A prequel to the hit Stephen King’s Rose Red, The Diary Of Ellen Rimbauer unveils a story of the twisted marriage of a matriarch to a promiscuous early 20th-Century industrialist and the haunted beginnings of an enormous Seattle mansion that has come to life.
Passages of the diary track a series of deadly encounters surrounding the Rose Red estate that transform Ellen from the innocent and submissive wife into a woman possessed by the dark forces inhabiting her home.
eyelights: Rose Red.
eyesores: the casting. the performances.
Two years prior to the release of ‘Rose Red‘, the mini-series’ producers decided to hire author Ridley Pearson to write a tie-in book. Although they initially wanted it to be an architecture book of Rose Red, with supernatural elements hidden throughout, it turned into a diary instead.
Published one year prior to the broadcast of the series, ‘The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red’ was released under the pseudonym of Dr. Joyce Reardon, the main character of the series. It was released as a true-life biographical account of Ellen Rimbauer’s experiences.
This blend of fact and fiction created much speculation; the marketing ploy lead to the book’s instant success. Consequently, the ‘Rose Red’ mini-series would prove a ratings hit. So, of course, never one to let an opportunity pass, the producers also adapted the Pearson/Reardon book for TV.
Released in 2003, hot on the heels of ‘Rose Red’, ‘The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer’ is a prequel to the original mini-series. It tells the tale of the Rimbauers, the original residents of that massive mansion, and of the many unusual incidents that took place within its walls.
Personally, I didn’t know that the book or the TV movie existed until I stumbled on the DVD in a second hand shop one day. Having already seen (and enjoyed) ‘Rose Red’, the Rimbauer name rang a bell. When I looked at the description, I was immediately pulled in. I had to buy it!
‘The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer’ is no grand masterpiece, but it’s an enjoyable period piece. It takes place from 1910 to approximately 1917, from the time that the Rimbauers got married and started building the house, all the way through to John’s death, under mysterious circumstances.
What’s interesting is that Craig R. Baxley, who directed the original mini-series, returned to helm this movie, but the cast didn’t. For reasons that escape me, the film has completely different leads than in ‘Rose Red’. This creates a significant continuity issue for those familiar with the original.
And not only are the actors different, but the characters come off slightly different as well:
- John Rimbauer is shown to be a brutal philanderer and a treacherous business tycoon. ‘Rose Red’ hints at it, but ‘The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer’ paints a much more nefarious portrait. He’s also much more of a playboy type here, whereas the original showed us a more typical businessman.
- Ellen Rimbauer is shown to be somewhat superstitious, even before being aware of the house’s strange behaviour. She also comes off as slightly frigid initially, although the film goes back to explain her growing aversion to John. In the original mini-series, we know less; she is more enigmatic.
You could always write this discrepancy as the “Rose Red’ version being the common perception (or “historical” account) of what took place, with the ‘Diary’ version being the factual one. Or perhaps it’s just a question of one going by the book more than the other. I have no idea.
However, even the ending is different than the one in ‘Rose Red’, with ghostly apparitions being involved in John’s death; it’s not just a coordinated ploy by Ellen and Sukeena to catch John in the act and exact their revenge on him. How can one explain this severe change between the two?
I always found the incident convoluted anyway, because it suggests that people knew that Ellen had conspired with Sukeena, but that nothing was done about it, that she eluded the law anyway. And yet, it’s quite evident by how far away he fell that John didn’t just commit suicide.
Although Ellen Rimbauer remained at Red Rose until 1950 and many unusual things took place in the mansion during those years, the film bypasses that history entirely. It’s unclear why that is, but perhaps a follow-up was considered. Lord knows that there’s a wealth of opportunity there.
In fact, the film doesn’t really explain what’s going on with Rose Red, why it’s haunted and what the spirits/forces really want – especially given that they continued to be active well after Ellen’s disappearance. ‘Diary’ only truly explains what happened with Rimbauers in their time together.
Those elements could be explored a bit more and all the history of Rose Red, post 1917, could be delved into at greater length. There have been plenty of “documented” disappearances there, and no doubt there were a few undocumented ones. So there is potential for a lot more here.
Too bad the series is a dead cell.
But there’s always ‘Rose Red’ and ‘The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer’. While the latter suffers from a slight cheapness (both its look and the TV-grade performances), it’s nonetheless pretty decent for a TV movie: it’s got a superb setting, a few mysteries, and some unexpected character dynamics.
Still, while ‘The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer’ holds at its centre a fascinating intrigue, it doesn’t exactly translate well to the small screen; it feels incomplete in some ways, as though it could have been fleshed out more. It remains a decent movie, but I would highly recommend reading the book instead.
No doubt the original diary is more revealing.
Date of viewing: October 21, 2014