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Lions Gate presents
Rose Red (2002)

"Rose Red is like a roach motel, you check in but you never check out."
- Emery (Matt Ross)

Review By: Kevin Clemons   
Published: June 18, 2002

Stars: Nancy Travis, Matt Keeslar, Kimberly J. Brown, David Dukes, John Heard, Judith Ivey, Matt Ross, Julian Sands, Kevin Tighe
Director: Craig Baxley

Manufacturer: Technicolor
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for terror/violence, sexual references
Run Time: 04h:14m:35s
Release Date: May 14, 2002
UPC: 031398801528
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ CB+A- B+

DVD Review

As someone who is rarely frightened by scary movies or horror novels, Rose Red has achieved a significance for me. Several months ago, a co-worker was reading the best-selling novel The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red and invited me to take a peek at a certain chapter in the horrifying book. I read one paragraph, quickly set the book down and walked away determined to never glance upon the pages again. In that one paragraph, the novel frightened me with its depth and detail of a certain event in the life of this Ellen Rimbauer. So it was with trepidation that I recently viewed Rose Red, a made-for-television movie based on certain aspects of Rimbauer's life. Sadly, the filmed version, written by Stephen King, fails to deliver anything remotely close to the chills that can be found in the original novel. This is a somewhat interesting but at times boring and overlong look at a subject that deserves to be told better.

Dr. Joyce Reardon (Travis) has dedicated her life to proving that psychic phenomena does in fact exist and that the legendary house called Rose Red is her best chance to prove this to the world. With the help of Steven Rimbauer (Keeslar), whose great grandfather built the home, she leads a group of explorers through the cavernous halls of the haunted mansion. The key to Joyce's investigation is the mind of an autistic child with supernatural powers named Annie (Brown), a girl Joyce believes can awaken Rose Red and bring it back to its haunting heydays. In the process, we are introduced to a scheming professor (Dukes), who has hopes of making Joyce the laughing stock of Washington State by exposing her investigation of Rose Red and having her tenure revoked. There is also an overly protective mother who stumbles upon Rose Red while coming to bring her son back home, as well as other stock characters that are found in what seems like every haunted house film.

The largest problem with Rose Red is that it feels sloppily uneven. Characters depart without explanation while other characters simply show up for no reason at all. A subplot involving the former maid in the house is never explained, which is baffling considering that she plays a key role in exactly why the house is haunted. Another case of this occurs with the disappearance of Pam, a member of Joyce's group who vanishes, but we never know why. For a film that is over four hours in length, surely a shot or two of her demise could have been included; instead we see only characters talking about her disappearance.

Standing in the middle of all of this is Stephen King, who doesn't help the film for the better. King, who has long desired to write a haunted house story, shows some skill, as a handful of the creepy occurrences in the house are delightfully original, but there is a sense of familiarity in his work here. There is little in Rose Red that has not been seen before, including an ending that seems to be a staple in haunted house films. King writes terrifically detailed novels and some are genuinely frightening but his script for Rose Red feels quite pedestrian. King also has trouble creating a consistent narrative, as the three sections of Rose Red (the film was televised in three parts on ABC in the winter of 2002) fail to blend together into a tight package. The middle section seems out of place, moving so slowly that many may fail to maintain interest in the story. For a film that offers energetic opening and closing acts, the middle section seems oddly burdened with unnecessary exposition; in fact, I believe that if this segment had been shortened just a bit, I would more likely be singing the film's praises.

The set design and visual effects are worthy of praise as, given the budget, the filmmakers seem to have made a lot for very little. The interiors of the house are amazingly well constructed, including a library with mirrored floors that is a stunningly original creation. Production designer Craig Stearns has done a wonderful job by creating set pieces that are vast and haunting and his work deserves much praise.

The cast is led by a familiar group of actors, though many fail to create memorable performances. Travis does what can best be called a mediocre job in the lead role; her sudden changes in emotion feel false. Her acting in the opening scenes is fine to a point, but by the end her attempt to portray Joyce as a woman made mad by the house is over the top. The three best performances belong to Matt Keeslar, Matt Ross, and Julian Sands, each bringing a certain distinction to their characters that allows them to stand out from the rest of the cast. Ross and Keeslar (reuniting from the brilliant The Last Days of Disco) have a nice chemistry together and with the other members of the cast as well, while Sands seems to be reveling in the sardonic character he plays and he does it nicely.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in a full-frame aspect ratio that recreates its original broadcast, the transfer offers stunning colors and terrific sharpness and definition. The image never presents any major problems, though there is a slight amount of grain in the darker scenes. Given that the movie was made for television, I was impressed with the film-like look of the transfer; this is as good as I have seen a made-for-television film look in quite some time.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Rose Red gets a full Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on this DVD release and like any haunted house film, the soundtrack adds to the experience. Ambient sounds are abundant throughout, with doors slamming, wind blowing and the eerie musical score coming off nicely in the surround speakers. I enjoyed the little tricks that the mix plays with the viewer, including a sequence that reproduces explosions in each of the five speakers at different intervals in chapter 19. Dialogue sometimes seems to have been mixed lower than the other channels.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English and Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Craig Baxley, visual effects supervisor Stuart Robertson, and designer Craig Sterns
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Production ArtworkArtwork gallery
Extras Review: While the film is spread across two discs, the extra features can be found on Disc Two with the exception of the audio commentary track that spread across both parts.

The lengthy commentary track is by director Craig Baxley, visual effects supervisor Stuart Robertson, and designer Craig Sterns. To start, it is admirable that the three find something to talk about for the entire four hours of the film, but there are some moments of silence. The group does, for the most part, keep the track moving, which causes the commentary to move more quickly than the film alone. Baxley talks the lion's share as he mainly praises the actors and the construction of the house while filling in with his thoughts of King's script and the actions of the characters. There is a brief appearance by executive producer Mark Carliner and his thoughts on the making of the film are noteworthy. Robertson is also very well spoken as he discusses the elaborate and sometimes simple way in which he created the numerous effects shots, but he also talks about the visual trickery he created for some scenes.

Next is a selection of three storyboard sequences. While those who read my reviews may have noted I am not a fan of this feature, here it is used nicely. Along the same lines is a collection of artwork that feature period photographs and a wealth of pictures of the Rose Red mansion.

The Making of Rose Red is a fifty-minute look at the production, cast and crew, complete with interview segments with Stephen King. There is a lot to be learned by watching this piece, including the news that one of the actors passed away while making the film. Though a bit too long, this is an informative piece that is better to watch after having seen the film.

Finally we come to my favorite piece of extra material—Unlocking Rose Red: The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer. There is some speculation that the events told in Rimbauer's diaries are at times fictional, but there is little denying that whether fact or fiction the occurrences at the original Rose Red are enough to make anyone think twice about visiting the now famous mansion. This twenty-minute look at Rimbauer originally aired on ABC and is worth watching, but only after viewing the film as it gives away several secrets.

The packaging lists the inclusion of a trailer and by choosing the Lion's Gate logo on the second disc, you will be rewarded with the original trailer in full-frame Dolby Surround.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

For those looking for a decent scary movie, Rose Red may well prove to be a nice choice. However, with the overly long running time, it becomes difficult to sit still for four hours with a slow middle act. The DVD is nicely done with above average video and audio transfers as well as informative supplements. If the film had been shorter, I probably would have enjoyed it more; as it is, I can't give Rose Red a happy recommendation.


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