Peter’s Retro Reviews: The Changeling (1980)

October 28, 2011

The Changeling Movie Poster by Peter Nielsen

”That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.”

Composer John Russell is on a family vacation together with his wife and daughter! When we first meet them, they’re pushing their car along the road since it has apparently died on them. But even though it’s winter-time and cold and slippery, they’re laughing and joking with each other. A bit further down the road they come to a roadside diner. John goes to the phone-booth across the road to call for help and this is when tragedy strikes in the form of a freak accident, which claims the lives of both his wife and daughter.

When we next see John again it’s been four months and he’s slowly trying to put his life back together again. Too grief-stricken to stay, he’s moving out of the apartment they used to live in and following advice from good friends, decides to rent a house away from the city. The house is huge but fits John’s needs, since he’s started to compose again and needs a place where he can be by himself.

What secret dwells inside this house?

What secret dwells inside this house?

At first everything is ok. The house is beautiful as is the surroundings. He strikes up a friendship with Claire who works at the local historical society and is the one who got him the lease on the house.

Their friendship is nothing but just that, but I suspect that she wants more and ultimately so does he, but that’s for another time and movie. Soon little things start to happen, like unexplainable noises and doors opening on their own. Little by little the house takes on a more sinister look and the unease starts to seep in.

Ok, I have a question here! I can understand why people want to live in these large, old and beautiful houses, but WHY do they never seem to have enough lights to light up the long corridors that are ultimately always there? ‘Cause let’s face it folks… long and dimly lit corridors are super-scary! And don’t even get me started on attics, ok?

You paid HOW MUCH for this place?

You paid HOW MUCH for this place?

One day John discovers a sealed-off room in the attic!!! Yes, I know what you’re thinking… sealed-off rooms in attics or anywhere else, for that matter, are automatically a bad thing, right? Right!

And given the amount of dust and cobwebs in the room, it’s safe to say that it has been sealed off for a very long time. Well, that and the notebook dating back to 1909 might also give you a hint. There’s also a tiny wheelchair in this room, one that would fit a small child. Why? What’s it doing there?

John and Claire starts to look into the house’s history but can’t find any records of its owners pre-1920, but through an elderly lady, also working at the historical society, they learn that some kind of tragedy has happened here. What is this room? What horrendous acts have taken place here? And why does it seem to be connected to the senator Carmichael? What terrible secret is the house hiding?

I really wouldn't open that if I were you...

I really wouldn’t open that if I were you…

A medium is called in and through a rather creepy séance we find out the truth. Well, maybe not all from the séance itself, but from the recording John makes of it. It’s what he later finds on the tape that reveals what has happened.

The overall atmosphere of this movie is so damn creepy it’s tangible and I’m not ashamed to say that The Changeling scares the crap out of me. Every time I watch it, I might add! Who would have thought that a wheelchair and a little red and white ball could scare you so bad? Not me, and yet it gets me every time!

It’s directed by Peter Medak who’s also made another favorite of mine Romeo is Bleeding starring Gary Oldman and Lena Olin, but also The Krays and assorted episodes of TV-shows such as Space: 1999, Magnum P.I., Crime Story and Kindred: The Embraced. All of those were good shows! In my opinion anyway!

Just before tragedy strikes...

Just before tragedy strikes…

The two main characters, John and Claire, are portrayed by George C. Scott and Trish Van Devere and both of them do an excellent job in The Changeling. George C. Scott is a brilliant actor and has been in a ton of good movies, of which I’ll only mention a few… The Hindenburg, Patton, Hardcore, Firestarter and The Exorcist III.

Trish Van Devere, though not as prolific as Mr. Scott, does have some good ones in her repertoire too. For instance Messenger of Death as well as The Day of the Dolphin, The Last Run and of course The Changeling, the latter three together with George C. Scott. I think they did five movies together, and yes… in case you’re wondering? They were married! For almost 30 years, all the way up to his death in 1999.

I’ll just briefly mention two other actors here! In the role of the senator Carmichael we see Melvyn Douglas (Hud, Ghost Story) and in a brief part as Dr. Pemberton I’m sure you’ll recognize Barry Morse? The Fugitive or Space: 1999 anyone? Two memorable TV-shows?

What I like about this movie is that it takes its time building up the tension until it’s almost unbearable and you don’t really want to watch any more, but at the same time you can’t take your eyes of it. You know what I mean? And then, when you least expect it… WHAM!! There’s the obligatory jump scare! But isn’t that always the case, I hear you say. Yes it is, but in The Changeling those jump scares work really well. No, wait… scratch that. They work exceptionally well. I actually gasped at one point!!

And on that thought I’ll leave you for this week. Until next time my friends…

Retro Movie Geek © 2015