THE DIARY OF ELLEN RIMBAUER
Directed by Craig R. Baxley
Produced by Thomas H. Brodek
Written by Ridley Pearson
Director of Photograpy Joao Fernandes
Music by Gary Chang
Cast: Lisa Brenner, Steven Brand, Tsidii Leloka, Kate Burton & Brad Greenquist
2003/85 mins/Color/5.1 DD
1.33:1/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Lions Gate Home Entertainment DVD
See if you can follow me on this. Some years ago, Stephen King began kicking around an idea to make "the ultimate haunted house" film, with a story which he called ROSE RED. At one point, Steven Spielberg was interested in the project. But, the script eventually became a mini-series, which aired on ABC in 2002. As a companion-piece to that series, a book was published entitled "The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer", purportedly found and edited by a character in the movie, but actually ghost-written by thriller novelist Ridley Pearson (and the book became a best-seller). Based on the success of ROSE RED, ABC decided to shoot a movie of THE DIARY OF ELLEN RIMBAUER, telling the story-within-a-story of ROSE RED. Confused?
Before we jump into THE DIARY OF ELLEN RIMBAUER, let's review the events of ROSE RED. The title refers to a mansion in Seattle, built in the early 20th century by oil tycoon John Rimbaur, for his new bride, Ellen. Over the years, many mysterious events took place in Rose Red, and many locals felt that the mansion was haunted, as Ellen Rimbauer continued to add rooms to the already sprawling house. The story then jumps to the present, where parapsychologist Joyce Reardon (Nancy Travis), assembles a group of psychics and mediums to investigate the house. This, of course, leads to disaster as the evil spirits confined in Rose Red assault the group.
Over the course of ROSE RED, we learn the history of the house, specifically that several women simply vanished in the mansion over the years. There are several flashbacks in the movie, and Reardon fills in the blanks as the group tours the estate. THE DIARY OF ELLEN RIMBAUER goes back to the beginning and attempts to tell the entire history of Rose Red. As the film opens, John Rimbauer (Steven Brand) is in the midst of having Rose Red constructed, and he proposes to young Ellen Rimbauer (Lisa Brenner). Ellen is in love with John, but at the same time she is a bit nervous about marrying this powerful man. But, she relents and they are wed. While Rose Red is being completed, Ellen and John honeymoon by traveling the world. It's while on this journey, that Ellen learns that John is a "passionate man" (ie: sex fiend). In Africa, Ellen befriends a native named Sukeena (Tsidii Leloka), and brings her back to America. Upon their return to Seattle, Ellen finds that Rose Red is complete, but she also finds herself in an odd marriage, with Sukeena being her only confident.
It isn't long after their return that Ellen begins to realize that John is attracted to other women, be they family friends or even staff members. It's also around this time that Rose Red comes to life to protect Ellen, making those females whom John is attracted to disappear. Following the second disappearance, Ellen organizes a seance and begins to realize that something supernatural is occurring in Rose Red. As the odd events continue to happen, and Ellen and John grow more distant, Ellen begins to understand that Rose Red contains great power which she can use to her advantage.
It's very odd to think of ROSE RED and THE DIARY OF ELLEN RIMBAUER as companion pieces, as they are very different films. ROSE RED is probably the first Stephen King story which would've worked much better as a two-hour film as opposed to a four-hour-plus mini-series. The movie had some good moments, and amazing production design, but it's just too long, and the viewer finds themselves simply waiting to see who's going to die next. But, all grandiosity aside, ROSE RED is a supernatural horror film. In drastic contrast, THE DIARY OF ELLEN RIMBAUER is more of a drama. In fact, it plays like an early 20th century version of "Dynasty", with some mild supernatural elements thrown in here and there. The movie is basically about the strained relationship between John and Ellen Rimbauer and how the house becomes a chess piece which they use against one another. The disappearances and the overtly ghostly events from the film's finale act as a backstory only. Both films were directed by Craig R. Baxley (who made the ass-kicking I COME IN PEACE), but he takes this prequel in a new direction in terms of shooting style, once again making it more like a standard drama, only approaching gothic in rare moments. THE DIARY OF ELLEN RIMBAUER is interesting in its own way, and is very well acted (although, I can't help but wonder why Julia Campbell, who played Ellen in the flashbacks in ROSE RED, didn't play Ellen here), but the movie is definitely not horror. And, despite that fact that it's (sort of) based on a Stephen King story, there are none of King's traits here. THE DIARY OF ELLEN RIMBAUER is an intriguing idea, but doing a prequel to a movie that wasn't that good to begin with is never a good idea, and shifting to a different genre is only going to alienate the core audience.
THE DIARY OF ELLEN RIMBAUER haunts DVD courtesy of Lions Gate Home Entertainment. The film is presented full-frame, although I'm not certain if the movie was broadcast in a widescreen format or not. The image is clear for the most part, but there is some grain at times, and some shots look quite soft. The quality of the transfer comes into question whenever a shot from ROSE RED is dropped into THE DIARY OF ELLEN RIMBAUER. The shots from the mini-series are crystal clear and have great colors, while the new film looks somewhat washed out at times. (I can only assume that THE DIARY... had a smaller budget than ROSE RED.) The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue with no evidence of hissing. This audio track is the only facet of the film which bare any real resemblance to ROSE RED, as the surround channels are often filled with the bizarre sounds of the mansion. These sounds benefit from the track's nice soundfield and the bass response is good as well. The only extra on the DVD (aside from some bonus trailers) is an audio commentary from screenwriter Ridley Pearson. Aside from writing the novel and screenplay, Pearson appears in the film as the Rimbauer's butler, so he was on-set and imparts a great deal of information about both the story and the movie's production as well.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2003. ©