Overall, the year 1980 may not have been a particularly remarkable one for movies, but it was certainly a notable one for horror pictures. Two major directors, Ken Russell and Stanley Kubrick, tackled the genre with Altered States and The Shining respectively, but there was another film that year from another formidable filmmaker. That film was The Changeling from Peter Medak, and his film was actually released first. It may not quite be in the same league or be nearly as well-known, but it’s one of the genre’s most rewarding films—and one of the very few truly successful ghost stories. The story concerns a composer, John Russell (George C. Scott), who, following the death of his wife (Jean Marsh) and child, moves to Seattle into an old dark house owned by the local historical society. As often seems to be the case with such houses—in movies at least—there’s something “wrong” with the house, and it isn’t long before strange occurrences begin taking place. For once, we’re confronted with a case where there’s some justification for the main character not just getting the hell out of the haunted house, since Russell is convinced the house “wants” something and he wants to know what. Medak doesn’t set out to reinvent the genre, but instead he crafts a phenomenally creepy ghost story—and one that happens to have a better-than-usual story at its center.
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