31 Days of Halloween – Day 24 – What is The Changeling?

change1The Changeling (1980) is a ghost story starring George C. Scott (with hair), and it turns out to be a murder mystery suspense thriller disguised as a scary movie.  It is not a horror movie.  It is somewhat moody and depressing, but it’s not really a horror movie in the true sense of the word.  It starts out as a traditional haunted house story, and morphs into a murder mystery as George C. Scott goes about uncovering the truth behind the old house he’s moved into.  The majority of the running time is devoted to “finding secrets” and “uncovering the truth”, which crowds out the scary parts and limits the mood.

To be honest, I liked the majority of this movie, and it works as a straight thriller.  It just has to explain everything and doesn’t rest for a second until every little thing is uncovered.  If there’s a noise, it has to be investigated.  There once was a murder in the house, so George C. Scott has to go to the library and pour over records to find out what’s going on.  It’s endless.  

I think the reason I’m disappointed with this movie is that the setup is so perfect, it’s just spoiled by a lack of execution.  Everything in the movie is done better in other movies.  There’s even a scene where George C. Scott finds the bones of a boy in a well.  Yes, that’s right, he goes down into a WELL and finds a dead body.  Remind you of anything? Maybe the Japanese version of The Ring was influenced by this movie, but I’m not sure if that’s true or not.  It sure is a big coincidence.  Not only is there a well, but the well is UNDER the floor like in The Ring and there are bones at the bottom.  

change3This movie has tons of stupid cliches, like moody voices throughout the house and the part where the frustrated character screams, “What do you WANT from me?”.  The ghosts don’t answer.  There’s a chandelier that crashes to the ground at the climax to the film, but George C. Scott dodges out of the way.  That’s got to be the biggest cliche of all.

George C. Scott loses his wife and kid during the introduction and decides to move into a three-story mansion in Seattle.  Why?  I have no idea.  He lives by himself in this huge house and there’s no reason for it, other than it has a music room and he’s a composer.  Trish Van Devere plays Claire, a lady working for the historical society, who leases out the house without knowing about the murder and the body in the well under the property.  She follows Scott on the “investigation” and sits in on a seance.

change6The seance is pretty pointless, because it’s just an exposition dump disguised as a scary scene.  It’s not a scary scene.  George C. Scott just sits there as some weird lady tries to talk to the ghosts.  He looks pissed off.  He eyes the old lady as if contemplating how dumb she sounds.  She scribbles notes feverishly and this represents the ghost talking.  As if we didn’t get that, Scott later uncovers “ghostly voices” on the recording of the seance session and listens to the spirits, who give even more background info about the mystery.  

I think the best scene is when George C. Scott (with hair) discovers a secret room upstairs at the back of a closet.  He pulls off a loose board and finds an old door that’s been shut up.  He throws everything aside to get at the door and puts his shoulder into it, but it won’t budge.  He looks determined to try again, but the door helpfully opens on it’s own.  Pretty funny.  He goes into the old room, which is cluttered with cobwebs and finds some old stuff there, including some things that make no sense, like a music box that plays the piece he was composing earlier in the day.  I think the scene works very well because it’s longer and has tons of suspense, but there’s never anything like that for the rest of the movie.  Even the discovery of the well has no impact.

change2This film made Bravo’s 100 Scariest Moment’s List in 2004.  Or rather, one scene did.   The part where Scott tosses his dead daughter’s ball into the Hudson river, then comes back home, and sees it fall down the stairs.  It’s an effective scene.  The problem is, the movie tries desperately to explain why that happened.  It’s a ghost.  Of a dead boy.  Killed by his father.  The audience has to suspend disbelief about the plot and most of the revelations.  

What is the Changeling?

I think this is good word play.  A changeling in the traditional sense is a fairy child left in place of a human child, who was taken away.  Usually the child has deformities or handicaps.  The frail and handicapped child in the movie was killed by his father and replaced by a boy from an orphanage.  The father was a rich and powerful man and apparently wanted a true heir who could carry on his empire.  The boy grows up to be a Senator and is unaware of his true lineage until George C. Scott blabs everything to him in another scene of exposition.  Just what we needed.  

In all, this movie is alright I guess, but I was expecting a little more.  George C. Scott (with hair) does fine as John, but a lot of the movie is just him uncovering what’s going on.  He never shows much reaction, except when he’s yelling at the ghosts or backing away from something happening right in front of him.  This is because nothing is left to the imagination.  If Koji Suzuki took influence from this movie and wrote a book about a girl trapped in a well, more power to him, because The Ring has way more mood and scares than The Changeling.  It’s still a pretty good in some parts, but only in isolation.

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31. Poltergeist (1982) vs Poltergeist (2015)
30. Blair Witch Project (1999)
29. Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
28. The Wicker Man (1973) and The Wicker Man Remake
27. Tales from the Darkside, the Movie (1990)
26. Saw (2004)
25. The Prophecy (1995)
24. The Hills have Eyes (1977)
23. House of the Long Shadows (1983)
22. Creepshow (1982)
21. Phantasm (1979)
20. The Omen (1976) vs Damien: The Omen II
19. We Are Still Here (2015)
18. The Guest (2010) (2014)
17. Return of the Living Dead (1985)
15. The House that Dripped Blood (1971)
14. Army of Darkness (1992)
13. In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
12. Friday the 13th Part III (1982)
11. Theater of Blood (1973)
10. House of Wax (1953) vs House of Wax (2005)
9. Hellraiser Inferno (2000)
8. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
7. The Changeling (1980)
6. The Eye (2002)
5. The Hitcher (1986)
4. Paranormal Activity (2007)
3. 28 Days Later (2003)
2. Suspiria (1977)
1. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – This review will be published October 31st!

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