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The Changeling (1980)

The Changeling

They just don't make them like this anymore folks.

File the original 'Changeling' under the spooky category. There's no real violence or gore, but it has plenty of atmosphere, thanks to skillful direction by Peter Medak, who set up most of the shots to appear as though some other presence is watching the action, or leaving room in his shots for a second, unseen, person.

The completely incomparable George C. Scott is John Russell, a composer who lost his wife and young daughter in a tragic car accident. He returns to an empty home, and eventually decides to find some other place to live, as the house is filled with too many happy (and now bitter) memories.

Some colleagues at his alma mater set him up in a home owned by the local historic society, and give him some classes to teach, in order to help him overcome his grief and start working again. The house is gorgeous, with vaulted ceilings, hand-carved balustrades, etc.

This seems rather strange to me in some ways, as Russell has moved from a large New York apartment filled with the memories of his lost family, to a truly gargantuan house with loads of empty space.

It isn't very long before Russell starts to relax into composing on his piano, and begins to enjoy teaching classes. But there's something wrong with the house -- every night at a particular hour a loud banging sound echoes through the house. Russell ignores the noctural poundings as the creaking of an old house, and throws himself into his composing.

Just as Russell is becoming happy with his latest composition, he discovers a hidden doorway leading to a small room in the attic. It is filled to overflowing with dust and cobwebs. Inside he finds toys, and a wheelchair -- sized for a small child. Under blankets of ancient dust he finds a music box. He opens it, and the sad music it plays match his latest composition beat for beat.

Some spiritual force in the house is reaching out for Russell's help, but he's not sure who it is, but is certain that it was a child that has somehow tapped into his grief for his lost daughter. One of the film's spooky moments comes when Russell is going through a desk from his old home, and a red rubber ball falls out onto the floor. He vividly remembers his daughter throwing the ball to him. He picks up the ball and puts it back in the desk.

Moments later there's a banging sound from somewhere in the house. Russells heads to the steps to investigate, and the red ball bounces down the steps and rolls to a stop at his feet.


 He examines the desk, and the ball is gone. He picks up the ball and leaves the house. He stands at the edge of a nearby bridge, overlooking a river. With effort, he drops the ball into the water. He returns home. Moments after arriving there's a banging sound again. The ball bounces down the steps. And this time it's wet.

The ghost and Russell both have a similar problem: they both want to move on spiritually. Eventually Russell decides to help the restless spirit, and once all the details are revealed it is both profoundly sad, disturbing and spooky. I can't stress enough that this is not a film that will give you visceral thrills; it's about spookiness, creepiness, and horror.

The late, great George C. Scott (Patton, The Exorcist III) is, as always, easy to watch.

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