The Changeling

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Year: 1980
Director: Peter Medak
Writers: William Gray, Diana Maddox
Starring: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, John Colicos, Joanna Russell, Michelle Martin, Bernard Behrens, Barry Morse, Ruth Springford, Chris Gampel

That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.

The Changeling is yet another horror film that I caught at the Drive-In in my youth. It might also explain why I have an unnatural dread around wheelchairs. This film ranks up there with the best haunted house movies that I can think of, doesn’t rely on gore or anything like that, just simple old school tactics to ramp up the dread scene by scene. If you have the time make sure to check out the movie poster for this film, even looking at it on the DVD cover gives me the willies. A small child’s shadow sitting in am abandoned and cobwebbed wheelchair from the early 1900’s

As the film begins we are introduced to the Russell family off to a bad start with their vacation in Upstate New York, John (Scott) with the help of his wife Joanna (Russell), and their young daughter Kathy (Martin) are pushing the family station wagon through snow and ice to the side of the road. John spots a telephone booth and goes to make a call for a tow truck as his wife and daughter begin a snowball fight with each other beside the broken down vehicle. As John is waiting to be connected to roadside services he notices a car that swerves out onto the icy road just as in the opposite direction a large dump truck appears, the truck swerves to miss the oncoming car but crashes into the station wagon as John watches in horror, the vehicle is plowed forward over his wife and daughter killing them instantly.

We next see John a few months later as he walks to his apartment in the city, we see that everything within has been packed up and is ready for shipping. His housekeeper, Estancia, is placing the last box of his daughter’s belongings on another set of boxes as John has a flashback of life in the apartment as one of Kathy’s toys, a rubber ball, slips out of the box bouncing towards him. He catches the ball and then places it in an antique writing desk asking Estancia if she is aware that it is to be shipped to Seattle, his housekeeper answers that she does. With a bittersweet smile he looks upon the desk.

John arrives in Seattle and we are introduced to Prof. Robert Lingstrom (Behrens) and his wife, they have secured a teaching position for their old friend and we learn that John is a well known composer and also an alumnus. Lingstrom’s wife inquires as to how long John plans to stay at the hotel he is booked in, offering one of their guests room to him but John politely declines explaining that he plans on finding a house to rent, someplace where he can lock himself away and pound on the keys. Lingstrom’s wife has a close friend that works at the Historical Preservation Society, she knows they have some old houses that they are willing to rent.

The next day John meets Clair Norman (Devere), member of the Historical Preservation Society, and they drive up the driveway and we see an impressive three story turn of the century home. John asks when it was last occupied and Clair replies that it was about twelve years ago. Upon entering the massive home it is an understatement to say that John is impressed by what he sees. A large Chandelier hangs in the foyer as a staircase reaches the second floor, as we see more of the beautiful home, Clair explains to John that original plans were for the Society to turn it into some kind of museum. John asks why it isn’t currently occupied and Clair replies that she is not quite sure, her tenure with the Society has only been a little over a year. She does add though that she thinks no one has really tried to push the house on new renters. Clair saves the best for last as she surprises John with the revealing of the music room, she admits this room itself is why she thought John would be perfect for the house. A piano was left by the Society as it was too big to move and as John asks what the terms might be for the house we see the next shot and Mr. Tuttle (Gampel) the handyman and Ms. Rissean bringing life to the old house once again. In the music room John is working at the piano when he hits a dead key, he pushes the it down over and over but nothing happens. Mr. Tuttle appears to let him know that a water storage tank has been delivered and the delivery man is outside. John leaves the room with Mr. Tuttle and after a few seconds we see the dead piano key plunk down by itself loud and clear.

Things go well with John at the college, and as he attends an evening’s symphony performance to raise funds he bumps into Clair and her mother, Mrs. Norman (Sherwood). We then are introduced to Senator Joe Carmichael (Douglas) and his son Eugene, the elder Carmichael shows his supports for the arts and turns out to on the board of directors for the Historical Society.

John is awoken the next morning in his bed by a large thundering pounding of something metal, it sounds like someone banging a wash tub. He gets up and begins a search of the house for the noise but it suddenly stops. Later in the day as John is working at his piano we see the door behind him slowly open by itself, the composer senses something though and turns to look at the door as a sound akin to the wind fills the room for but a second.

I will end the spoilers here because any further and I personally feel I am robbing you of the true scares that begin to start up at this point. I will say this is not your typical haunted house film so do yourself a favor and put this on your Netflix list or perhaps pick it up if you can find it, I promise you that there will be more than a few scenes that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Everyone in the cast does a fantastic job in the acting department minus a few scenes with Devere that go just a tad over the top, nothing to derail the movie of course. The Changeling deserves its five pumpkins out of five!

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VicSage

Editor at Retroist
Searching through the alleys for useful knowledge in the city of Nostalgia. Huge cinema fanatic and sometimes carrier of the flame for the weirding ways of 80s gaming, toys, and television. When his wife lets him he is quite happy sitting in the corner eating buckets of beef jerky.

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3 thoughts on “The Changeling

  1. I must second the five-pumpkin rating. This one is so underrated! I won’t spoil the ending, but really, I don’t care at all for the epilogue. Scott should’ve just simply found the red ball. So maybe it really deserves 4.95 pumpkins, but I won’t quibble over a few one-hundredths of a pumpkin. It’s a great movie.

  2. Thank you, Mooncity! I so badly want to describe how scared I was in one particular scene but it would so be a spoiler…that I just have to wait and see if anyone else mentions it later on down the road. Ha, ha.

  3. Atari Adventure Square says:

    Terrific ghost movie. In fact, one of the best.
    I’ll have to watch this again now that you’ve psyched me up for it.
    Thanks.

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