The Changeling (1980) — Scoobies investigate a haunted house

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

Justin’s rating: For sale: A fixer-upper with a spectral roommate

Justin’s review: In 1980, one of the most famous haunted house films of all time came out. The Shining was a masterpiece of horror that’s stood the test of time and set the standard for the genre. Yet what many people might not know was that in the same year, a second critically lauded haunted house flick arrived in theaters. It’s just that this one didn’t have Stephen King or Stanley Kubrick’s names attached.

The Changeling starts with the gut-punch of composer John Russell (George C. Scott) losing his family to a sudden car accident. In the months following, he takes on a teaching gig in Seattle and moves into an old gothic house with its own tragic past. It’s not, as he finds out, a house that’s happy with residents (at least, living ones).

I mean, the place looks like the Addams Family manor, so I’d be more surprised if it wasn’t oozing ectoplasm and ghosts out of every wall outlet.

When some weird and inexplicable stuff starts happening right out of the haunted house playbook — things moving on their own, balls bouncing, noises banging — John begins an investigation as to what, exactly, happened there. Eventually he finds a boarded-up room in the attic that hosts a number of curious objects including a very old-styled wheelchair.

Let’s put this out there: This is an old fashioned haunted house movie, and I don’t mean that as an insult. There aren’t the CGI F/X that we’ve come to expect in modern times. Stan Winston is nowhere to be seen. Heck, there aren’t even the stop motion poltergeists and animated ghosts that the ’80s would employ liberally. It’s a film that takes a gorgeous and imposing interior set of the house and then drenches it with ominous atmosphere and practical effects.

It’s also a slow movie that takes you on a measured ride through the mystery and ensuing revelations that are in store. Again, it was from a different era, so you have to be patient with its leisurely pace. Trust me, it’s not boring, just content to do a whole lot of gradual showing rather than characters telling at top volume as they run down melting corridors.

A lot of people have noted that Scott’s performance is almost unbelievably stoic. He’s not nearly as freaked out about the haunting, but who are we to judge how a grieving widower and father would act in this scenario? I did like the on-screen friendship between John and Claire (Scott’s real-world wife Trish Van Devere). They become the Scooby Doo Mystery Team for this outing, and this friendship and the secrets of the house are helpful diversions to John’s grief.

Less about scares and more about a dark mystery that just so happens to include the supernatural, The Changeling boasts some chilling sounds and atmosphere. It’s just not quite as scary or spooky-ooky as others led me to believe.

Didja notice?

  • There’s no way that a family pushing a station wagon through snow would be joking and laughing
  • Remember when phone booths used to be on the sides of random roads? Neither do I
  • The really great camera vantage points, especially the overhead ones
  • Most popular music class ever, apparently
  • The wind coming through the boarded up door
  • This attic has ALL the cobwebs
  • The ball thudding down the stairs
  • Seances often involve dorky tin foil cones
  • Don’t forget about the title of the movie, because I did until its very end

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