Rose Red: written by Stephen King; directed by Craig R. Baxley; starring Nancy Travis (Professor Joyce Reardon), Matt Keeslar (Steve Rimbauer), Kimberly J. Brown (Annie Wheaton), David Dukes (Professor Carl Miller), Judith Ivey (Cathy Kramer), Melanie Lynskey (Rachel Wheaton), Matt Ross (Emery Waterman), Julian Sands (Nick Hardaway), Kevin Tighe (Victor Kandinsky) and Emily Deschanel (Pam Asbury) (2002): King’s penchant for synthesizing different horror tropes fails him here in this wearying miniseries from 2002 that focuses on a rag-tag assortment of psychic investigators/actual psychics and their investigation of Rose Red, a sprawling Seattle haunted house roughly the size of the New Orleans Superdome. Or possibly the moon.
Rose Red‘s fundamental problem may lie with King’s stentorian approach to the haunted house sub-genre. Subtlety and gradually escalating weirdness are the hallmarks of the two great American haunted house novels (Richard Matheson’s Hell House and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House). Rose Red leads with an extraordinarily overt manifestation of psychic powers, one that echoes and amplifies a similar incident from Shirley Jackson’s novel to such an extent that the miniseries clearly establishes itself as taking place in an alternate universe where psychic powers must have been confirmed long ago by science.
With too much (yet not enough) already established about psychic powers, the miniseries starts throwing everything and the kitchen sink into other areas. Hill House and Hell House both initially sent 4-person teams of paranormal investigators into their haunted houses. Rose Red sends eight. Or possibly nine. Or a dozen, if you count the people who show up throughout the main part of the movie. Hell House and Hill House gave us large but explicable mansions.
Rose Red gives us something that’s larger than the Winchester House and which builds new rooms itself, a trick the Winchester House never mastered. This remarkable self-building has apparently been confirmed on many occasions by flyover photographs of the sprawling complex. Wouldn’t a house that verifiably builds itself without people pretty much confirm supernatural activity? Why is this movie about an academic whose reputation rests on whether or not she can confirm supernatural activity? Such activity is everywhere!!! Buy a camera!
So the psychics and the scientists and the hangers-on all show up, and they all have readily verifiable psychic powers, and we also learn that about 50 people have gone missing at Rose Red over the century of its existence. You’d think the authorities might want such a place torn down or blown up. But they don’t. It’s still there. Still growing. Still eating people.
The acting is pretty scattershot and the direction by Craig R. Baxley obvious and only rarely subtle. Rotting, animated corpses dominate the proceedings, somewhat counterintuitively at certain points when the house is ostensibly trying to get people to join it of their own free will. Because look, you get to be a rotting corpse for all eternity! Who handles the marketing for this haunted house? Not recommended.