Posted on October 4, 2011 by Steven Dawes
“That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.”
As Flames Rising is looking for ghost related posts for this year’s Halloween season, I found this to be an opportune time to dive into some ghost flicks. And while I’m the kind of mook who’s all about “saving the best for last”, I’m going completely opposite with this one. “The Changeling” was chosen as my first ghost story flick to review, and honestly, it’s the movie that I hold all ghost movies in terms of masterpiece quality.
The story centers around John, whose wife and daughter die in a tragic accident before his very eyes. Six months later he tries to move on with his life, taking a job as a music teacher and moves into an old house. However, he’s not residing there alone. Something ghostly is trying desperately to communicate with him. What exactly does it want from him? The story sounds very “Haunted House cliché” these days, but DO NOT judge this one by its cover! This one is the real deal! This is the one all the others haunted house movies strive to be!
I was ruined at an early age to ghost story movies when I first watched this masterpiece, due to having parents who possess true film savvy. It’s one of those rare films that cost me a lot of sleep after watching it. And to the films credit, this wasn’t even its intention. At its heart, The Changeling is a mystery film; the hauntingly creepy aspect that worms its way into the darkest recesses of your memory is unintentional.
Before I go any further, I must tell you that I have NOTHING but good things to say about this movie, it’s that good! First and foremost was the amazing work of George C. Scott in the lead role, who delivers what I consider his best on screen performance (and yes I’ve watched Patton). This role required a demandingly skilled actor who subtly displays his skill, and George footed this bill with interest. This was important to the film as George has about 95% of the screen time. I honestly cannot see anyone else pulling off this role at all, much less as masterfully as he did. One scene in particular pitted him against Melvyn Douglas (another quality veteran actor), and watching these two genius actor hash out a scene together still engrosses and grabs me to this day.
As for the mystery of this film, it’s clever, it’s gloomy, and it’s messed up. And yet, the mystery is delivered at a pace that keeps you engrossed until all is revealed at the end (nothing is given away too soon here). The precision involved in delivering the mystery at the just the right pace made the haunted house angle that much more disturbing when it comes out to play. The house itself is a character in this piece, and it’s initially beautiful, antique atmosphere hides the inherit creepiness and disturbing visuals that are to come. This is not a gory film, and it didn’t need to be. The moments of its disturbing imagery alone still haunt me to this day (something most gore fests never accomplish). This house gets under your skin while begging you see solve the mystery with John, and I applaud its efforts for it!
The direction of Peter Medak is also all quality here. His use of the camera (can’t say I’ve ever seen better use of swooping in a film), backed up by a subtle musical score (that’s chilling on its own merits) and his master use of sound effects only made the film that much better. I don’t know whatever happened to this guy, his work is incredible! Checking into IMDB shows a history of him becoming TV show director fodder, with the exception of directing Species 2 back in ’98. Such a waste of talent is shameful in my book.
As far as I’m concerned, they DO NOT make them like this one anymore, if they ever really did at all. This one is a treasure and reward for the patient film watcher, and reminds us just how scary and yet captivating a ghost story can be. Its goes at its own pace, while holding you hostage to its charm on all levels. If you haven’t seen this one yet, it’s the perfect time of year to sit down and experience it (and what an experience it is). This one sits proudly in my DVD collection and I watch it at least once a year. I encourage you to purchase it (if you haven’t already) and take the time to get chilled to the bone with this one soon.
P.S. If you can still look at wheelchairs the same after watching this, you’re either a tougher hombre than I am, or your soulless.
5 out of 5 rising flames!
Review by Steven Dawes