Reel Estate

Reel Estate: Rosemary's Baby (and her rent-stabilized digs)

By Virginia K. Smith  | October 31, 2014 - 1:59PM

When a movie or TV show is set in New York City—and if the people making it are savvy—real estate becomes part of the story itself. In Reel Estate, we look at some of the more memorable domiciles to grace the screen.

We couldn't very well write about New York real estate in movies—and on Halloween, no less—without addressing the elephant (or if you'd rather, the demonic spawn) in the room: Rosemary's Baby. In a long tradition of scary movies set in New York apartments, the 1968 classic is, to this day, one of the most terrifying. And yet, we still find ourselves jealous of Rosemary's apartment, if not her neighbors.

The movie opens with Rosemary and her husband Guy touring a new place with their broker, who tells them that the residence was recently vacated by an elderly lady ("one of the first women lawyers in New York City!") whose son is marketing the place. "He asked me to say that some of the furniture could be picked up practically for the asking," the broker notes.

Granted, it's not the most sinister or mysterious aspect of the movie, but it's actually a little unclear if they're buying or renting—there's that reference to the "asking price" that makes the deal sound like a sale, but at one point when Rosemary gushes about the apartment, Guy jokes to the broker, "See what she's trying to do? Get you to the lower the rent." (Not actually a great bargaining tactic, but OK, Guy. Not the first or last time you'll prove yourself to be awful at basic decision-making over the course of this film.) The broker responds that, "We'd raise it if we were allowed," which makes it seem that the apartment is somehow rent-stabilized or rent-controlled. In any case, it's still out of their price range, but Rosemary talks Guy into it. When a friend warns them that the building has a history of unsettling incidents, Rosemary waves it off, saying, "Awful things happen in every house."

They move in and immediately start painting, making repairs and otherwise ridding the place of its former owner's decor (again, would you put this much work into a rental? What's the deal?):

Rosemary and Guy are aggressively befriended by their neighbors, the Casavets. Guy is initially hesitant, and, for the only time in the movie, doles out reasonable (if harsh) advice on neighbor relations: "You get friendly with an old couple like that, you’ll never get rid of them. They’re right across the wall!”

Still, they accept the Casavets' dinner invite. To put it lightly, the older couple has a different, fustier approach to decorating:

As the broker had mentioned when they first moved in, the two apartments had originally been one large unit, which was later sub-divided, and as such, Rosemary and Guy share a thin bedroom wall with the Casavets, through which they hear bickering and occasional satanic chanting. They also find a cabinet in front of a closet that turns out to be a passageway into their neighbors' place (though Mrs. Casavets still prefers the front door):

As for the building itself, the movie is known to have been shot in the Dakota on the Upper West Side, though it's called "The Bramford" (supposedly so-named after Dracula author Bram Stoker). Criterion points out that Ira Levin, who wrote the novel that inspired the movie, actually based the Bramford on the (equally eerie) Midtown building Alwyn Court, though the Dakota has plenty of its own spooky bona fides. The building is supposedly home to two ghosts (John Lennon even claimed to regularly see one when he lived in the building), and its original owner was fond of hosting on-site seances. Not that that's hurt the property values any—last year, a three-bedroom in the building went for $29.6 million.

Anyway, suffice it to say the neighbor relationship unravels, quickly. Guy becomes friendly with the Casavets who—spoiler!—are actually Satanists. He then colludes with them to drug Rosemary and have her raped by Satan, in exchange for, um, help advancing his acting career. (Seriously, the biggest cautionary tale in this movie isn't the evil building or the evil neighbors, it's Guy. He's the worst.) Rosemary eventually figures out that she's been impregnated with the spawn of the devil but is powerless to stop the plan, and eventually gives birth in the apartment. 

The movie ends with her finding her baby in the neighbors' apartment, and, at their encouragement, tentatively deciding to act as a mother to her child, demon seed or no. Seems rough, but if she gets to stay put in the Dakota (without Guy), maybe worth it?


Reel Estate: Ghostbusters' "corner penthouse of spook central"

House of horrors: what if your apartment has a terrible past?

Reel Estate: The Upper East Side (and Urban Haute Bourgeoisie) apartments of Whit Stillman's Metropolitan 

Reel Estate: Find the Royal Tenenbaums in Harlem and the Bronx

Reel Estate: Rear Window is your worst-neighbor nightmare scenario

Curious about your townhouse's (maybe sordid) history? Call in a detective

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