a terrible liar since the day she was born.”

So, next day, there I was, in front of my second-grade class, during the inaugural meeting of The Liars’ Club, where I was the only member.

That first meeting lasted just an hour, yet it haunted me the rest of my life. Liar, said the girls in my ear when we were in line for religion class. Liar, said the boys when I passed them on my way to the locker in the hallway to get my coat after school. Liar, they all said when were out on the playground every day after lunch. Liar.

In that first meeting of The Liars’ Club, I learned everything there is to know about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Probably more than Einstein himself ever knew.

And that’s the truth.

Related Posts
read an excerpt (chapters 1-6) from my memoir
and related chapters that are not in final, published version

 

M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door, chapters 1-6

M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door, chapters 1-6

The Birthday Cake The first time somebody tried to kill me, I had just turned four years old. I know that for a fact because ...
Continue reading
Head-Banger's Ball: Escaping Abuse the Hard Way

Head-Banger’s Ball: Escaping Abuse the Hard Way

Trigger Warning This post, though not graphic, discusses childhood sexual abuse. Life is unbearable, but death is not so pleasant either. Russian Proverb I was ...
Continue reading
At the First Meeting of The Liars' Club

At the First Meeting of The Liars’ Club

Trigger Warning Though not graphic, this post discusses childhood sexual abuse. I stood, mortified into silence, in front of my second-grade class. My teacher, a ...
Continue reading
O Coward Conscience

O Coward Conscience

Trigger Warning: This post, though not graphic, discusses childhood sexual abuse. O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me... My conscience hath a thousand several ...
Continue reading
Glue-Boy

Glue-Boy

His real name was Daniel David Davison III, but nobody called him that except Sister St. James and the principal every time he got sent ...
Continue reading
My Childhood on Planet of the Apes

My Childhood on Planet of the Apes

"Damn you," cried the practically naked Charlton Heston as he fell to his knees on the beach in front of the half-buried Statue of Liberty ...
Continue reading
The Louisville Slugger

The Louisville Slugger

I did my last three years of high school in a district that was cramped for space. Because there was only an elementary school and ...
Continue reading

© 2014, 2018, 2019 by Alexandria Constantinova Szeman. All rights reserved.
No content may be copied, excerpted, or distributed without express written consent
of the author and publisher, with copyright credit to the author.
Please don’t support the piracy of Intellectual Property.
Though this chapter was in the early drafts of my true crime memoir,
M is for Munchers: The Serial Killers Next Door, it is not in the final version of the book.

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Filed under Childhood Sexual Abuse, Classic Films, Films, Films/Movies, Memoir, Movies/Films, Rape, Sexual Abuse, Sexual Violence

The World Breaks Everyone: Horror Film Classic Rosemary’s Baby

#NoSpoilers

The world breaks everyone, and afterward,
many are strong in the broken places.

Ernest Hemingway
A Farewell to Arms

It all seems so ordinary and banal. Young couple in New York serendipitously gets the chance to rent an apartment in an elegant old building with an enviable upper west side Manhattan address. Because the apartment’s elderly resident died suddenly and the building is rent-controlled, the struggling, somewhat sporadically employed actor and his pretty, enthusiastic wife can afford to move in, redecorate it from top to bottom, and furnish the looming place, which has 18-20′ ceilings, stained-glass windows in its doors, bay windows with window seats, and elaborately carved, working fireplaces.

The Dakota (exterior only) setting for Bramford, Rosemary’s Baby ©

While Hubby goes to auditions seeking work, Wifey decorates, shops, and cooks, both of them dreaming of — and actively planning for — the little family they want to have. With such a great home in such an exclusive neighborhood, what difference does it make if you can sometimes hear the braying, nasal voice of the Old Lady next door complaining to her husband late at night? All apartments have thin walls and a few annoying neighbors, right? Of course, right.

John Cassavetes as Guy and Mia Farrow as Rosemary, Rosemary’s Baby ©

It is this very banality and seemingly ordinary setting — “like it could be a snippet out of your own life” — that makes Rosemary’s Baby (1968) such a great film. It is one of the best in the horror genre, but not for the reason you might expect. The film doesn’t have any scary special effects: except for the brief “nightmare” scene, there aren’t even any ghoulish costumes. No blood, gore, monsters, or masked villains wielding weapons while dopey teenagers run mindlessly about. Instead, Rosemary’s Baby, based on Ira Levin’s bestselling novel of the same name, concentrates its horror on the fact that virtually everything in the film could actually happen. Young, happy, pretty, and soon-pregnant Rosemary begins to suspect that something is wrong with her husband, wrong with her marriage, wrong with her unborn baby. Even worse, she soon comes to believe that there is a conspiracy to kidnap her baby upon its birth. However, it is because Rosemary is completely correct in her seemingly bizarre fears that Rosemary’s Baby — a triumph of psychological terror — is such a horror classic.

