The Changeling (1980, Peter Medak)

Halfway-decent haunted-house movie inexplicably appearing on a few lists of best horrors. I get annoyed with Medak, feel like he’s over-emphatic, harping on things, but at least he did this to a lesser extent here than in his headache-inducing The Ruling Class.

Well-off composer George C. Scott (year after Hardcore) loses his wife and kid in an accident, moves elsewhere to teach music and rents a huge haunted house from the historical society. Ghosts lead him to a boarded-up bedroom upstairs, and a combination of visions, a really well-staged seance, and good ol’ historical research in the city library lead him and his realtor companion Trish Van Devere (Scott’s wife and costar in Stanley Donen’s Movie Movie) to uncover the ghost’s identity. It seems the house’s owner in the early 1900’s killed his own sickly, crippled son and replaced him with a sturdier orphan, whom he raised as his real son and inheritor. That kid has grown up to be elderly Senator Melvyn Douglas (The Old Dark House star, quite active in his 70’s appearing in The Tenant and Being There and Twilight’s Last Gleaming), who doesn’t want any of this history brought up right now.

“Who you callin’ a changeling,” asks Melvyn:

Apparently it’s a based-on-true-events ghost story, but this is before filmmakers splashed these things across their posters and opening titles. Besides the cool seance (the medium writing, her assistant narrating, like a more efficient ouija board) there’s much generic ghost business with clanking noises, whispers on audiotape, a creepy music box and a discarded rubber ball repeatedly appearing. My main complaint is that the ghost succeeds in getting Scott to help him out, then repays him by burning down the house with all Scott’s possessions inside.

George and Trish at the microfiche:

Probably not interesting to anyone but me: John Colicos plays an asshole cop in this, and in the following year he was murdered by Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Crap Italian filmmaker Lamberto Bava later made a movie called Per Sempre which was conceived as a sequel to Postman and released on video as The Changeling 2.

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