|Review||The Changeling (1980)||Director||Peter Medak|
|Writer||William Gray & Diana Maddox (Screenplay) – Story by: Russell Hunter|
|Cast||George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, Madeleine Sherwood, John Colicos, Barry Morse and Jean Marsh|
“She said the house didn’t want people. She’s mistaken. Whatever it is is trying desperately to communicate” – John Russell
Following the death of his wife and daughter in a freak accident, composer John Russell (Scott) leaves the city and rents an old mansion in the hope of rebuilding his life. Soon after his arrival he becomes convinced that there’s a presence inside the house that wants to communicate with him. Together with the help of his friend Claire (Van Devere) he discovers a shocking history with the house which might be connected to a state senator (Douglas) and John investigates further.
“The Changeling” is a classy thriller/horror film that hits all the right notes to provide one hell of a scary evening. Watch this alone on a dark night with all the lights out and it will give you the chills! It falls into the “Haunted House” category of horror films that was unusually productive in ’79 & ’80 with the critically maligned but well received “The Amityville Horror” and the classic “The Shining”. Other films in this genre that I’m fond of are “The Haunting” (1963), “The Legend of Hell House” (1973) and “Burnt Offerings” (1976) but most of them rarely sustain the fright factor for the duration and fall short in the final act.
“The Changeling” boasts a superbly concocted story that’s very well played out both logically speaking and, of course, with some supernatural tweaking. It’s also a very tragic story on more than one level and the terrific script fleshes out the cruelty and sadness of inhuman acts and the misery and sense of injustice that follows. It’s a gripping piece of storytelling that is sure to impact the viewer.
The scares are gained honestly and with a real care for set-up. There are no quick cuts, cheap shocks or loud sound changes to startle the viewer (and I’m not knocking that practice as it’s very efficient in the right hands) and the frights are of the kind that makes the hair on the back of your head stand out. Director Medak creates a remarkably creepy atmosphere and makes the most out of the unseen rather than what’s displayed on screen. Together with the story the film takes us on a journey that’s continually captivating and really scary when it wants to be.
All other things fall into place as well. The house is a magnificent setting that’s a big character in it’s own right. Created in studio; the sets are terrific and the outside house on display is decidedly creepy. The music score by Rick Wilkins is very effective and cinematography by John Coquillon likewise and there are a number of good set-pieces with memorabe imagery that is sure to take up residence in the viewer’s mind afterwards.
It’s hard to imagine anyone better than George C. Scott playing John. The legendary performer gives a terrific performance in a fairly demanding part and strikes a chord with the viewer particularly when dealing with grief. I also think Melvyn Douglas does some great work in his part. He occupies very little screen time but his character is pivotal to the proceedings and the actor conveys a lot of emotions and is very memorable.
I’ve watched “The Changeling” a number of times and it’s impact never lessens. It’s a great marriage of a captivating and layered story with a supernatural element that’s expertly woven into the proceedings. It’s the kind of film you can point to when discussing movies with those that don’t like horror movies or the ones that deal with something otherworldly. It’s a classy movie that delivers everything a film connoisseur could want.