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Rose Red, that hungry haunted house, returns
—but the master of horror, Stephen King, does not

* The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer
* Starring Lisa Brenner, Steven Brand and Tsidii Leloka
* Executive produced by Stephen King and Mark Carliner
* Screenplay by Ridley Pearson, based on his novel
* Directed by Craig R. Baxley
* Premieres Monday, May 12, at 9 p.m. ET

By Kathie Huddleston

ABC’s Stephen King’s Rose Red depicted an evil Seattle mansion with a thirst for blood. In that miniseries, a group of people with psychic powers spent some time in the haunted mansion, with only a few lucky survivors living to regret it. This new prequel goes back in time to tell the story of how Rose Red came to be, through the eyes of Ellen Rimbauer.

Ellen (Brenner) is an innocent and naive young woman who falls for a powerful oil industrialist named John Rimbauer (Brand). John is a man who knows what he wants, and the young Ellen is exactly the trophy wife he’s looking for. To impress Ellen, he has a mansion shipped from England and reassembled in Seattle. However, as John proposes, one workman kills another, and Rose Red gets its first taste of blood.

diary12 Ellen and John marry, and while Rose Red is being completed they travel. Ellen quickly discovers John’s extreme sexual tastes, and her innocence is shattered. While in Africa, Ellen meets Sukeena (Leloka), who returns with the couple to Seattle. Sukeena sees something special in Ellen, and she encourages her to accept the unexplained.

With Rose Red completed, Ellen begins to learn exactly how extreme John’s tastes are when it comes to women. When one of his lovers vanishes in the house before Ellen’s eyes, she comes to understand that the house is protecting her. When another woman vanishes, Ellen comes to realize that it’s John’s fault.

During a séance, Ellen gets a message from Rose Red that she should continue building the mansion. She is forced to strike an uneasy bargain with John so that he’ll pay for the building to continue. However, as Ellen’s strength to stand up against John grows, so does her connection to Rose Red. With the body count rising, Rose Red will not be denied what it wants most—Ellen Rimbauer.

A far better story with far less fanfare

The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer explains all the secrets of Rose Red, in a more satisfying way than the tired psychic drama of Stephen King’s Rose Red ever could have. Sporting no recognizable stars, the movie’s weight rests firmly on Lisa Brenner’s slim shoulders, and she does a fine job bringing Ellen Rimbauer to life. The biggest fault with this otherwise well-done tale is that one of the most important characters, Rose Red, never comes to life.

diary13That’s the same cardinal sin made by the miniseries. However, this film is more than just a haunted-house story, and so that fault is less deeply felt than it was in the mini. The descent into madness that all the characters suffer is believable. There’s never the desire to yell at the screen, “Quick, you idiot, get out of the house!” We understand why the characters stay in Rose Red, from John’s disbelief in the supernatural to Ellen’s growing obsession and belief that the house is protecting her from her husband’s evil behavior.

The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer is less a horror story than a drama about a tragic love triangle, with Rose Red filling one of the parts. While there are some scary and distressing moments, this is primarily Ellen’s story, and we tumble into her world. John is scarier than Rose Red to the viewer, because we see this tale through Ellen’s point of view and through the words of her diary.

Steven Brand and Tsidii Leloka offer excellent backup for Brenner in their key roles. Brand becomes truly villainous as Ellen’s husband, John, and Leloka, who repeats her role from the miniseries, is magnetic as Ellen’s confidant. But it’s Brenner who brings this story to life, through her sympathetic portrayal of Ellen.

Luckily, enough time has passed that viewers of Rose Red will have forgotten some of the specifics that are played out in Diary. It adds just a bit of familiarity without hurting the story. Even better, viewers who missed the miniseries will have no trouble jumping into this prequel.

While The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer may not have Stephen King’s name plastered all over it like Rose Red, it’s good to see that ABC deemed this story worthy to become a movie. It’s a good film with fine characters that feels fresh, even if it is just a prequel. — Kathie

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