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'Rose Red' much ado about nothing

Sunday, January 27, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

When I think of a haunted house, I think of a home that's haunted by past inhabitants, not a house that's intrinsically evil.

But that's the conceit of "Stephen King's Rose Red," which posits that an ornate, 100-year-old home overlooking Seattle is simply a "bad house" that's inhabited by some meddlesome ghosts. But it's the [begin italics] house [end italics] that's really bad. Or at least that's what everyone keeps saying, but much is left unexplained at the end of this six-hour miniseries.


"Stephen King's Rose Red"

When: 9 tonight, tomorrow and Thursday on ABC.

Starring: Nancy Travis, Matt Keeslar.


Premiering tonight at 9 on ABC (part 2 airs Monday at 9, part 3 airs Thursday at 9), "Rose Red" delivers a better story than his last opus (1999's "Storm of the Century") with better developed characters, but at the end I still felt like I'd wasted a lot of time. What's the point in setting up an intriguing, intricate backstory without offering some answers?

The history of a house named Rose Red gives the miniseries a mysterious kick. It's a narrative college professor Joyce Reardon (Nancy Travis) knows well. Maybe too well. She's obsessed with proving that spirits haunt Rose Red, much to the dismay of her department chairman (the late David Dukes, who died of a heart attack on a day off from filming), who's just as obsessed with discrediting her.

"Psychic powers - telepathy, telekinesis, precognition - have no moral gradient," Reardon says in a lecture. "They are neither good nor bad. Houses are different ... some houses are born bad. Houses like this one. Houses like Rose Red."

Reardon is dating the last surviving member of the family that built Rose Red, Steve Rimbauer (Matt Keeslar), though it's unclear early on whether she really loves him or is just using him for access to the house. She assembles a team of psychics who will join her in a weekend exploration of Rose Red, but she's particularly interested in young Annie Wheaton (Kimberly J. Brown), an autistic girl with unexplained psychic powers.

Tonight's premiere begins with promise. King, who wrote "Rose Red," introduces the characters with ease and clarity. Some of them are types - the belligerent, nerdy momma's boy, the sweet, harmless, na´ve middle-aged woman - but none of them fall into the realm of caricature. And the history of the house, told in flashbacks, is particularly interesting.

John Rimbauer built the home for his wife, Ellen (Julia Campbell). A psychic told Ellen that Rose Red "isn't finished until you say it is," an ode to the history of the gargantuan real-life Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, Calif. So Ellen kept building, but throughout its existence, Rose Red claimed victims. Sometimes they just disappeared, other times they turned up dead.

Reardon assures her team the house is in a coma, that no one has disappeared there since 1972. So they set out for their exploration at the end of tonight's installment.

King has a cameo tomorrow night in one of the miniseries' lighter moments. After that, things begin to go bad. Things also get confusing. Characters disappear and it's never explained. Are they dead? Wouldn't loved ones come looking for them?

By night three, "Rose Red" turns into scenes of people wandering through the house with flashlights and shots of violent destruction. Lots of destruction. But never any explanation as to why Rose Red itself is evil. Motivations for some of the ghosts are clear and the human characters become even more refined (obsession is a big theme), but what about the house itself? Maybe I'm too literal, but if the house is a character, shouldn't its motivation be presented, too?

King raises plenty of intriguing questions, but as usual he fails to provide adequate answers.

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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