Director Peter Medak's THE CHANGELING is a highly entertaining and very creepy old-fashioned ghost story. It stars award-winning actor George C. Scott as John Russell, a musical composer who still grieves over the tragic deaths of his wife and young daughter (the film opens with the accident in which they are killed). In an attempt to put the loss behind him and move on with his life, Russell accepts a teaching position and moves to another town, where he also rents a rather dilapidated old mansion. It doesn't take long for him to realize that his new domicile is haunted, and when he learns that the ghost is that of a young boy who was stealthily murdered in the early 1900s, he throws himself wholeheartedly into the task of solving the mysterious crime. He is assisted in the endeavor by the real-estate agent who arranged his rental contract, played by Scott's wife Trish Van Devere.
This film follows the old-school, Hitchcockian method of sucking the unwitting audience into the fantasy and thereby creating a genuine visceral horror. Unlike a lot of more contemporary genre fare, THE CHANGELING subtly builds tension by first concentrating on character development. Then, once the audience has some empathy for the protagonists, the details of the haunting and the related crime slowly unfold as the film's atmosphere becomes more & more eerie and more & more unsettling. So when the film's scariest events finally take place, the audience has been psychologically primed for being genuinely spooked.
The acting in this film is superb. In contrast to the arrogant, flamboyantly self-assured characters that Scott is generally famous for playing, his John Russell is a sensitive and vulnerable man who seems truly concerned with the plight of others, and Scott delivers an exceptional performance that is just this side of stupendous. It's a shame that he wasn't offered more roles such as this. The always beautiful Trish Van Devere does a great turn as the real-estate agent who assists Russell, and she does an especially good job and exuding terror when she is confronted vis-à-vis by things that go bump in the night. Also turning in a wonderful performance is the highly revered Melvyn Douglas, here portraying a rather smarmy politician in one of his last roles. Genre fans will recognize Mr. Douglas from an early performance as Roger Penderel in another spook-house film, James Whale's classic THE OLD DARK HOUSE.
Like some of its notable predecessors, this old-fashioned ghost story creates lots of gooseflesh and increases the heart rate without resorting to lots of gratuitous gore or stomach-churning make-up effects. So keep in mind, then, that fans who prefer only blood-and-guts horror may find THE CHANGELING a bit slow going. However, anyone who enjoys great acting, great story-telling, and deep-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach psychological scares will really enjoy watching this oft-overlooked gem. By Michael R Gates
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Looking for the soundtrack:
VERY RARE movie soundtrack to a VERY SCARY haunted house movie! Only 1000 copies were made! This was never meant to be sold as a soundtrack but to be played in stores to promote the movie.