Rosemary’s Baby, first edition

This film is one of the few dramatizations that remains almost perfectly faithful to the novel on which it was based. All the foreshadowing about the neighbors conspiring in a group and doing something more than “not quite right”? In the book. Hubby Guy’s sudden emotional distance and Rosemary’s increasing isolation? In the book. Guy’s escalating psychological manipulation, emotional abuse, and ultimately physical abuse of his pregnant wife Rosemary? That’s in the book, too.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby (B&W still) ©

But the true horror of both the book and the film is more than Rosemary’s “paranoia and loss of control.” After all, her paranoia is based on subliminal indications about her reality: she is losing control of her own life — and of her baby’s — and other people in the apartment building are conspiring against her. Limiting us to Rosemary’s perspective with its film angles, its close-ups, and its spooky lighting, Rosemary’s Baby “relies on creating an atmosphere and story that speaks to [society’s] deeper, subconscious fears:” isolation, betrayal, and madness.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Mia Farrow, a soap-opera actress on Peyton Place who acquired international notoriety when she married famous singer/actor Frank Sinatra, 30 years her senior, does an outstanding job as Rosemary, and not just because she’s so young and waif-thin (okay, bony-thin).

John Cassavetes, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Farrow’s Rosemary is giddy and giggly when she and husband Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) first look at the magnificent apartment available in the Bramford (named, by author Ira Levin, in honor of Dracula author Bram Stoker).

Maurice Evans as Hutch, Rosemary’s Baby ©

She’s slightly amused by her friend Hutch’s (Maurice Evans) tales of macabre deaths, suicides, murders, and cannibalism at the Bramford, but continues eating dinner as if he were discussing the weather.

Ruth Gordon as Minnie, Rosemary’s Baby ©

She’s friendly and pleasant to their nosy neighbor Minnie (Ruth Gordon, in her Oscar-winning role), who looks through the mail before handing it to Rosemary, and who examines the price-tags on the canned goods while the two of them are sitting at the kitchen table.

Sidney Blackmer as Roman, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Rosemary is subdued and slightly bored by the elderly neighbors, Minnie and Roman (Sidney Blackmer), when they invite Rosemary and Guy to dinner that night, and is somewhat surprised by Guy’s sudden burgeoning friendship with Roman.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

She’s excited when Guy miraculously gets more important acting jobs, attributing it all to his wonderful skill and talent. She works hard decorating the apartment, cooking, doing the laundry, making cushions for the window seats, trying to make friends with the neighbors, and trying even harder to “start their family.”

Ralph Bellamy as Dr. Saperstein, Rosemary’s Baby ©

When Rosemary finally does get pregnant, the real terror of the film begins. Instead of gaining weight, Rosemary loses it. Instead of bouts of morning sickness, she has frightening symptoms and cravings that the congenial obstetrician Dr. Saperstein (Ralph Bellamy) blithely dismisses, telling her — for months — that they’ll “be gone in a day or two.”

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

The scenes with pregnant-Rosemary are some of the most frightening of the film, as are the scenes where husband Guy begins to be more and more dismissive of Rosemary’s feelings, her concerns, even her basic human rights. When she wakes after a nightmare that she was raped, Guy’s response if terrifyingly abusive and distant.

Mia Farrow as Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby ©

(Guy is undeniably the worst villain in the film, but I won’t get started on any rant about him in this post…)

John Cassevetes and Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Despite the fact that Rosemary’s health seems to improve somewhat mid-pregnancy, her life gets worse.  Guy becomes more and more controlling, resorting to manipulation, psychological battery, and emotional abuse to keep her submissive, obedient, and “nice.” Whenever Rosemary’s friends try to intervene, things only get worse for the already isolated Rosemary.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

When Rosemary finally realizes what is happening to her, she desperately seeks help, only to be betrayed in the most frightening way. Though everything Rosemary suspects is happening to her and around her is, in fact, exactly what is happening, she is threatened into compliance by those closest to her. The very people who are supposed to care for her and her unborn baby terrorize her into submission and obedience.

John Cassevetes, Mia Farrow, Ralph Bellamy, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Still, surprisingly, Rosemary isn’t broken. Isolated and imprisoned, Rosemary begins to rebel.

Ralph Bellamy, Rosemary’s Baby ©

When she escapes the apartment and goes into Minnie and Roman’s apartment, where the entire group of conspirators has gathered, Rosemary is still not broken. Not completely.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

By the last scene, though, which reveals Rosemary’s ultimate reaction to her baby, she is, at last, broken by the evil world that has surrounded her. That is the ultimate horror of Rosemary’s Baby: not necessarily that Rosemary herself is so broken that she might as well have let them kill her. Not that she is no longer naïve, innocent, and trusting. Not that she will never again resist evil. The true psychological horror is not that Rosemary is broken, but how she is broken.

Mia Farrow, Rosemary’s Baby ©

Paranoia, loss of control, isolation, and subjugation. Betrayal and sexual abuse. Emotional and psychological manipulation. Fear of madness. Being irrevocably broken by the world. Rosemary’s Baby shows us everything we most fear in life. Through the “lens of realism,” director Roman Polanski, in his first major Hollywood production, created a “brooding, macabre film, filled with the sense of unthinkable danger,” a danger that becomes reality for its protagonist Rosemary, who is forever “broken” by the world in this horror classic.

Rosemary’s Baby is available for rent — $2.99 (SD) / $3.99 (HD)— from Amazon (free for Prime members), YouTube, iTunes, and Vudu.

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