Go

The Changeling

Year: 1980
Production Co: Pressman Park Productions
Director: Peter Medak
Writer: William Gray
Cast: George C Scott

Three horror films stand out in my life – An American Werewolf in London, House and Pet Sematary. I've got better as I've grown up but as a kid I was an avowed horror movie wimp and it was only very rarely I'd dare watch one. Those three in particular were in circumstances I couldn't get out of, like a movie theatre or on video with friends who'd laugh at me if I ran away.

It's been a long while since any film scared or traumatised me so badly, whether it's just age or the fact that I've seen a lot more now – I somehow sat right through Paranormal Activity and didn't have nightmares.

The reason I mention all this is because The Changeling is the first movie in a long time I've turned off for being too scary. I started watching it late at night alone in bed and had to stop within half an hour, eventually finishing after four sittings. Now I look back it's hard to say what was so scary – there was no blood, no violence and no real jump scares (apart from the wheelchair appearing at the top of the stairs).

It was more a creeping terror. Some corny tropes like the huge house full of locked rooms and constant thunderstorms are a little too in your face but when it's just you and a laptop or DVD player they're very effective. And the scares that aren't corny - like when John (Scott) plays the tape of the séance back and a voice answers the medium on the tape even though nobody could hear it at the time – will make your skin crawl.

John loses his wife and daughter in a car crash in the first scene then moves into a huge, creepy mansion and takes up a position at the local university teaching music. As soon as he gets there strange things start happening, from rhythmic banging in the night to a child's face appearing in the bathtub.

With the lady from the local historical society who set him up in the place, John digs deeper. He finds a locked room in the top of the house full of creepy artifacts and their research overturns a violent history.

The story behind the mystery blows it a bit early – and in a sequence that's too quick laying everything out. The climax is also over the top, quite necessary in a cinematic sense but having moved too far away from the effectively creepy tone of the rest of the film. The script shows a good understanding and portrayal of poltergeist phenomena throughout and there are few more accomplished 'straight' ghost stories around.

Ironically the only low note was Scott himself, 51 at the time and possibly a bit too stiff for the role. It certainly didn't need an action hero but it needed someone with a little more energy. It's also very hard (no matter how understanding, sensitive, emotional or vulnerable the character) to decouple that grizzled voice from Patton.

© 2011-2018 Filmism.net. Site design and programming by psipublishinganddesign.com | adambraimbridge.com | humaan.com.au