I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to horror films. Outside of the occasional episodes of Goosebumps or Are You Afraid of the Dark, I didn’t seriously delve into any kind of scary flick until I was 15 when I embarked on a Friday the 13thmarathon to prepare for my Jason Voorhees costume that Halloween. One possible reason for this delayed entrance to the genre are the memories of a movie I saw on TV at a young age where a seance reveals a chilling scene of child murder. It wasn’t until years later I discovered that this was in fact the 1980 horror classic, The Changeling.
After losing his wife and daughter in a devastating car wreck, famed composer John Russell (George C. Scott) has relocated to Seattle in an attempt to start over. Following a friend’s referral, he leases an old mansion from the local historical society where he hopes to find some peace and quiet to compose his next masterpiece. He gets anything-but however as strange happenings permeate his new home. A water heater makes a great racket every morning, doors swing open unexpectedly and windows break unprovoked. He is soon drawn to the source of these disturbances, a sealed-off attic appearing to be a crippled child’s former bedroom.
With the help of historical society contact Claire (Trish Van Devre), John digs ever deeper into the mystery surrounding this haunting. He soon discovers through a seance that a young boy was murdered in the house over 70 years prior with his soul now crying out for justice. John and Claire follows the clues both within and without the mansion in the hopes of putting this angry spirit to rest and discover the key may lie with the society’s greatest benefactor, Senator Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas) who has his own secret connections to the house.
Taking what could be a cut-and-dry haunting tale, The Changeling spins a compelling yarn with a solid protagonist at it’s centre. George C Scott proves yet again why he merited so many Oscar noms (despite his ambivalence towards the Academy Awards) with his gruff-yet-warm turn as the broken-down composer. The restless spirit latches onto this shattered soul and it’s the hope of righting the wrong in this child’s death that John was unable to do for his own daughter that drives the film to it’s riveting conclusion.
Hungarian auteur Peter Medak turns in some of his finest (and best-known) work here, taking his time to build the characters and their world before slowly tearing them apart in supernatural mayhem. Theres nothing cheap or contrived about the scares here as Medak utilizes slo-mo, steadicam and stellar sound design to marvellous effect.
The Changeling can feel a bit tame by modern standards, but with it’s simple and straight forward telling, is also a breath of fresh air in a a cinematic world packed with reboots, franchises and jump scares. It’s a classic that deserves better than being confused with Clint Eastwood’s 2008 thriller Changeling (this happened to me once at Vancouver’s now-defunct Limelight Video store) and earned every one of the eight Genie Awards it received after release. Highly Recommended for your Halloween fix.