I addedThe Changeling to my Netflix list because when I saw it at 11 it scared the crap out of me and it was the last movie to do that (Se7en was the first movie to do that, so I had almost 20 years without being scared.
Oddly enough (he says sarcastically), what scared me at 11 didn’t scare me at an age even more years later. It was predictable but it wasn’t awful, just problematic.
Composer John Russell (George C. Scott) witnessed the death of his wife and daughter—an accident on an icy road involving a heavy-duty truck. He moves from New York City to Seattle to help him get over the memories. In Seattle, he leases a huge mansion left vacant for over a decade; the lease is through the Historical Society represented by Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere). This is a scary movie, so naturally the house is haunted. John, Claire, and a few others do their best to put a poltergeist to rest. Just in case someone uses this to make their decision, I will go no further with the summary.
A changeling is what you would expect: one child switched with another (Traynor and Chambers in Twain’s Puddin’head Wilson is the most famous example of this action I think). The Changeling takes place in a mansion, so naturally the switch is going to involve money. Why and how . . . if you’re curious, watch it.
We are supposed to go into a film or a play with what Coleridge called the willing suspension of disbelief. In other essays I have stressed that the active word here isn’t disbelief but willing. I am willing to suspend disbelief only so far, if it takes more energy to suspend it, then I just give up. This film didn’t allow me to suspend anything and it really asked for more. The issue is one of suspending most of the question words, particularly why and how. For instance, if a poltergeist can work beyond the house (typically these restless spirits are attached to a single location) then why does it take John Russell to live there and to try to work out the mystery to motivate this spirit? At one point, away from the mansion, the spirit overturns a car. If it can do this, then why not exact its revenge on others without having anyone at all live in the house. At no point is either John or Claire possessed, so they are not agents of action. How a poltergeist is able to act in more than one location and at the same time is also not explained. It is one thing to allow a film or play to wash over despite some problems, but when it is more than just a little bit of coherence, that’s fine; when it goes to the core of the story then it is much harder to allow that to happen.
The music was over the top and not in a good way. Films from the end of the 1960s through to the early 1980s (this film was released in 1980) often have trouble with music. We are not accustomed to mood and background music to be just that. In this film, the music was so overpoweringly loud that it telegraphed the events so well, you could just about shut your eyes and know what was happening even if the dialog were minimal.
The Changeling is also very predictable (and I have to say that my memory of the film from more than 20 years ago doesn’t inform this at all. So, the main reason I don’t pan this film outright is George C. Scott. There are more actors in The Changeling but only Mr. Scott and Ms. Van Demere spend significant time in front of the camera, the others are little more than extras. Mr. Scott has a presence that is hard to overlook. No matter how bad or good (or in this case mediocre) the film, he always put in a stellar performance. If you are a haunted house fan or a George C. Scott fan, then this film will not disappoint. If neither of these is true, then there is little reason to watch it.
*** out of **** "The Changeling" is a crafty, sly, and wholesomely effective horror film that takes inspiration from all over the place; yet it isn't messy. It's a good old fashioned haunted house story that works for a variety of unique and note-worthy reasons - one of them being the successful collaboration between its writer (Russell Hunter) and its director (Peter Medak). As far as haunted house movies go; it's my favorite kind. To be precise, that "kind" which I refer … more
Well told horror story with Scott playing the role of a widower music teacher. After the death of his wife, he moves to Seattle in hopes of starting a new life in a grand old mansion. Unfortunately, his new home turns out to be haunted by the troublesome ghost of a murdered child bent on revenge after 70 years of torment.