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Rose Red (2001)
Director: Craig R. Baxley

review by Christopher Geary

Failing to be as entertaining as the critically hammered remake of The Haunting, and not even as 'scary' as the cinematic Scooby-Doo movies, this four-hour TV show from Stephen King marks an all-time low for screen productions originated by the famed American, instant-bestseller factory. Rose Red blatantly rehashes ideas and themes from King's very own The Shining, and compounds that sin by borrowing shamelessly from the Amityville series, The Legend Of Hell House, and just about every other paranormal investigation or haunted house movie or tale you have seen or read.

Professor Joyce Reardon (Nancy Travis) stakes her tenured career on a desperate bid for proof of the supernatural when she assembles a team of hired-gun psychics to crack the mysteries of Rose Red, a sprawling mansion in Seattle. The white-elephant townhouse is part architectural folly and part gothic monstrosity, with secret rooms and a weird history of violent deaths (for hapless male visitors) and tragic disappearances (it reserves its 'eating' habits for the ladies). The house's family of ghosts look like zombies and act like soul-vampires, feeding off the psi power of Prof Reardon's band of mercenary psychics.

The visual effects and special makeup work is more than competent, but former stunts supervisor and action director Craig R. Baxley has no affinity for brooding mystique or dramatic fright scenes. Stalwarts like Julian Sands and David Dukes struggle with the lame and insipidly clichéd script (as with the TV version of The Shining, we can blame King for this), but no measure of underplaying, or post-trauma histrionics, by this show's motley of capable thespians can save Rose Red from the inevitability of becoming the house of sheer boredom, instead of the house that "evil calls home."

What ensures this show fails miserably is that few (if any) of the main characters are remotely likeable. The nerdy bloke proves to be just as unpleasant as his overbearing mother, obsessed scientist Joyce becomes a conscienceless threat to every living houseguest, and the victims-in-waiting behave just as stupidly as every other stereotype does in the worst subgenre rubbish you could name. They rush into death traps, blindly ignoring the manifest signs of mortal danger. These characters are of the type that never saw a horror movie of any kind, let alone a psychic thriller about a haunted house, and they have clearly never read a single ghost story, let alone a typical Stephen King book. They live and they die (typically off-screen, this being a sanitised TV presentation) in the hermetically sealed world of King's heavy-handed folksy fiction, existing only to perform discrete functions within the narrative. Said narrative moves at a geriatric snail's pace, so it's an hour of screen time before we get through the front of door of this notorious, undead 'cell' of uncanny phenomena.

King betrays his own work by taking a ridiculously obvious cameo as a curious pizza deliveryman. The concept of an ever-shifting maze inhabited by nasties from beyond the grave was explored to superior effect in the remake of Thir13en Ghosts and, in all honesty, Rose Red makes the macabre yet flawed remake of The House On Haunted Hill seem like a genuinely compelling masterpiece. Any screen work that's so imitative of remakes is bound to look and feel second rate. Rose Red is not even a decent fixer-upper. It's a home for gross ineptitude, a derelict property from the start. The plans should have been destroyed before any building work commenced. It deserves a critical bulldozing. Okay, that's enough corny metaphors... but Rose Red is lamentably dull viewing which hardly warrants serious criticism. Despite some impressive technical accomplishments on a small screen budget, Rose Red is most remarkable in that it's not scary, intriguing, or exciting, and isn't even vaguely appealing to fans of so-bad-it's-good material.
Rose Red

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