Directed By: Peter Medak
Starring: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas
Tag line: "..an experience beyond total fear"
Trivia: The movie is based on events which supposedly took place at a house in Denver, Colorado, in the 1960s
There are certain characteristics all haunted house movies share, regardless of when or where they were made: strange noises, self-propelled doors, central mysteries the main character must piece together, etc., etc. What separates the classics (The Haunting) from the ridiculous (The House Where Evil Dwells) is the “extra something” they bring to the table, an intangible element that makes them unique, and while I wouldn't quite call 1980's The Changeling a "classic", it has a lot more going for it than the routine monotony.
Following the tragic death of his wife (Jean Marsh) and daughter (Michelle Martin), classical pianist John Russell (George C. Scott) relocates from New York to Seattle, where he's accepted a teaching job with a local University. Once there, he settles into an old house secured for him by the local Historical Society. But this house has a history of its own, one John is made all too aware of when the spirit of a young boy (Voldi Way) attempts to contact him. With the help of a medium (Helen Burns) and a volunteer from the Historical Society named Claire (Trish Van Devere), John learns the young boy's name was Joseph, and he was killed in the attic by his father nearly 70 years ago. Having experienced loss himself, John wants to help Joesph rest in peace, even if it means taking on Joe Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas), a powerful politician and the key element in a chilling mystery.
As I stated above, all good haunted house films offer their viewers something beyond the normal parlor tricks, and in the case of The Changeling, that “something” is George C. Scott. As played by Scott, John Russell is a strong man, one who remains calm and collected even when dealing with the supernatural. Shortly after moving into the house, Russell hears noises coming from the upstairs, and decides to investigate. Making his way to the bathroom, he finds the water's been left on, and is slowly filling the bathtub. He leans over and shuts it off, but when he looks into the tub, John sees the apparition of a small boy, completely submerged in the water, staring up at him. Startled and confused, he backs away from the tub, yet his eyes remain affixed to the boy. He doesn't run, or scream in terror, because that's not how this character would react. Within John Russell lies the pain of a man who's lost so much, and the strength of one who has no intention of running any longer.
Of course, there's more to The Changeling than this; along with a creepy scene involving a bouncing ball, the movie also has one of the most fascinating séances I've ever seen committed to film. Moments like these, combined with Scott's steadfast performance, elevate The Changeling high above the standard fare.