When I first saw Peter Medak’s The Changeling in 1980, I was disappointed by it. I think now I was disappointed only because it wasn’t up to his masterpiece, The Ruling Class (1972) — but then very few films are up to that one, and very few filmmakers have ever made anything that good. And after all, it’s no crime for a film to not be The Ruling Class. Looked at again, a few years later, I found The Changeling much more to my liking — a solidly made, genuinely creepy and effective ghost story of a type the movies rarely attempt and even more rarely get right.
George C. Scott (more subdued than usual) plays a composer whose wife and child are killed in a traffic accident, so he moves into a creepy old house to recuperate while teaching at a local college. The house starts making unfathomable noises and other unsettling things happen, leading him and an historical-society representative (the impossible to restrain Trish Van Devere, aka: Mrs. Scott) to investigate. It’s mostly a mood piece — nothing too flashy, though a seance involving automatic writing is very creepy — but what a mood it generates.
Extremely stylish in design and execution, and Medak gets the absolute most out of the old dark house setting. It’s convincing in a way that few ghost stories are — not in the least because the crime at the bottom of the haunting is particularly nasty. Melvyn Douglas is very fine — combining aristocratic arrogance and moving helplessness — in one of his final performances. A must-see for admirers of horror films and ghost stories.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke