Last night I watched The Changeling from 1980. In doing so I didn’t watch the film renowned as being a pioneer in the haunted house genre. I couldn’t have, for that film is universally acknowledged as being one of the scariest films in history.
When composer and musician John Russell loses his wife and daughter in the same accident, he decides to occupy his mind by creating more music, renting a large spacious, once-luxurious fixer upper recommended by a historical society.
It doesn’t take long before the house pushed back at the unwelcome intruder, providing a loud rhythmic pulsing wakeup call at 6 am, and numerous other disconcerting signs and noises that do everything but scream ‘GET OUT JOHN!’.
John discovers a boarded up attic that might well have been empty for decades, with a dust covered wheelchair among the other furnishings, and a music box that when wound up plays a beautiful tune. The same tune John himself wrote only since moving into the new home.
John decides that the house is talking to him, while the building superintendant ominously informs him that ‘it just doesn’t want people’. So it’s either a talking house or not a people-house, you decide. John decides to investigate with a young woman named Clare in tow. They conduct tests and experiments and in the film’s best scene – a séance complete with a medium.
As John continues his research about the home’s previous inhabitants, he appears to be closing in on the truth, but things/forces/groups conspire to make his search more difficult.
Big houses don’t get smaller at night. They do get darker.
Perhaps the scare factor has been dialled down by decades of plot twists, buckets of blood and guts and frankly better films, but films like The Ring, Stir of Echoes and even What Lies Beneath have all done this… I was about to say ‘before’. Of course none of those films did this before, I just saw them before I saw this.
As a result last night’s viewing of The Changeling wasn’t scary. Or unnerving. Or ultimately worth the weeks it took to hunt down.
Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. A decent film tainted by three decades of films that most likely built upon the foundations it laid. I am happy to give it credit, I’d just rather watch the films that took the concept and improved it.