|George C. Scott & Trish Van Devere|
If you love ghost stories, you most certainly have several favorite films from the genre. Some fans gravitate to older films like The Uninvited, The Haunting, or The Innocents. Others favor modern tales like The Others or The Devil’s Backbone. But there’s one creepy thriller from 1980 that stands with the best of them. It’s the eerie haunted house tale, The Changeling, starring George C. Scott, and directed by Peter Medak. Scott plays a New York based composer named John Russell, who, after losing his wife and daughter in a car accident, relocates to Seattle. He moves into a Victorian era mansion, which has been vacant for some time. To say that the place has “issues” might be understating the case a little. John regularly hears loud banging noises in the house, and one night he sees the specter of a drowned boy in a bathtub.
He begins investigating the history of the house with the help of Claire, a member of the local historical society, who had rented him the house. Claire is played by Scott’s real life wife, Trish Van Devere. John discovers a hidden room in the attic, which contains a child’s wheelchair. John later holds a séance at the house (one of the film’s most effective sequences) and while listening to a recording of the event, can hear the voice of a young man named Joseph. As John and Claire dig deeper, they learn Joseph was a very sick child, who was not expected to live very long. His father murders him and replaces him with a similar looking child adopted from an orphanage. Why? That’s only the beginning of a twisted tale of murder, money and madness that will come to involve a Unites States Senator with a dark secret. Of course, if you know your mythology, you might just guess that secret before it is revealed later in the film...no spoilers here.
While the bulk of The Changeling takes place in Seattle, it was mostly lensed in Vancouver and Victoria. The film is expertly crafted and well paced. The story is loosely based on some real life events that took place in Colorado. Writer Russell Hunter experienced some paranormal phenomena while staying at a hotel there, and ended up researching the hotel’s history. The screenplay by William Gray and Diana Maddox is loosely based on his experiences and the results of his research. The film was nominated for multiple Genie Awards in Canada and won several, including Best Film, Best Foreign Actor for Scott, Best Foreign Actress for Van Devere, as well as for John Coquillon’s wonderful cinematography. The first rate cast also includes movie veteran Melvyn Douglas, and familiar faces John Colicos and Jean Marsh in supporting roles.
Director Peter Medak does an excellent job creating an otherworldy mileu in the film, which doesn’t go for obvious scares. The Changeling doesn’t cop out on its supernatural elements, and has several very unsettling and creepy moments, some of which recall other chillers like Mario Bava’s Kill! Baby! Kill! The movie has a dedicated core of fans, and was a TV staple during the 80s, which is where I first saw it, and was intrigued by its compelling and offbeat story. In a genre cluttered with badly made and over plotted films, The Changeling is a terrific thriller, and a real gem. Watch out for that wheelchair! Here’s a link to the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTzgXVosQOU.
This post is part of the O Canada Blogathon, hosted by my fellow bloggers at Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. I’d like to thank them for including me in the festivities! You can find out more by clicking the following link: https://silverscreenings.org/2018/02/07/the-ocanada-blogathon-starts-friday/.