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Tuesday, October 31, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Miniseries reveals scary side

Seattle Times staff reporter

People speak in whispers in the sprawling house called Rose Red.

Its shadowy hallways echo with the footfalls of the undead. And one day, the rest of the world will learn about the Seattle mansion that is the most terrifying house in the world.

Rotting corpses that walk. Creatures of fire. A suit of armor unlikely to remain still. A malevolent house with a hunger for souls. And at least one real-life tragedy.

The whispers aren't to keep from awakening any of the above. This is a Halloween peek at the set of the latest Stephen King movie, "Rose Red," shooting and set in Seattle. And the consequences for spoiling a take could be horrific.

On this particular day, there's no bloodletting. The main action is a scene in which a beautiful, ghostly girl lures actor Kevin Tighe (of the classic "Emergency!" TV show) from the mansion's kitchen to its solarium for an undoubtedly dark purpose.

The haunted-house tale by the author of "The Shining," "It" and many other macabre best sellers, will be a six-hour ABC miniseries telecast in early 2002. King originally set the story in Los Angeles, but rewrote it for Seattle after filmmakers discovered Thornewood Castle, a Gothic Tudor house in Lakewood near Tacoma.

Thornewood (now a bed-and-breakfast) was spooked up with ivy for exterior shots, while the elaborate interior was constructed in a huge building at the Sand Point Naval Air Station on the shore of Lake Washington.

King placed the fictional Rose Red house at Spring Street and Sixth Avenue near the turn of the century, on a foundation of blood and tragedy that spawns its supernatural forces. A special-effects montage planned for the film shows the Emerald City growing up around the house over the decades.

Numerous other Seattle locales became a part of the movie, including a section of Main Street transformed into a 1909 scene complete with period costumes, horses and buggies; and a house on Capitol Hill that's destroyed by paranormal forces. The production began shooting here in September and wraps in mid-December.

In King's original teleplay, a group of parapsychologists led by Nancy Travis ("So I Married an Axe Murderer") tries to reawaken the house's spirits one last time before it's sold for demolition - a mistake.

Wandering the set that day is one of "Rose Red's" ghastlier presences: Tsidii Le Loka, who plays the servant and confidante of house matriarch and reigning spiritual force Ellen Rimbauer (played by Julia Campbell).

"There's a spiritual connection between the two. And it's Ellen's refusal to die that keeps Rose Red alive - her unhappiness during her life," Le Loka explains.

For one of the living dead, Le Loka appears to be in surprisingly good health. Her putrefying flesh has been left in the make-up room, but her large, striking eyes still exude otherworldly power. The Stephen King project is her first movie.

"I'm enjoying myself, but I must say, I'm a wimp. I'm a coward. The kind of person who'd be under the table."

What scares her?

"The dark," she answers instantly.

If "Rose Red" proves to be as chilling as other movies made from King's work, Le Loka may not be the one to ask. She tried to watch "The Shining," but she says, "I was literally shaking. I didn't make it to the end."

While the concept for "Rose Red" doesn't sound too far from "The Shining," executive producer Mark Carliner says it was inspired by the 1963 Robert Wise film, "The Haunting" (and Shirley Jackson's book), as well as the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, Calif. That enormous Victorian mansion was built to the eccentric specifications of superstitious rifle heiress Sarah Winchester in 1884. The structure metastasized with addition after constructed addition until she died 38 years later, and houses bizarre features such as stairways that lead straight into ceilings.

Carliner also worked on television productions of King's "The Storm of the Century" and "The Shining."

King "reaches inside each one of us and dimensionalizes our fears," Carliner says. "He gives flesh and blood to the demons that scare us the most."

What gives Carliner the willies?

Standing outside the big, haunted house set under a bleak October sky, Carliner says, "I got the willies when David Dukes died the night before he (was slated to play) his death scene. And a week before shooting time, a producer had his lips bitten off by a crew member's dog."

Veteran actor Dukes died of a heart attack while playing tennis Oct. 9. Throughout the set are pictures of him with the words, "In Loving Memory, David Dukes, 1945-2000."

Carliner won't go so far as to say "Rose Red" is beset by the kind of bizarre events that have reportedly plagued such films as "The Omen."

No, the set isn't haunted. But, he says, "There's a resonance."

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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