How Food Becomes a Site of Horror in This Classic Halloween Movie

October 31, 2016

In Roman Polanski's Rosemary’s Baby (1968), the terror begins with chocolate mousse. References to a “chalky undertaste” have been among this compulsively quotable film’s main takeaways, seeping into our greater cultural vernacular, meant to signify something that inspires a suspicion you can’t quite place.

“It has an undertaste,” Rosemary (Mia Farrow) observes of a cup of chocolate mousse she eats after dinner one night. “A chalky undertaste.” The terribly odd woman next door (Ruth Gordon, in an Oscar-winning performance) concocted the dessert as a seeming gesture of neighborly goodwill. Her husband, John Cassavetes, doesn’t find anything weird about its taste. Rosemary compliantly spoons it into her napkin and tries to forget she ever ate it.

Within hours, the mousse renders her catatonic, disorienting her as Rohypnol would. This gives way to the film’s most unsettling sequence wherein Rosemary is raped and ritualistically impregnated by the devil, all orchestrated by her husband and his agreement with their satanic neighbors. She awakes mid-nightmare: "This is no dream, this is really happening!" Farrow declares with a reedy quaver.

Rosemary (Mia Farrow), hours after eating the mousse with the chalky undertaste. Photo by m anima

Food is meant to be soaked in pleasure and sustenance, but in Rosemary's Baby, it is just another domain in which Rosemary misplaces her trust. Following this sequence, Rosemary will slink into a more listless version of herself, her luminosity dimming to a ghostly pallor. Her body becomes one she doesn’t know; whatever she puts into it grows inside her into something she can no longer recognize.

Minnie Castevet (Ruth Gordon) peering into Rosemary's apartment. Photo by Vimeo

Rosemary's Baby is nearing fifty. Filmmakers and actors alike have tried to crib from what this film accomplished, whether in the form of wanting remakes or godawful sequels. They all miss the careful precision of this duet between Farrow and Polanski—how they, together, convey the brittleness and fragility that Rosemary eventually summons into strength. I saw Rosemary's Baby again this weekend as my way of celebrating Halloween, and none of its unsettling charge has been lost; the chalky undertaste lingers.

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What does food mean in your favorite Halloween movie? Let us know in the comments!

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


M October 31, 2016
I love the coffee in RB. A reminder that at-home brew wasn't always machine.
amysarah October 31, 2016
Jane serving Blanche a rat, under a silver dome no less, in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.

Also, not a Halloween/scary movie, but I bet more than a few women here who came of age in the '70's dressed up as Annie Hall at least once for Halloween - and personally, in real life. So lobsters.

Finally, wasn't 'Meatloaf' served for dinner in Rocky Horror? (Or was that my fervid imagination?)
Far N. November 1, 2016
Oh my god.
I have seen Rocky Horror about 900 times and it never occurred to me that they were serving "Meatloaf," just serving Eddie. My brain never made that connection. D'oh!
Skylar November 23, 2016
Same here!!!
Bevi October 31, 2016
Great Halloween piece! Another movie that I love to watch around this time is Beetlejuice. The dinner party scene with the shrimp cocktails coming to life, with Harry Belafonte's DayO setting the tone is perfect food movie porn.
Shelley M. October 31, 2016
And then her pregnancy cravings involve increasingly raw bits of meat.