Face-Off: Rosemary's Baby vs. The Stepford Wives

This weekend will see the release of comedian Jordan Peele's feature directorial debut GET OUT, a horror film that currently has a 100% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. In interviews - including ours - Peele has mentioned 1968's ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE STEPFORD WIVES from 1975 as inspiration for GET OUT, and given that both of those films are adaptations of novels written by Ira Levin and both center on married couples who move into a new place and encounter a group of people plotting to do terrible things, it seemed like putting them against each other would make for an interesting Face-Off. So while we look forward to GET OUT, let's look back at ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE STEPFORD WIVES and find out how they fare when they're put head-to-head.
The Bramford apartment building has a shady history, having previously housed a pair of sisters who ate children and a man who practiced witchcraft, but that doesn't stop Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse from moving in. Strange things start happening almost immediately. A girl staying with neighbors jumps from a window, and the neighbor gives the dead girl's good luck charm, which contains a strange herb, to Rosemary. Guy's competition for an acting job is stricken blind. Rosemary has a hellish dream while seemingly drugged. When she becomes pregnant, she's recommended to a doctor with odd practices, who has her drink something with that herb in it. During her pregnancy, she loses weight and has severe stomach pains. She begins to fear that many of the people around her are evil witches with terrible plans for her baby. If you dealt with the things Rosemary goes through, you'd think something was wrong, too.
Joanna Eberhart is a modern woman who dabbled a bit with the women's liberation movement when she lived in New York City, so it's jarring to her when her family moves to the small town of Stepford and she finds that most of the women there are cheerful homemakers who live to serve their husbands and act like they're in a 24/7 commercial. One wife doesn't get any less pleasant after being injured in a fender bender, but she does keep repeating the same words. Joanna doesn't like the Men's Association her husband starts hanging around with, or how much control these men have over their wives. She tries to start a group for women, but can't get women to join it. Even the more modern women Joanna meets soon give up their personal interests to become like the other women in town. Stepford doesn't seem sinister, in fact it's how unrealistically pleasant it is that makes Joanna question what's going on and rebel against it.
Mia Farrow earned a spot in the horror hall of fame for playing Rosemary Woodhouse, although the most interesting thing about Rosemary is the ordeal she endures. It's the situation that draws us to her, we feel sympathy for her because we know the pains she feels during her pregnancy aren't normal, we worry that there's something seriously medically wrong with her and the baby. Otherwise, she is frustratingly milquetoast, slow to act. By the time she finally finds some courage within herself and really starts standing up for her unborn child, the movie is almost over.
Joanna is a wife and mother, but she's also a strong-willed woman with her own interests and goals - she describes herself as a "hopeful would-be semi-professional photographer". She's not pleased to be a Stepford resident in the first place, and the behavior of the locals doesn't help. Joanna conducts herself in a perfectly reasonable way, but you can see why the misogynists of Stepford would take issue with her. She has too much of a mind of her own. When she realizes how wrong things are here, she becomes determined to get to the bottom of what's going on.
Rosemary has a good friend in an elderly man named Hutch, her former landlord. A well-read author, Hutch is aware of the Bramford's history, and when he visits Rosemary at the apartment there he is quickly able to see that something isn't quite right. Over the course of an evening, he finds out what the herb Rosemary is being given truly is and even that her neighbor Roman Castevet is actually Steven Marcato, son of the Bramford's former resident witchcraft practitioner. Unfortunately, Hutch falls into a coma before he can deliver this information to Rosemary, and eventually dies. He was so close to being a hero.
Joanna is aided in her endeavor to figure out what's happening in Stepford and to catch the locals up with the times by the perfect sidekick for her - fellow former New Yorker Bobby Markowe, who had her own experience with women's lib. Together, Joanna and Bobby drink some booze, eat junk food, enjoy when things are a little messy, dress however they want, distrust the Men's Association, and are appalled by the unnatural behavior of the dutiful, men-controlled Stepford wives. Eventually Bobby becomes just another one of those wives, but she and Joanna are fun to watch together before she loses her personality.
The members of this film's coven of Satan-worshipping witches may be old, but they're formidable foes. There are quite a few people in this coven, and Rosemary never knows if someone she's interacting with can be trusted or if they're in on the group's plan to bring Satan's offspring into the world. It's very creepy how normal and nice they can seem. They're also able to cast some nasty spells. All they need is to get ahold of an item that belongs to a person, and then they can blind, deafen, paralyze, or kill them simply with their combined mental power.
The members of the Men's Association seem okay, but they're actually as sexist as it gets. They don't want wives with thoughts, opinions, or jobs, they want wives with perfect figures who will happily wait on them hand and foot and tell them nothing but compliments. How do they accomplish this? By having their wives killed and replaced with robot replicas. (Stepford is very tech-oriented.) Why not just divorce their human wives and play house with beautiful robots? Well, then it wouldn't be a horror-thriller, it would just be the story of men with a robot fetish.
A man who craves fame and fortune, Guy Woodhouse is incredibly self-absorbed, a fact which causes some communication problems between him and Rosemary. That issue is nothing compared to the fact that Guy sells his wife out and offers her up to be impregnated by Satan just so he can have a bigger career. He also has people blinded and helps the coven kill Hutch. He can seem like a fun guy sometimes, but he's actually a major league douchebag.
There's some marital strife, but Walter is a decent enough guy most of the time. Late in the film, he even agrees to Joanna's request that they move away from Stepford soon. Then he goes over the edge, overwhelmed by having to take care of kids, dissatisfied with his wife's housekeeping and the way she dresses their children, annoyed with her interest in photography. The thought of having a servile robot wife becomes too appealing to him, and he becomes a jerk.
The outcome of this Face-Off may be surprising. ROSEMARY'S BABY is considered one of the greatest horror films ever made, but while THE STEPFORD WIVES certainly had a cultural impact, it's not a movie that often gets referenced as one of the greats. Rewatching the films for this Face-Off, I found that THE STEPFORD WIVES was capable of holding its own against ROSEMARY'S BABY quite well. While ROSEMARY is the creepier film, I felt that STEPFORD had the more likable characters. So it managed to score a tie.

Do you think ROSEMARY'S BABY should have taken the victory that was likely expected? Do you agree that the films are tied? Or do you think STEPFORD should have won? Share your thoughts on these Ira Levin adaptations in the comments section below. Any suggestions for future Face-Off articles can be sent to me at [email protected].



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