When a tragic accident costs John (George C. Scott) his wife and daughter, he believes a change of scenery will do him good. He subsequently moves from his east coast dwelling to Washington State. Once there, John secures a home through a real estate broker and settles in. Immediately after moving in, John starts noticing strange things happening in his new abode. He learns that nothing is what it seems as he is haunted by one of the home’s previous inhabitants.
George C. Scott is terrific in the lead role of this 1980 haunted house thriller. His character has experienced a profound loss and Scott expertly conveys the pain that John is going through. His loss is palpable and serves as impetus for him to move cross-country. It also gives the audience a reason to invest in the character.
The Changeling is expertly directed by Peter Medak (Species II) with a screenplay by Russell Hunter, William Gray, and Diana Maddox. Medak is at the top of his directorial game in this feature. The film is rife with ambiance and it frequently subverts expectations, taking the viewer on an unpredictable and wild ride.
Medak uses the house in which the film is set like an actual character and that pays off in a big way. The tension is so intense by the final scenes of the film that the viewer is sure to be on the edge of his or her seat.
While the film bears some very minor similarities to haunted house pictures to come before it, the majority of the storyline feels unique and fresh. The way the film melds a mysterious backstory with haunted house conventions is incredibly effective and induces a lot of legitimate scares. The Changeling functions equally well as a haunted house film and a thriller. It dips into both genres and works fully as both a horror film and a thriller.
The film has a genius twist towards the end. It is hinted at just enough that it doesn’t come out of left field and feel like a cheat. But it will likely catch the viewer squarely off guard. The trio that worked on the conception of the screenplay deserves much credit for crafting a premise that is just as frightening almost 40 years later as it was upon the film’s initial release.
While some of the wardrobe is dated, as a whole, The Changeling holds up incredibly well after all this time. The effects are very well done and for the time and still look good today. The overall aesthetic has a timeless quality to it that keeps the picture from revealing its age as readily as some films from its era do.
For some reason, horror fans often overlook The Changeling. I couldn’t say why, but films like The Exorcist almost always overshadow it when the conversation turns to supernatural horror of the ‘70s and ‘80s. While The Changeling doesn’t reach the level of greatness The Exorcist did, it does deserve a lot of credit. It is an ambient horror thriller with a haunting score, solid performances from its leads, and a brilliantly crafted script.
If you have somehow missed out on seeing The Changeling, it is a must see. It transcends genre and offers universal appeal for horror fans as well as anyone that enjoys a taught and suspenseful thriller.
Director(s): Peter Medak
Writer(s): Russell Hunter, William Gray, Diana Maddox
Stars: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere
Studio/ Production Co: Associated Film Distributors
Budget: $7.6 Million (Canadian)
Length: 115 Minutes
Sub-Genre: Haunted House