Forgotten Classics: The Changeling
No, not the 2008 Eastwood directed, Jolie starring Oscar nominee. The Changeling is a 1980 Canadian horror film that should be compulsory viewing for every horror fan. Starring real life married couple George C. Scott and Trish Van Devere, this film proves that the less you see, the more scared you get. There is no monster here and none of the gore modern horror films are so fond of. Instead, the film slowly builds up tension until the audience is so wound up that when the source of the creepy goings on is finally revealed, it tips you over into full-fledged terror.
It’s the story of composer John Russell (Scott) who, after losing his wife and daughter in a car accident, moves into an old mansion in Washington state. Hoping to get away from the memories and grief, he starts teaching at the local university and strikes up a friendship with the beautiful Claire Norman (Van Devere). It seems he can finally start putting his life together again. But soon after he moves in, he starts to notice odd things around the house. (Why do people in films move into old, abandoned mansions? Don’t they know they’re ALWAYS haunted?!). He is repeatedly woken up at exactly the same time in the morning by a loud banging noise, a window shatters in a room no one’s been in and a ball that used to belong to his daughter starts showing up around the house. It seems clear that something is trying to communicate with him. Searching the house for an explanation, Russell discovers an old attic room that’s been boarded up. The room clearly belonged to a child. He finds toys, old diaries, a music box and the creepiest little wheelchair you will ever see. When he discovers that the music box plays the exact song he’s been composing, he takes matters into his own hands and contacts a psychic. A séance is held in the house and we finally find out who’s responsible for the haunting and why. With the secrets of the house now uncovered, Russell is determined to set things right. But that quest is going to disturb some very powerful people who do not want the truth to come out.
The film might feel a bit slow at times for audiences reared on jump cuts, gore and final scares, but it is worth it. The film will stay with you long after the credits roll and doesn’t get any less scary on repeat viewings. I dare anyone to watch the séance scene and not feel deeply unsettled. I’m even getting goosebumps just writing about it. And if you don’t believe me, both Martin Scoresese and Neve Campell have listed it as one of the scariest horror films they have ever seen. And if Sidney Prescott is scared you KNOW you’re going to be, too.