King's Highway pt. 10: Rose Red

We Say haunted, but what we mean is, the house has gone insane.

Tonight, we address what SK refers to in the preface of Everything's Eventual as one of his "visual novels," the 2002 TV mini-series Rose Red.

I don't really remember this being on the air, but that's par for the course those years in my life. I didn't watch a lot of contemporary tv from 2000-2003 or so. (Except for Dawson's, which is far afield of this particular blog series, but an interesting horror tale of its own...)

Going in blind, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the familiar faces... David Dukes, Jack's Dad from the aforementioned Creek, who died during filming of a heart attack; Sawyer's Dad from Lost who had one of my favorite lines but I didn't write it down, but it's what he says directly after his precognitive powers are displayed at the bar in episode 1; Emily Deschanel from Bones; Liam McPoyle from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia; and what's-his-name from The Aviator and Big Love... (I figure why write a blog containing nothing but google-able information.)

Matt Ross is his name.
His performance is a bit haywire, actually, going from malevolent in the SK-tradition of Harold from The Stand to goofy and broad to more restrained.

It's not his performance that undoes some of the pleasure of this story. (It clocks in at 254 minutes, by the way, so when I say it's a pleasure, it must be, if I wanted to watch it all.) But it's mainly the lead, Nancy Travis. I have to agree with this from the Rose Red wiki:
It's hard to say whether or not Travis is simply the wrong choice for Reardon or if she just took the wrong approach. For the entire mini, the actress grimaces like a rabid dog; her character frothing at the idea of recording psychic anomalies at the expense of everyone around her. Most important, however, she never convincingly demonstrates the kind of power of persuasion it takes to win over strangers to do her character's bidding.
-Fries, Laura. "Stephen King's Rose Red." Daily Variety. January 24, 2002.
I can only add that she seems to play the part whimsically at odd times, and strangely-intense at others. A lot hinges on her as the bedrock of the proceedings, and I found myself constantly wondering at her motivations. I get that the house acted as a catalyst for her psychological unhinging, but ultimately, I was unconvinced. Her "break" as the house accumulates on her might've been a bit cooler had I had a bond with her of some kind.

Help us or die.
The rest of the cast is believable enough, with extra props going to Julian Sands. Not a brilliant performance, but one with the ol' gravitas. Always helpful for a suspension-of-disbelief tale.

Really, most of the cast, plot, and design are not incredibly original, but neither do they come off as particularly stale. Far from it, I'd say - it's one of those things you can always refer to as "fun to watch." There will always be Saturday afternoons or three-am-sleepless-nights where you'll be happy to have it at the ready. Like SK mentioned in his 1980s Playboy interview, "...new wine from old decanters." Fair enough.

Tsidii Le Loka (standing)'s the maid/mistress/ghost, part and parcel to a haunted house tale, as well as...
"this chick," played by Yvonne SciĆ². There always seems to be a ghostly brunette in these things. I don't know why. Theories are welcome. (the dark hair/ ghostly skin contrast maybe?)
Some things I liked:

- The set was cool. The interiors were fantastic. A good-perhaps-excessive amount of time panning over the house and the set, but I can see that as part of the "visual novel" aspect. Something separate from novel, separate from tv.

- The sound design, while perfunctory, was pleasant enough. I took a nap during episode 2 (don't worry I went back and watched it) and there were long stretches where I couldn't quite get to sleep due to the haunted-whispering or tone-poems going on.

- The Glenn Miller and other tune are always used for these things, but I never get sick of them. I wonder when that'll trail off, as the 21st century goes on. I mean, Glenn Miller was 74 years ago, now.

- This was inspired by the tale of the Winchester Mystery House. A couple of fun photos:

The Door to Nowhere!
- I like this:

Houses... are alive. This is something we know. News from our nerve endings. If we're quiet, if we listen, ...it's as if they were having bad dreams. A good house cradles and comforts, a base one fills us with instinctive unease. Bad houses hate our warmth and our human-ness. That blind hate of our humanity is what we mean when we use the word 'haunted'.

In my experience, this is 100% true. Don't need a poltergeist putting maggots in the fried chicken to know when a place is just plain haunted.

- A book tie-in to this, The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, came out and is still in print, I think, but I haven't read it. I like when shows do that, though. Anyone remember Bad Twin, the lost tie-in? I still think Paul Artisan is a great name and/or character for an ongoing series.

- And finally, the man himself has a brief appearance as the pizza guy:

Looks like an Investigation Discovery re-creation, doesn't it? "But he came armed with more than pizza..."
Filmed only a couple of years after the near-fatal encounter with Bryan Smith. I imagine it was a welcome public appearance, after something like that.

NEXT: The "something like that," On Writing and The Stephen King Companion.


  1. Nancy Travis is really not very good at in this, is she? A lot of it feels like it could be tone problems created by either unhelpful direction or sloppy editing.

    Bad editing can be an actor's worst nightmare (or at least so I'm told). Some actors like to play scenes in a different way every time so as to find the role, or give the filmmakers options. So let's say, just for speculation, that Travis played some takes in a lighter comic mode, and other takes in a more serious and grounded mode, some takes as if she was scared and yet others as if she had never been scared a second in her life.

    Now, if the editor fails to assemble the pieces properly, you might end up with a performance that was dynamic on the set, but feels jumbled and inconsistent on film. This can also be a sign of a director -- or, more commonly in television, a producer -- who simply doesn't have a clear vision.

    I don't know that this was the case in "Rose Red," but I do know that several of the performances were just plain bad on the screen.

    Overall, though, the movie is decent. Good concept, some cool sets, etc. I've certainly seen worse. Imagine how shabby this could have been if Mick Garris had directed it...

    1. re: Mick Garris directing this... the horror... the horror...

      I've watched this a couple of times and I think it's really Nancy's performance that bogs this one down. I've heard people say it's the slow-moving pans of the house. Maybe. This definitely could have been hurried along, but it's really her bizarre performance that unsettles everything, I think. Or put a different way, put, say, Meryl Streep in the role (might as well go big) and it's a whole different project.

      I think you're right about bad editing/ the role of a producer in television. So many aspects of a film production can alter the outcome/ perception. It's amazing that so many of them come together as well as they do, when you really get to thinking about it!