What’s it About?
A man staying at a secluded historical mansion, finds his life being haunted by the presence of a spectre.
Directed by Peter Medak
9 out of 10
“Are you the child that died in this house?”
It’s very easy to lose and forget certain low key films among the overwhelming barrage of large budget (and some low), heavily-advertised Hollywood films and Director Peter Medak’s elegantly frightening film “The Changeling” is possibly one of them. It was 1980 and there was no shortage of demented slashers chasing down nubile coeds in the woods at our local theaters. Ironically, it was during this never ending bombardment of trite and unoriginal mega-crap that made this unique and eerie haunted house story, set in a Victorian style Mansion in Washington state, really stand out to me at the time.
George C. Scott (Patton, The Exorcist III) turns in a very earnest and quite emotional performance as a gruff-voiced classical music composer who relocates to Washington after losing his family in a very gripping and disturbing opening. The Mansion itself (The Carmichael Estate which was actually a set), shot beautifully by John Coquillon, becomes a twisted, immense and cavernous fiend. Medak’s film is in no short supply of terrible and mysterious occurrences through-out.
There are loud inexplicable noises, whispering, running faucets, creaking doors, secret rooms, windows that explode and — my favorite — a haunted wheelchair! Director Peter Medak capably and genuinely weaves a complex tale of murder, deceit and even politics with no slasher or monster in sight at all. Much to the credit of the material and regard for films of it’s ilk, like The Haunting or The Innocents, Medak’s eerie vision is replete with genuine mood and macabre vigor that is still astutely effective today.
He provides us with very realistic terrors that grip us emotionally. If all that wasn’t enough he supplies us with one of the most unbelievably frightening seances ever put on film. However, the ending felt rushed and abrupt and its conclusion does not completely compliment all the creepiness before it. It is in no way distracting or diminishes the film at all. It remains a beautifully unfolding mystery that is absorbing and Medak’s canvas is incredibly detailed and full of gothic menace.
“The Changeling” is that very rare ghost story that deftly transcends the overpopulated horror genre with a keen, sublime and haunting performance by George C. Scott. There is a welcome precision in the direction by Medak, spooky and involving camerawork and more than a few great scares that will have you yelping like a frightened schoolgirl. The house itself, which was a set built on sight, is a horrible presence all in itself. It is full of shadowy hallways, twisted stairways and serpentine bannisters and with the mystery of the Carmichaels, when it comes full circle, is heart wrenching and full of gothic relevance.
“The Changeling” is indeed a over-looked gem in the genre that deserves more attention and praise. It is surely one of horror’s best kept secrets and the test of time, that the movie has stood, is a glaring testimony to the power of ingenuity and regard for story, characters along with mood and style. Highly recommended!