Friday, May 20, 2011

Catching Up On The Classics: The Changeling (1980)

Ugh. I really need my blogger mojo back. I always intended for this blog thing to be more than just a one or two post a week thing but seriously, lately I've lost my mojo. Hopefully I'll get it back over the next few days. The Changeling is a great movie so it's helped me get going again. Yea!

George C. Scott is John Russell, a professional composer who tries to get away from the grief caused by the death of his wife and daughter by renting a huge, isolated mansion in Seattle. The house hasn't been occupied in several years and John starts to figure out why as he experiences strange happenings in the house. Turns out it is haunted by the ghost of a young boy who died there and John works to find out the truth of what happened to him.

I sort of miss "adult" horror films like this, where actual adults are the protagonists and they are smart and capable of doing what needs to be done in the situation. Movies full of teens and twentysomethings chosen only for their looks seem to be the norm these days and most of them are just fine, but a different set of characters like this is a real breath of fresh air. Here we have a fantastic actor like George C. Scott in the lead role and he is both believable and sympathetic in his role as a broken man who is truly affected by the death of the boy in his new house.

The story, or the mystery, of this movie is what really drives it and makes it interesting. This is not just a ghost story where a person gets haunted, finds out who the dead person is, solves the mystery, and everything is hunky dory. This story is much different with the explanation of what "the changeling" means and how it relates to our ghost. It's a twisted story in that it is hard to tell who is really the bad guy and the person whom we're supposed to believe is the bad guy - the Senator - turns out to be the one with the real moral crisis at the end.

There are a few key scare moments in The Changeling which make it quite stand-out. The ghostly disturbances start out small - doors opening by themselves, loud banging noises at the same time every day - but that's the kind of thing I like about ghost movies (did I mention lately how much I love ghost stories?). It's those subtle, unnatural occurrences that make for a truly creepy atmosphere and is what scares me a helluva lot more than the common horror film villains and the things they do.

The best scene of the movie is probably the seance and the scene following it. The medium is creepy as crap, especially her voice. Her blank face with eyes unblinking and facing upward is enhanced by her monotone voice as it asks questions of the ghost in the house - asking it to identify itself and tell its story. "What is your name?" "Did you die in this house?" Automatic writing reveals the answers. Joseph is the name of the boy who died in the house and he wants to talk to John. Joseph attaches to John supposedly because he identifies with John's grief over his dead wife and child or believes that John will be more sympathetic to his story because of his love for his own child.

Perhaps more scary than the seance scene itself is the scene where John is playing back the tape made during the seance. We hear all the medium's same questions but as the tape is playing we hear something not heard during the seance - a child's voice whispering the answers and revealing cryptic clues about his death. Seriously, this part freaked me out! It was an unexpected turn of events and had me completely sucked into the story, wanting to find out more.

The Chessman House, or whatever it is known as in real life, was made to be in a movie like this. Lots of doors, lots of open spaces, but also lots of places for hiding and secret rooms. It is ornate and antique-y and immediately puts you in the "old haunted house" mood especially after the discovery of the secret room in the attic. This brings about probably the most famous part about the movie - Joseph's small wheelchair and how it later chases Claire Norman around the house and down the stairs. An empty wheelchair coming after you in a creepy old house? NOT COOL. But a very effective and amazing scene that also leads up to a stellar climax. With fire. Fire is always good.

The Changeling is a very awesome classic haunted house tale with superb actors and a unique story, not to mention some great specific scenes that are still inspirational to movies today.


  1. Great actor (Scott), great director (Peter Medak), great DP and screenwriters too. It was a pretty cool era for horror.

  2. yeah, The Changeling rocks!
    A fantastic chiller with an amazing George C. Scott!

    If you love this, you'll love the 1981 ghost-classic "GHOST STORY" too!

  3. Such a great film. So glad they haven't bastardized it yet with some flavor of the month actors in some crappy remake attempt.

  4. Yes, The Changeling and The Uninvited (with Ray Milland) stand as my favorite "haunting" movies ever.

    Keep up the great reviews.

  5. Great write up of a great flick! I just adore the seance scene, and there's a lot of other stuff that gets under my skin. That ball! How could that ball be so frightening?

    You're also right on about us needing more adult horror films like this. There's something to be said for grown men and women having their worlds shattered by creepiness.

    Good work!

  6. Thanks for the post. Do you know that I am 42, but have never seen this film? Shame on me, right? I really want to check this out now. I agree with you completely about adult horror and know exactly what you mean.
    Thanks for the tip.