THE CHANGELING (1980)
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Film opens with a tragic accident that takes the life of the wife and child of composer John Russell (George C. Scott). To get away from the painful memories, he moves out to the West Coast and rents a large, old, vacant house in Seattle. After staying there for just a short time, strange occurrences begin to happen and Russell starts to believe there is something inside the house with him. Upon investigation, Russell begins to realize that the house is haunted by a little boy…a boy who may have been murdered there.
Haunted house tale is directed by Peter Medak from a script by William Gray and Diana Maddox, that is supposedly based on real events. Though released in 1980, it still has a very 70s look and feel and is filled with more mature aged characters than the teens or college co-eds of other horror films of the time. It’s very atmospheric, especially it’s old, dark mansion setting and has some creepy cinematography by John Coquillon. Those elements are enhanced by an effective score by Rick Wilkins and Medak gives the film a moderate pace to let the story gradually unfold. It’s a somber film, though one that never really gets all that scary. One of the main reasons is, that Scott’s John Russell is never really afraid of the spooky goings on. He actually seems intrigued by it all and more than willing to investigate the history behind the house and it’s spectral guest. It makes it interesting, as John unearths a conspiracy that some would like to remain hidden, but scary it’s not. It’s just as much mystery as spook-fest. Even a seance sequence is presented very matter-of-factly and doesn’t provide the chills it should. The film does have a few spooky moments, but not nearly enough to make this ghost story consistently chilling. Not to mention that for a murder conspiracy that some want hidden, amateur detective Russell seems to find evidence very easily. The climax finally kicks things up a few notches and gives us a little of the over-the-top haunted house activity that we hoped for and does give a satisfying and more intense conclusion, after being fairly laid back for most of it’s 107 minute running time.
The cast is good. George C. Scott is a legendary actor and he plays Russell as a strong, but emotionally wounded man. While surrounded by a solid supporting cast, it’s very much his show. The film has some other very familiar names and faces from this era. Trish Van Devere, plays a historical society member who likes John, rents him the house and assists him with his paranormal investigation. Van Devere was not only Scott’s real-life wife, but is a Jersey girl as well! Rounding out the cast is Melvyn Douglas as a senator with ties to the house’s history, John Colicos as a detective, Barry Morse as a doctor and Galaxy of Terror’s Bernard Behrens as a friend of John’s. A classy cast in support of the veteran actor.
In conclusion, The Changeling is a film that has a following and is on many a favorite haunted house flick list. It is spooky at times and very atmospheric, though fails to get really intense or very scary until the last few minutes. It does work as a mystery, as well as, a supernatural thriller, albeit a more sedate one. It has a strong cast and some creepy Canadian locations, substituting for Seattle, but may be a little too by-the-numbers to truly chill. It has a reputation as a classic and while that status is respected and understood, it may not quite live up to that reputation depending on what scares you, or your personal tastes in haunted house flicks. Still entertaining and certainly worth a look.
Rated 3 (out of 4) bathtubs.