There’s a slew of authors I need to catch up on (Raymond Chandler, James Herbert, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker…. the damn list is neverending); the one that I’m most likely approaching next is Ira Levin, the scribe responsible for both Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives. Up until this weekend, I’d only seen the former, the wonderfully paranoid Roman Polanski classic that I’m guessing works even better in its written word, though I’ve read that Polanski’s film is one of the best book-to-film transitions out there. That’s not a surprise, since Polanski made the picture at the height of his horror-dominance, in 1968. It was obvious, based on my already-there simple knowledge of what The Stepford Wives is about, that Levin was firmly in touch with his sensitive-to-women side back in the ’70s. The fears and helplessness that ladies endured through during a time of gender anxiety. In Rosemary’s Baby, the protagonist—-a well-meaning gal who’s scared that the older tenants in her Manhattan apartment building are all minions of Satan—-struggles to overcome the underestimation of others; the impression that she’s submissive enough to willingly allow those around her to “impregnate” her with evil. I can’t wait to read how Levin tells in in prose-form; apparently it’s even more claustrophobic.
This weekend, I finally got around to sitting down with director John Forbes’s adaptation of The Stepford Wives, and, like Rosemary’s Baby, the film churns a great me-against-the-world vibe for its main character, Joanna (Katharine Ross), a New York City-bred, strong-minded woman surrounded by soulless female drones that are subservient to their husbands and do little more than cook and clean. All pretty and well-coifed, the ladies of Stepford (where Joanna and her family have moved to, against her own wishes) are idyllic male fantasies—–they don’t talk back, share their own beliefs, or challenge anything their hubbies say or do. There’s something much more sinister than mere obedience at work in Stepford, of course, and how Joanna uncovers the mystery is what gives The Stepford Wives its horror.
Now, I’m unsure as to whether I should read The Stepford Wives or Rosemary’s Baby first; I’m leaning toward Stepford, since the film is still fresh in my mind. I do have one fear, and that’s that too many people associate The Stepford Wives with the shameful, let’s-make-it-a-zany-comedy-and-suck-the-lifeforce-out-of-Levin’s-vision 2004 remake, with Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick. That version is junk; the 1975 original is the way to go, as evidenced by the following scene compilation. It’s the latest installment of Scenes of Mine, and, while full of Spoilers (so be warned), it’s easily the best teaser imaginable for Forbes’s underrated little success. To best appreciate the film’s quiet ballsiness, pay close attention to where Ross’s character stabs her altered friend (the then-quite-sexy Paula Prentiss, who went on to play the mother in a passionate watch of mine, 1981’s uneven yet endearing horror-comedy Saturday the 14th) in the kitchen. Scene compilation, after the jump: (more…)
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