The Changeling

Movie Information

Score:

Genre: Horror
Director: Peter Medak
Starring: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, Jean Marsh, Barry Morse
Rated: R

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

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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