I like writing this blog because it’s a constant journey of discovery about myself. As I watch more movies, I discover more and more of what I like. While I’m officially agnostic about whether or not ghosts exist, I’m discovering that what I really love is a good ghost story, bonus points if it includes a mystery. I have no memory of adding 1980’s The Changeling to my Netflix queue, but I’m really glad that I did.
The Changeling is a movie about death, vengeance and, in a way, parenting. George C. Scott plays Dr. John Russell, a composer who loses his wife and daughter in a car accident. He moves across the country to Seattle and rents the spookiest mansion he can find.
Pretty soon, strange stuff starts to happen. The piano plays itself. A strange banging noise starts to wake John up in the mornings. What’s weirder is that it seems like the historical society that rented the house to him seems to be covering up who the past inhabitants of the house were.
John and Claire (Trish Van Devere), the woman who rented the house to him, decide to get their sleuth on and find out what happened in the house, and time is of the essence because whatever’s in the house is impatient. Doors begin to open and shut and glass starts to break. This leads John to find a secret, boarded-up staircase to an attic with a tiny wheelchair. John is slowly coming undone while this is happening, breaking the lock off the hidden door like it’s responsible for everything wrong in his life.
John and Claire end up exactly where I go whenever I’m faced with a mystery–the microfilm department of the library. Eventually, they turn to the psychic research department of the local university, who sends a medium to the house. The ghost that haunts the house communicates with them through automatic writing and electronic voice phenomenon. A rich family with a sickly son was the house’s original owners. The son is killed in an absolutely brutal scene. That is who haunts the mansion.
As John and Claire discover the dead child’s ties to a prominent local senator, the haunting becomes even more violent. As mirrors break, detectives are killed, and the child’s wheelchair starts to randomly show up, you realize that the ghost doesn’t just want justice, he wants vengeance.
The haunting continues even after they uncover the child’s body, in a well, leading John to shout, “What do you want of me?” I think that this is why I like revenge ghost stories so much. The ghosts don’t have to be reasonable. They’ve waited decades or centuries for justice and can be just as cranky as they want to be.
I’m not sure the movie has a happy ending, which is why I like it so much more than a lot of the ghost movies released today. They all seem to have the ghosts helping solve a mystery and then skipping happily into the light.
George C. Scott’s performance as a man grieving his family is emotionally touching. Scenes of the accident are cut in between scenes from the present, so the viewer can’t forget John’s loss any more than he can.
My favorite part about the movie is the house. It’s exactly the kind of place that I would like to live in one day. This is remarkable, because the movie was filmed entirely on sets and the exterior is a giant mock-up.
Like The Haunting, the house is like a character in the movie.
There are these long, slow shots through the hallways of the house and everything seems connected. That’s why I was so shocked to discover that the movie was filmed on a set.
I found parts of the movie to be scary, although it’s not a very gory or violent movie. The music effectively sets up sadness and the lighting and character’s reactions establish tension. I recommend this movie to all people who grew up reading Nancy Drew and who also love a good ghost story, it definitely won’t disappoint.