The Changeling (1980)
Reviewed on 2010 January 25
Very creepy and classy horror movie from 1980. No CGI or blood ’n’ guts here; just tons of atmosphere, solid acting and a house that makes The Shining’s Overlook look cozy.
After a loss that would destroy most people, brilliant pianist and music professor John Russell (George C. Scott) moves from his memory-ridden upstate New York home to a huge old mansion in Washington state. Since his whole life was torn from him, he thinks the change will do him good, but it looks like he won’t get any breaks. Besides having to deal with his own grief, it appears he has a houseguest, who manifests himself with loud banging noises at 6:00 AM. Repeatedly. And this is the least of his calling cards. Russell is made of strong stuff; rather than leave, he goes to the historical society with his new friend Claire (Scott’s real-life wife Trish Van Devere) to try to research the history of the house. A grim, tight-haired, tight-lipped woman informs him that the sale of the historic old home was a mistake, stating that the house was “unfit” for habitation and didn’t want to be lived in. As the story progresses we see what an understatement this is.
The acting is vital to something like this; otherwise the suspension of disbelief to completely lose yourself in the movie just can’t get out of first gear. Scott does an amazing conveying grief and the motions of trying to create a new life, but the scene that stood out to me is where he’s explaining to the Trish Van Devere character that something is just wrong with his new home. You can feel the character trying to convey what’s happening and struggling to not sound crazy. And how scary-looking is the mansion, even in the daylight scenes? But above all, it’s also a bit “cold around the heart.” Despite how low-key it is, it’s unsettling.
Three chocolate morsels.