Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Changeling

(1980) ****

When his wife and child are killed in a car accident, a grieving John Russell (George C. Scott) moves to a haunted house in Seattle. Did I mention... that the house is haunted? Oh yes, I already did cover that, pardon me. After witnessing the obligatory door slams and piano-plays-itself gags, John gets the point that the house is trying to tell him something. How refreshing! It bothers me when people are in denial about their house being haunted. None of that "it's only the wind" or "it's the floor settling" crap here. George C. Scott instantly moves to the "Ok, it's haunted, well what am I going to do about it?" phase. In a delightfully eerie seance, the ghost reveals himself as a child who was brutally murdered in that very home. John sees it as his duty to help this ghost find peace and conducts a thorough investigation into the crime. Clues surface and a horrific vision details the specifics of the deadly events.

With the possible exception of the slasher film, haunted house movies are more often than not the most uninspired and predictable of the horror lot. Rarely do they stray far from the House on Haunted Hill template. The Amityville series did it's best to kill the genre altogether and may have ultimately succeeded. The Changeling is light years ahead of its peers and most of its descendants. Driven by a gray and somber overall mood, George C. Scott plays the role with a stoic determination that kept me captivated by the mystery until the very end. His performance offers something that most "scary" movies don't dare go near - level-headedness. This is an extremely dangerous choice because when making a movie intended to frighten, it's not in one's best interest to have your main character immune to fear. Somehow the Changeling pulled it off.

I was stunned to learn how much Ringu/Ring borrowed from the Changeling. Not only was an integral plot development blatantly stolen (but made better), the look and feel of the movies also shared much common ground.


Octopunk said...

"It bothers me when people are in denial about their house being haunted."

I also find that quite tiresome.

It's funny that so few horror movies feature characters who display any kind of fortitude or capability in these awful situations that keep emerging. Skeleton Key, The Descent and Dog Soldiers all have no-nonsense characters who don't panic or hide in closets, who treat the problem as something to be tackled from square one.

But it also makes sense: if you're making a horror movie and you're not very good at it, staffing the good guys with too competent characters will leave you with no movie. In the examples above, the writers ramp up the threat to provide a good match for our savvy heroes.

JPX said...

Wow this sounds great! I've never seen this film but it'll be on my list for Horrorthon 2007. Nice review.

I'mnotMarcbutmyboyfriendis said...

that enormous high-backed old wheelchair is nice and eerie too. it touches the same nerve as the crib in the last scene of rosemary's baby. i think that that generation just made their stuff scarier.