The Changeling (1980) – 31 Days of Horror: Oct 18

by Jovial Jay

The Haunted House marathon continues with a film that sounds more like shapeshifter film than a scary building one, The Changeling.

I have heard some pretty terrifying reviews of The Changeling, but the trailer doesn’t look like much more than standard haunted house fare.

Before Viewing

George C. Scott moves into a house which holds a secret and a ghost. He believes the ghost is trying to communicate with him and starts investigating rooms, including ones that are locked. He starts asking some friends for help. There may also be some clues from a Senator that used to live there (political intrigue!) And then your standard ghostly happening: things moving by themselves, doors opening, chandelier falling, fires! Haven’t we seen these before? Well if General Patton can survive a haunted house, so can we. Let’s go!

Presented below is the Trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween

After Viewing

The Changeling provides a creepy premise to what turns out to be a detective film. John Russell (George C. Scott) moves to Seattle after losing his wife and daughter in a car accident the winter before. He gets a job teaching music at a local college, and moves into a super-large mansion run by the historic society. No one has lived in the building for 12 years, but Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere) gets him a good rate, befriending him in the process.

As John is working in the house, he notices odd occurrences: rhythmic banging, bathtubs filling themselves, doors opening or closing on their own. One day he finds a locked door to an attic room behind a closet. Opening it he discovers an old bedroom, with a journal, a music box, and a small wheelchair. He is struck by the music box the most, since it’s the same tune he composed the day before, but swears he had never heard the song before.

He brings in a medium to hold a seance. From there he discovers that the spirit haunting the house is a young boy named Joseph who was drowned by his father in 1909. The voice of the child actually appears on the recordings made of the seance and sets John off on a mission to discover what the ghost wants.

John finds out that Joseph is really Joseph Carmichael, which is the same name as the local Senator. Ghost Joseph was set to inherit much money from the mother’s family, if he survived to 21 years old. But being a sickly boy, the father knew that wouldn’t happen. He drowned the boy and adopted another child, a changeling, surreptitiously from a local orphanage, and then left for Switzerland to get the boy “medical treatment.” Returning nine years later, no one could be sure that the Joseph was really the same boy or not, so the orphan grew up in Joseph’s place. He became heir to a large fortune and became the Senator for Washington State.

John can’t prove this without a body, so ghost-Joseph leads him to the well in which his body was discarded, which happens to be under another family’s house. John also finds the confirmation medallion from Joseph’s church, something that shouldn’t exist, since Senator Carmichael has his own medallion.

The Senator, believing that John is trying to blackmail him, offers him much money to go away. But John is only looking for justice for the spirit that infests his house. Leaving the medallion with the Senator, John leaves, returning to his house. Joseph’s spirit reveals the truth of his death to the Senator, who has a heart attack and dies. John’s house erupts in flames, but he gets out in time.

That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.” – Minnie

While the spirit in The Changeling turns out to be benevolent, that doesn’t change the fact that this movie has some very chilling scenes. It’s not a film with jump scares, but slow revelations and eerie things that leave a tingle running up and down your spine. The best chill is when John discovers the young boy’s voice on the tape recorder, where none had been in real life. Spooky!

Once John realizes that the spirit needs him to bring his murder to light, the tone of the film changes. Things weren’t as spooky before, as John acts as a detective bringing old crimes to light. Paranormal activities after this moment are helping John accomplish his goals. They’re not unknown or mysterious goings on.

Even with the change in tone, and knowing the intentions of the ghost, that doesn’t make the strange occurrences any less chilling. I found some of the haunted house vibes, equal to, or greater than those in The Amityville Horror, which is no lightweight when it comes to scares.

So far in this haunted house marathon, this is the most haunting film I’ve seen.

Assorted Musings

  • George C. Scott and Trish Van Devere were married in real life when this film was shot.
  • Third film of four Haunted House films in a row to feature a chandelier crashing to the floor, and just missing someone, after House on Haunted Hill and House of Usher.
  • Second Haunted House film this year to feature a fire in the house, after House of Usher.

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