October 2021 Horrors – The Changeling (1980)
The Changeling, 1980.
Directed by Peter Medak.
With George C Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, John Colicos, Jean Marsh, Helen Burns and Madeline Sherwood.
After a personal tragedy, music teacher John Russell moves from New York to an abandoned Victorian mansion on the outskirts of Seattle. However, Russell quickly comes to believe that his new home harbors a dark and sinister presence.
The Haunted House has been a staple of the horror genre for centuries, with countless movies, TV shows, and books telling tales of dusty old buildings hiding dark secrets and supernatural inhabitants that realtors always “forget” to mention. While it can be difficult to know which ones are worth checking out, I have found one that just might be among the best of them. Critically acclaimed and multiple award-winning Canadian cult horror The Changeling.
All in front, The Changeling may seem to follow the prototypical haunted house formula we’ve seen hundreds of times. The man moves into a new house to find it haunted by the ghosts of the previous inhabitants, who often turn out to be evil. The man moves out and then decides to perhaps sue his real estate agent. Rinse, repeat and possibly add a woman and children to the procedure. While The Changeling has many of these familiar elements, it breaks the mold and takes them in unexpected directions.
The plot begins quite simply when John Russell (George C. Scott) realizes that his house is haunted by the spirit of a young girl who was killed in a mysterious accident. Then things take an unexpected turn as the ghost turns out to be someone else. And far from threatening John, he actually needs her help solving a murder. This plot, with its myriad of unexpected twists and turns, is captivating because it leaves you guessing at what will be revealed next as the going gets more complicated. Especially since John’s investigations soon begin to ruffle some political feathers, adding an element of political intrigue that I don’t think I’ve seen in many other haunted house movies.
George C. Scott, famous for his Oscar-winning gritty towering tower Patton, delivers a suitably calm and understated performance as John Russell, the legendary fearsome and powerful actor, effortlessly slipping into a much more sympathetic low-key role of a grieving widower.
Praise should also be given to Melvyn Douglas as Carmichael, a senator with a secret. While his screen time is limited, Douglas delivers a compelling performance as the apparent villain of the story, playing the role with the appropriate arrogance befitting an empowered politician. However, in a scene in which he is confronted with his secret, we witness a surprising outburst of emotion as Douglas tearfully defends his cruel father as a “loving man.”
While not the scariest movie ever, The Changeling you have a few more moments to make you uncomfortable. We have the usual barrage of muffled noises slamming through the night, spider web-covered attics and dusty old wheelchairs. It may not sound so scary, but when paired with the ghostly voices of a child whispering “murder,” it’s damn strange, especially when paired with the creative (and masterfully executed) point of view of the point. view of the ghost.
A shoot scene (because every haunted house movie needs a shoot scene) is my personal highlight. A moving sequence in which Scott invites a medium to communicate with the ghost. The mystic proceeding to various questions of the mind by scribbling his answers on paper. The pencil strokes become more and more frantic and violent as the ghost repeatedly and desperately screams “HELP”. It was a great moment that stuck me to the screen with such concentration and intensity that its sudden and shattering end made me jump.
Just over 100 minutes away, The Changeling moves forward at a steady pace, the story never getting so convoluted that it bogs things down. However, it takes some time to settle on a common thread to stick with. Spend much of the first act seemingly deciding whether to go with a tragic ghost girl or a murdered ghost boy. One missed opportunity is how he seems to rule out a possibly fascinating character arc for Scott after suffering the loss of his wife and daughter in the opening scene. However, aside from a handful of mentions and a few well-played moments of Scott’s mourning, the film misses the opportunity to use that plot point to add more emotional complexity by perhaps using the ghostly mystery as a means to him to come to terms with his loss.
An intriguing and chilling mysterious plot paired with a captivating central performance by George C Scott, along with some effective scares, ensure that despite its flaws, The Changeling stands out as one of the best haunted house movies.
Evaluating the Flickering Myth – Movie: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★