The Changeling (1980)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #212

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Number of Views: Three
Release Date: March 28, 1980
Sub-Genre: Supernatural
Country of Origin: Canada, United States
Budget: $7,600,000CAD
Box Office: $5,300,000
Running Time: 107 minutes
Director: Peter Medak
Producers: Joel B. Michaels, Garth H. Drabinsky
Screenplay: Russell Hunter, William Gray, Diana Maddox
Special Effects: Gene Grigg
Cinematography: John Coquillon
Score: Rick Wilkins
Editing: Lilla Pedersen, Lou Lombardo
Studio: Chessman Park Productions
Distributor: Associated Film Distributors, Vestron Video (VHS), Home Box Office Home Video (DVD)
Stars: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, Jean Marsh, John Colicos, Barry Morse, Madeleine Sherwood, Helen Burns, Frances Hyland, Ruth Springford, Eric Christmas, Roberta Maxwell, Bernard Behrens, James B. Douglas, J. Kenneth Campbell, Chris Gampel, Voldi Way, Michelle Martin, Janne Mortil, Linda Grey, Terence Kelly

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Rick Wilkins Music Box

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Recently horror aficionados have been somewhat spoiled by the embarrassing wealth of haunted house movies spewing forth into the marketplace. Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity opened the floodgates and made a very healthy return from comparatively meager outlay and, since then, we have been gifted the likes of Insidious, The Conjuring, Mama and my personal darling Sinister, all hell-bent on making sure our nights remain sleepless. It is so easy now for film-makers to manipulate their audiences through all manner of optical effects that one tends to forget the effectiveness of a simple well-placed thud.

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Every house comes pre-loaded with its own exclusive audio accompaniment. Older buildings, in particular, groan and creak habitually and have a personality all of their own. It is customary that we put this down to expanding pipes and rickety foundations but the less cynical amongst us consider this to be the manifestation of its own nuances and character. Considering the atrocities that often play out behind closed doors it is only right that this will have an effect on our fortifications.

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The luxurious Gothic mansion in Peter Medak’s classic supernatural chiller The Changeling has evidently seen its fair share of woe and is based on Henry Treat Rogers Mansion in Denver, Colorado where real-life hauntings were believed to have transpired during the sixties. Screenwriter Russell Hunter had first-hand experience of these events and fellow contributors Adrian Morrall and William Gray undertook extensive analysis of the case histories of any para-psychological encounters, in an attempt at accurately relaying the real-life paranormal activity.

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The Changeling focuses on John Russell (George C. Scott), a highly regarded composer and professor of music, who, after witnessing the death of his wife and young daughter in a terrible automobile accident first-hand, relocates to his alma mater to get a handle on what he has seen and deal with the immeasurable trauma. Poor John barely gets his left loafer in the front door before the house begins to voice its displeasure at his presence. Doors open at will, the grand piano has a tendency to play itself and the ominous thuds commence before he’s even got his bags down. Talk about not being able to buy a break.

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The house has secrets, dark secrets, blacker than a turd after a pint of stout kind of secrets. Moreover, it fits the haunted mansion bill rather well with spiraling staircases and a concealed opening which leads to a tucked-away attic room which plays host to that infamous chariot. If you dared me to spend a night there alone and stumped up $100 for the inconvenience then I would take your money, stay the duration but spend the entire time with my fist crammed into my oral cavity and a little brunette nugget nestling against the back of my jockeys.

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Scott actually received flack from certain quarters for his turn being simply too inanimate and this is a chastisement which irks me somewhat. Granted, he isn’t prone to overacting as is the case with later exercises in malevolent manifestation but, given the fact that the poor guy has just buried his family, I’d say he would be forgiven by not leaping like a salmon the moment the pantry door creaks ajar or it sounds like somebody is tap dancing in Doc Martens on his ceiling. He is broken and conveys this consistently throughout.

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Around the turn of the eighties The Amityville Horror, which I find a little over-adulated if truth be known, was still fresh in folks’ minds and they craved a little more of the ‘things that go bump in the night’ that it served up with little of the restraint shown here. Medak’s film doesn’t rely on gore, something reflected in its PG rating upon release, but instead it hones in on our insecurities and quietly milks them for all they are worth. It may well have dated and, nowadays we are used to being bombarded by ghouls and apparitions, whereas Medak adopts a far more sedate approach to unnerving us but there are few sights which have me panting quite as much as that wheelchair on auto-pilot or the inside of that abandoned well from both above and below. Goosebumps aren’t choosy after all.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Dread Factor: 4/5

 

For the Dread-Heads: There are a number of disturbing images which linger long after the final reel but, more critically, it is the feeling of consternation it provokes from its addressee which truly leaves its interminable stain on one’s psyche. Fans of What Lies Beneath will be left in no doubt as to the source of Robert Zemekis’ inspiration and it may be reason enough to never bathe again let me tell you.

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Read Insidious Appraisal
Read The Conjuring Appraisal
Read The Entity Appraisal
Read Poltergeist (1982) Appraisal

 

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