Director – Peter Medak
Cast – George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, Jean Marsh, John Colicos, Barry Morse, Madeleine Sherwood, Helen Burns
Release Year – 1980
Reviewed by John of the Dead
In 1979 The Amityville Horror debuted across the nation, and for some strange reason, most likely its “based on a true story” status, gained a huge following and has remained one of horror’s most well known films. Sadly, a much better haunted house film titled The Changeling debuted the very next year(1980), and still to this day has not received the praise it fully deserves. If you want a fantastic haunted house film that focuses entirely on spook and atmosphere instead of cheap gimmicks then this under-appreciated gem is for you.
In this film we follow the excellent George C. Scott(Dr. Strangelove…, The Exorcist III) as John Russell, a renowned musical composer who lost his wife and daughter in a tragic accident several months prior. To help cope with his loss he has taken up a job lecturing at his alma mater, and has rented an old home on the edge of town so that he can continue his compositions. Immediately after moving into the home John begins to experience strange occurrence around the home that he cannot explain, and they only get worse. John eventually realizes that he is being haunted by a spectre with a history to the house, and the closer John gets to the truth behind the spectre’s actions, the more dangerous his investigation becomes.
Excellent execution on the part of director Peter Medak is what sells this film. His dark and atmospheric cinematography sets the tone and mood, and his unique visuals and perfect and spooky sets really make this a visual treat to watch. The home used in this film bleeds creepy both from the outside and the inside of the home, and its giant rooms and cramped hallways made this a truly creepy experience for those who put themselves in the home, especially during the nighttime scenes. Numerous sounds and echoes adorn the film’s audio track, and while the creepy music helps provide goosebumps here and there it is Medak’s sound effects that really get the job done in that area. Like most properly executed haunted house films, it is what you DON’T see that scares you, and this forces the filmmakers to bring about the creepiest sound effects they can come up with to scare the viewer, and this film’s sound effects succeed in doing just that. In all honesty, I cannot find a single knock against Peter Medak’s direction, and I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet…the scares! For a film that runs 107 minutes we don’t get a ton of outright scary scenes, but the scares we do get are effective and have left a memorable impression in my mind, especially the scene involving the “wheelchair” in the latter half of the film. I will not go into more detail than that, you will have to give this one a watch yourself. If you have seen this film, then have fun sleeping tonight after thinking of the scene I just mentioned.
Story-wise this film is a winner as well, and a well written screenplay played a big part in aiding Peter Medak’s direction. I really liked that for a haunted house film we get a bit of a drama element in regards to John Russell’s character losing his wife and child as you can imagine the pain he is already going through when these terrible and horrifying events begin taking place around him in a home that was supposed to provide him comfort, not conflict. The mystery element in this film is strong, and pretty much consumes the entire second half of the film. Each of the developmental twists and turns the story takes were well written and pretty darn interesting as well. I can honestly say that I have never seen a haunted house film come with so much mystery behind what is going on, and I found it fun to watch thanks to great writing and execution. There may be a downside for some folks regarding this film’s heavy mystery element, and that is that this film does move pretty slow at times. I did not find this to be a huge problem because what I was given during these slow scenes was beneficial to the story(no useless scenes) and kept me engaged regardless. Had we maybe been given some more creepy scares scattered throughout the film then this film would have secured at least a 9-rating from me, but an 8-rating is awesome enough for this awesome film.
Overall, this is an excellent watch that I highly recommend to fans of haunted house films and atmospheric horror. While slow moving at times, The Changeling comes with enough creepy scares and awesome visuals to keep you wide awake and possibly sleepless for the remainder of the night.