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The Changling

A movie directed by Peter Medak

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Fun haunted house movie; with a few flaws that keep it from being truly great, but it's still good.

  • Nov 30, 2011
*** 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 to is the "kind" of haunted house movie that takes its precious time to get to the juicy (and creepy) stuff. Its equal parts frightening and richly glazed with suspense along the way, so there is still plenty to appreciate while we wait patiently for the expected things to start happening.

The fun part of movies such as this one is the ride there; when we reach our destination, and things get both loud and almost obnoxiously jumpy, it's wild and imaginative (often times), but also less interesting and/or engaging. "The Changeling" will not go down in history as a classic for its genre, or the sub-genre that it aspires to fall under, but it stands alone and it stands tall. If you like movies of this sort - and I went in knowing that I did - then you will probably enjoy yourself. If not, then the movie still has its pleasures; a few creepy, genuinely scary moments here-and-there, but alas, nothing absolutely spectacular. Even with such flaws and considerations, I have this ever-respectable affection for the film, and yes, I'd even say I recommend it. But that's as far as I'll go.

Many people have a problem with the film's story and its characters. The film begins promisingly with the death of a wife and a daughter by tragic car collision on one ill-fated winter day. The husband (and father) is the only survivor of this tragedy. His name is John Russell (George C. Scott). After the incident that claimed the two lives of those most close to him, he moves to a Victorian-style mansion to try to escape his rough past. And it's a creepy old place.

John cozies up quite nicely at first; there's plenty of space for him to practice his piano-playing skills, which he puts to great use whenever he teaches a class on that particular instrument (at heart, he is a composer), and the place just seems...ideal. A little cleaning up could help make it significantly less ominous and, well, creepy; sure. But that shouldn't be too much of a hassle, right?

Wrong. A few days pass and John has explored most areas in his large new home. He seems at peace until he begins to hear strange noises; and John is able to see what a few of the sources are. Windows break on random, doors close unexpectedly and without any physical force to move them, and there's some loud noise coming from the upstairs. John, a typical horror movie protagonist, tries to ignore such things until they get out of hand. He is fed up.

So as can be expected, he does the thing that all horror movie heroes must do in such situations; he calls a psychic medium to his house. But of course, he does this only after he reaches the conclusion that a ghost exists within his house and is not intent on leaving, and decides that he can't do much else about it. One of the film's best scenes involves a séance; which is delightful in its eeriness, especially when the ghost reveals himself to be a little boy who was murdered in the building. We learn his name, his killer, and the location in which his own tragedy befell him.

Plenty of other twists come around and reveal their true natures after this; and I won't spoil a thing. The fun of movies with twists - even if a few are more worthy than others - is not knowing what they are when we go in. That way, when we go out, we have something to talk about. "The Changeling", however, is less about any of its story elements. The drama is slightly lacking, even when the protagonist is recalling his loss from the opening sequence. Scott plays the role with efficiency, but his character lacks the written background or depth to truly go beyond the simplicity that is always a given for such individuals. The supporting characters really aren't much better; we don't care much about them, the only real pleasure that accompanies just a select few amongst the crowd is the unexpected turn-up of haunted-house-movie cliché characters. I was more delighted by such things than annoyed.

Here's my conclusion: "The Changeling" is a good haunted house movie, as long as that's all you're looking for out of it. Don't expect anything deep, or compelling, or necessarily great; the aim was to create a nightmare, and those involved have done just that. The house is a damn creepy sight to behold; big, old, and shrouded in its own internal mystery. The visual stylistics called upon to make it look and feel as atmospheric as it does are admirable, and the skill here is in high surplus. I liked "The Changeling" because it was simply a fun watch. It has some scares, some chills, some thrills; and I'd watch it any day over those lackluster slasher movies that Hollywood keeps shelling out by the weekend. There's plenty of talent on display here, and if that's assuring enough for you to pursue the movie, then have at it. All films have flaws, and there is no such thing as true perfection, and while this film doesn't even come close to *near* perfection; it's still pretty well-made on its own right. Its fatal flaw is that the people are less intriguing than that darned mansion; I get a feeling that the building could get its own movie and succeed without all these unnecessary inhabitants.

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review by . October 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #3
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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About this movie


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.
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Director: Peter Medak
Genre: Horror
Release Date: March 28, 1980
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: September 12, 2000
Runtime: 107 min
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