Haunted house stories are typically pretty simple: a group of people enter a home, are confronted by angry spirit and either flee for their lives or are killed for their ignorance/arrogance. If there’s one person though who could turn the tropes on their heads, it would be Stephen King. But can he actually make a scary haunted house story without falling into the same trappings as before? Or at least make those trappings a little more interesting?
Let’s take a look at Rose Red.
The story takes place in Seattle (points for it not being Maine) at Rose Red, an abandoned mansion where men were killed and women disappeared. Loaded with psychic energy, it catches the attention of Dr. Joyce Reardon, a psychology professor who has become obsessed with supernatural phenomena. She assembles a team of psychics to help her explore the mansion not only to prove she’s right but also to save her job. However, things start turning lethal pretty quickly as the house locks them in and tries to kill them via spectral apparitions. In this minute paragraph, it may seem like a stereotypical story, but it’s the interrelationships that are the most interesting part, watching characters move in and out of scenarios, dealing with issues, being idiots and subsequently getting themselves or someone else horribly murdered by mummy people.
What the miniseries has time for that most movies don’t is setting up the atmosphere of the place. There are tons of eerie set up shots of the dilapidated mansion with lots of introspective voice overs and weird imagery floating around. It actually makes the space feel more unnerving and secretive, rather than just old and mild confusing. The pacing towards the end feels a little frantic but it’s not too distracting or too prevalent to be a big issue. The cinematography and editing are also great for a miniseries, boasting some great scenes that mix subtle lighting with eerie music and huge effects.
Speaking of the effects, they were pretty bad, even for 2002 standards. There are a few cool moments when effects are used just right, with warping pictures or things exploding. The CGI used though is too big and too clunky to look realistic or even scary. I know it was the latest thing back then but you think they would have been a little more conservative with that kind of stuff. The special effects make up ranges from great to terrible. While the first appearance of the ghosts is pretty disturbing, after a while they just look like cartoon old women left out in the sun for too long.
The acting is, overall, pretty good. While there are no big stars to speak in the miniseries per se, unless you count Emily Deschanel of Bones fame or Kimberly J. Brown from the Halloweentown movies. I will say my favorite performance comes from Matt Ross, who plays the petulant Mommas boy Emory. Nancy Travis and Matt Keeslar, who play the driven Dr. Reardon and heir to Rose Red Steve Rimbauer. By the end of the movie, some of the poorer performers begin to deteriorate into cliche bad horror acting, but if you had to record over 4 hours worth of footage, your acting would suffer too. Not to mention having a creepy little girl trying to be autistic would be unnerving and annoying all at once.
Rose Red is a great haunted house story, even if there are some cracks in the fine details. If you need to pick a Stephen King miniseries to enjoy, this is one of the best you can find, and believe me I’ve done the legwork to know. It’s got some good scares, good acting, good story, but the best atmosphere. Definitely a must have for any Halloween marathons
– Great atmosphere and cinematography.
– Good acting overall.
– Great story.
– Acting waivers towards the end.
– Special effects look cheesy.
– Some pacing issues.