Rosemary’s Baby: the Torquay connection




“With a paring knife she cut the string of the package and undid its brown paper. The book within was ‘All of Them Witches’ by JR Hanslet. It was a black book, not new, its gold lettering all but worn away. On the flyleaf was Hutch’s signature, with the inscription ‘Torquay, 1934’ beneath it. At the bottom of the inside cover was a small blue sticker imprinted ‘J Waghorn & Son, Booksellers’.” ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ by Ira Levin


Sadly, the book ‘All of Them Witches’ by Torquay’s JR Hanslet doesn’t actually exist. It is, however, a crucial piece of evidence that a young pregnant woman comes across as she discovers a conspiracy that will end very badly for her…


‘Rosemary’s Baby’ was a 1967 novel by Ira Levin which sold over 4 million copies. Its story of urban Satanists obsessively drinking tea became the top bestselling horror novel of the 1960s.

The book centres on Rosemary Woodhouse who has just moved into a New York apartment building with her husband, Guy, a struggling actor. The pair are warned that the building has a history of witchcraft and murder. A pregnant Rosemary gradually finds that her neighbours are the leaders of a satanic coven. It’s during this process of discovery that Rosemary comes across the Torquay guide to Witchcraft and Satanism. First suspecting that her elderly neighbours want to steal her child, Rosemary discovers that the baby is actually the Antichrist itself.


It’s interesting that a New York author such as Ira Levin would reference a small town on the south west coast of England in his book. Torquay, however, did have a reputation for the occult, and the fictitious book does list famous witches including Torquay resident Aleister Crowley – “the wickedest man in the world”.

The references to Crowley don’t end there. In the book the couple meet their neighbours, the Castevets, a friendly but nosy elderly couple who invite them for dinner. Roman Castevet claims to be the son of a theatrical director but later we find that his father was actually the black magician Adrian Marcato. In Dennis Wheatley’s book ‘The Devil Rides Out’ (1934), and later the movie (1968), the evil leader of the satanic forces underlying English conservatism is similarly named Mocata and is based on Crowley.


“This is no dream, this is really happening!”

In 1968, the novel was adapted into a movie starring Mia Farrow with John Cassavetes as Guy. Roman Polanski wrote and directed the film and Ruth Gordon won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.


As with other Satan-focussed movies the film acquired a reputation for being somehow cursed. This was further promoted by the opportunist Anton La Vey, the founder of the Church of Satan (pictured above), who claimed he was employed to play the Devil in the rape scene. This has always been denied. Others associated with the movie suffered bad fortune- the composer died, for example – but then, bad things do happen. Some macabre commentators have noted that Polanski was seeing Sharon Tate at the time. Sharon was eight-and-a-half months pregnant when she was murdered in her home, along with four others, by Charles Manson’s Family in 1969. Yet, Mia Farrow – who presumably would have been the focus of any supernatural malice – is still going strong!


“What have you done to its eyes?”

On the other hand, the movie was filmed partially on location at New York’s supposedly haunted Dakota apartment building (pictured above). This was the home of John Lennon and the location of Lennon’s murder on December 8, 1980.


The film, being hugely successful and relatively inexpensive to make, inspired a series of devil-worshipping/conspiracy movies such as: ‘Blood on Satan’s Claw’ (1971); ‘Witchfinder General’ (1968); The Wicker Man’ (1973); The Mephisto Waltz’ (1971); The Exorcist’ (1974); and The Omen’ (1976).



It wouldn’t be till 1999 that Polanski returned to a similar horror genre with Johnny Depp’s ‘The Ninth Gate’. Just as in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, and the director’s spoof horror ‘Dance of the Vampires’ (1968), evil wins in the end. Here’s the trailer for Rosemary’s Baby:


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Kevin Dixon went to Audley Park – now Torquay Academy – and South Devon College when it was at Torre. After studying at Birmingham City University, he returned home because there’s nowhere else quite like Torquay. He then became involved in community and adult education, completed a PhD at Exeter University , and started writing about the weird and unknown side of town. He now Chairs Healthwatch Torbay and is involved in health and social care in the Bay.