Directed by Peter Medak [Other horror films: Cry for the Strangers (1982), Species II (1998)]
Often quite atmospheric and somber by the very nature of the focal character’s background, The Changeling is a fantastically done ghost movie with an engrossing mystery and stellar cast. While not often outright frightening, it can get pretty unsettling, and the aforementioned mystery was on point.
That’s not quite what I thought about it when I first saw the film, but the important addendum there is that I was pretty young then, surely no older than 16. My tastes in horror probably haven’t changed significantly since that age (I loved slashers then, and I love slashers now), but my appreciation for some movies have definitely grown, and The Changeling is a good example of that.
Set in the beautiful city of Seattle (I’ve never been there, but I have had a life-long desire to move to Washington state), it follows a man haunted by the recent deaths of his wife and daughter, and upon moving into a Victorian house, has to deal with the inexplicable things people deal with when they move into houses that might be haunted.
For one thing, this can be an emotional ride following just George C. Scott’s character himself. Due to the recent death of his loved ones, there are some really touching scenes here, such as him finding the ball his daughter used to play with, or him sobbing in bed, probably with little will to go on. He definitely sold it, and though his character was one of maybe questionable motives, Melvyn Douglas really brought a lot of emotion to the final twenty minutes of the film also, especially during his face-off with Scott’s character.
George C. Scott is a familiar name, but I can’t really say I’ve seen much with him in it, which is a shame, as he does a fantastic job here, especially since it’s not too common for horror films to focus on solo older individuals. That might partially be why Trish Van Devere (who starred in The Hearse, which came out the same year but to much less fanfare, as deserved) was here – not that her character wasn’t welcome at times, but she wasn’t near as good as Scott or Douglass. And Melvyn Douglas (The Vampire Bat and, in 1981, Ghost Story, his final film before his death) – what a performance he put in at the end. Very moving and definitely worth it.
What really makes this movie work is the mystery of the ghost, and some of my favorite scenes are those of Scott’s and Devere’s characters trying to dig up as much information as they can, from reading microfilm of old newspapers at the library to going through land charts to figure out what piece of land has a well on it, it’s just a fun bunch of sequences leading to them going to some random house and, after some ghostly apparitions, finding bones in an old well. Just stellar.
Though almost an hour-and-fifty-minutes, I wouldn’t really classify this as a slow-burn, as enough of interest occurs throughout the film. I think some of the best parts are in the second half, to be sure, but there’s plenty of stuff throughout (including some delightful overextension of political purviews) that makes The Changeling a ghost film that is definitely worth seeing.
This is one of the films covered by Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this classic film.