Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Changeling (1980)

The Changeling was an attempt at a haunted house movie and if you were going to compile a list of all the mistakes you could make that would render such a movie ineffective then this one ticks every box.

George C. Scott stars as John Russell, a professor of music whose wife and daughter are killed in a freak car accident. He slowly starts pulling himself together and feeling that a change of scenery might help he accepts a teaching position in Seattle. At first he seems he’s made a great choice. Through his contacts in the faculty he is able to rent a glorious (and huge) old house from the local historical society. It’s perfect, giving him the peace and quiet he needs for his work (he’s a composer as well as teaching music). And the lady from the historical society (played by Scott’s real-life wife Trish van Devere) is rather nice and a friendship is growing up between them.

Everything would be fine except for the pesky ghost in the attic. It soon becomes obvious that John has not recovered from his personal tragedy as well as he’d thought. He’s a bit of an emotional mess and, perhaps because of this vulnerability, he’s also inclined to be remarkably ready to accept supernatural explanations for the odd goings-on in the house.

He makes a call to the local psychic research expert and is put in touch with a medium and soon it’s séance time. This ghost is very anxious to communicate and before long John is busily digging up people’s floorboards looking for murdered bodies and what he uncovers is a scandalous conspiracy from the past.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like subtle horror. I much prefer it to the more obvious kind. I dislike gore. Give me atmosphere and a slow building of suspense and dread any day. It has to be said however that it is possible to be too subtle. At some point you have to get scary. And in this movie it just doesn’t happen.

Even worse there is never any sense that the two main protagonists (John Russell and his new lady friend) are in real danger from the ghost. And there’s no-one else in the movie that we can possibly be expected to care about.

The movie’s flaws don’t end there. Too much of the explanation for the haunting is given away too soon and the explanation is banal and predictable. The villains are obvious and are such tedious clichés that their evil is too boring to make any emotional impact.

The whole movie has a bad TV movie feel to it, both visually and in the ineptness of the scripting and the flatness of the direction. The big horror set-pieces towards the end are silly and distinctly non-scary. Director Peter Medak has spent most of his subsequent undistinguished career in television.

George C. Scott is adequate but he doesn’t seem overly interested. No-one else in the cast makes any impression at all.

This one is not even worth a rental I’m afraid.

The UK DVD from Optimum looks OK but has no extras at all.


Anonymous said...

This is such a harsh review! Honestly, I liked the movie, but then again I like atmospheric, dull TV movies about ghosts from the 1970s early 1980s too, too.

dfordoom said...

It's the sort of thing I usually like which may be why I was so severe on it. It was the explanation for the haunting that I found to be particularly disappointing.

Shaun [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I think you're virtually spot on here Doom. This actually gets a lot of favourable reviews, but like that other abysmal haunted house movie THE AMITYVILLE HORROR there is no substance to this tale. George C. Scott is so hopelessly miscast it's unreal. Are we really to believe that a hulking gorilla like Scott is a sensitive composer?

Alcaminhante said...

Funny how things are. This is probably one of the the movies that scared me the most and still creeps me to death even knowing about the plot. Its one of my all time favorite ghost movies if not my favorite ocidental ghost movie ever! This is the horror movie ive reccomended the most to my friends , and everyone who sees it got as creeped out as i was when i saw it for the first time.
I own the dvd and its definetly one of the best classic ghost movies ever made on par with the original the haunting.

For example, the exorcist didnt scared me one bit at all , amytiville not really...but this one scares me to this day, particulary the sceance scene and the ball on the stairs scene....brrrr