The Changeling (1980)

The Changeling (1980)

The impressive Cheesman house has a dark and sinister history: and it appears that “it doesn’t want people”. It does have a new resident in the form of John Russell (George C. Scott), who will have to face the horrors and ominous revelations of the old house’s menacing history. Genuinely disturbing in a supernatural and understated in its instigation, the recently restored The Changeling beckons you to approach the horrors of its house within the safety of your own.

John Russell’s planned winter holiday with his wife and daughter comes to a terrifying end when they die in a car accident as he phones for roadside assistance when their car breaks down. Seeking some solitude from his grief, the music composer and lecturer seeks accommodation where he can work on completing his new symphony. An ideal home is available for rent from the local Historical Society. Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere) is keen to accompany John to his new lodgings to assist with his move and explain the long vacant house’s importance to the society, despite some acerbic reactions from some of the older members who know more of its history than she. Indeed Russell’s residence seems to trigger a series of odd but minor effects, instances of strange noises and movement of objects, breaking glass and even his daughter Cathy’s ball randomly bouncing down the stairs. He puts these down to strange coincidences but their incidence increases, with disturbing banging noises. Old artefacts and a slim wheelchair in the upper room seem to demand John’s attention. When he learns that the house has a “history of things happening”, Claire suggests that a clairvoyant might be able to conduct a séance to see if there are any spiritual shenanigans connected with these creepy occurrences. It soon becomes clear that traumas have occurred both inside and outside of the house with potential repercussions that could spread to the present day in more ways than they could have imagined.

The Changeling is often cited, correctly, as one of the most classic and creepy haunted house movies. The undoubted pinnacle of haunted house films The Haunting (1963) is terrifying but the premise that it is haunted is there from the opening, as it is the whole reason for the protagonists being in the house in the first place. In However, in The Changeling we are presented with a mystery to uncover. What sets The Changeling apart from many examples of the horror sub-genre is its pace, intellect and tone. While it contains the sudden jumps expected of the genre, the revelations are slow to unfold and do so in the context of the protagonist’s grief. As a result when the truths are revealed the spiritual elements are intertwined with darker contemporary issues which also address elements of both fear and power. This adds a degree of realism to even the most obvious genre scares and adds to the convincing nature of the story, despite the ghostly frights that place the film in the realm of the fantastical.

Included in the release are a plethora of extra features that are fascinating, particularly in the contemporaneous perspectives they offer, such as ‘The Music of The Changeling’ with Kenneth Wannberg, as the unexpected musical themes accentuate the tone of the film beyond the protagonist’s profession. Perhaps most interesting to the viewer is ‘The House on Cheesman Park’ – The Haunting True Story of The Changeling documentary which looks at historical factors that relate to the underlying district, its dark history and its modern day environment, including a haunted mansion that is, admittedly, less gothic than its cinematic counterpart but in many ways more interesting because of it. But these are just some of the plethora of offerings on the disc.

Overall this is a nicely restored version of a classic haunted house film. It shies from viscera and instant scares in favour of characterisation and revelation. But that is not to deny the horror; the central premise for the story is revealed not simply in an instant flashback but in an extended sequence that is utterly terrifying. Without this scene the film would not have garnered more than a PG rating, although it is distinctly adult in its execution and themes.

The Wound (Inxeba 2017)

Tribal coming-of-age initiation ritual for the Xhosa men take the form of an annual meeting, away from the cities, amidst the mountains of the Eastern Cape. John Trengove's compelling Oscar nominated film depicts the ancient rituals outside the contemporaneity of city...

read more

Polina Moshenska Interview

Polina Moshenska was born in Kiev, Ukraine and moved to Thessaloniki, Greece after a chance encounter with her future Greek husband at a film festival. From 2011-12 Polly worked as a First Assistant Director on the film Life Span of the Object in Frame by Oleksandr...

read more

The Midwife (Sage femme, 2017)

“What would you do if someone from your past reappeared?” And what would you do if your step-mother, who is a bit like Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous, suddenly appears in your life after thirty years, with the intention of starting an endless party in your presence?...

read more

Entertaining Mr Sloane (1970)

“He's attracted to adversity.” Director Douglas Hickox's succinct and uproarious adaptation of Joe Orton's play manages to make the transition from stage to screen thanks to a well executed adaptation by Clive Exton. Although this is a drama with only four notable...

read more

Electric Dreams(1984)

A “fairytale for computers” conjures memories of music, fashion and film from times past in this reissue of Electric Dreams in all its amusing sweet innocence. In the year following the launch of the personal computer Electric Dreams takes the 'personal' element as...

read more

Dreamscape (1983)

“For once in your life try to use your gift for something positive.” Dreams can prove to be a delight or a nightmare, depending on whether they take the form of a romantic embrace, the prospect of self-provoked apocalypse or a bloodthirsty encounter with a monstrous...

read more

The Levelling (2016)

Hope Dickson Leach's debut drama is one that addresses of a number of issues as a father and daughter attempt to understand the son's recent brutal death whilst coming to terms with their own differences - their confrontations from the past and their expectations for...

read more