Thursday, October 14, 2010

31 days, 31 faves: The Changeling

As is obvious from the amount of ghost stories I've had on this month's 'favorites' posts, I'm a rather big fan of a well told spooky tale. The Changeling (1981) - and no, not that Angelina Jolie movie! - is one such film. One of the best.

John Russell (George C. Scott) has recently moved from NYC to the outskirts of Seattle due to the untimely death of his wife and child in a freak accident he was unfortunate enough to witness. (And I really must mention that old George looks more like a grandfather in this movie than a father. The young girl is like, ten. The mother/wife no more than 30. George already looks 70. Weird. Just weird.)

He ends up renting a beautiful old manor house that has been owned by the local historical society yet unoccupied for the past twelve years.
That'd be your first clue.

He strikes up a friendship with Claire (Trish Van Devere), the woman from the historical society who showed him the house. They meet up again at the symphony, where one of the main benefactors, a state senator named Joseph Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas), is giving a speech about donations to keep the symphony going. Claire, and her mother who has tagged along, both don't think too much of Carmichael, all but calling him crooked.
The next day, when Claire brings some things over to the house that have been in storage, she helps him unpack, finding a ball that his daughter used to play with. One awkward moment later and Claire is dashing to leave, but ends up taking John with her out riding.
I smell a romance brewing here...

A music composer and professor, John soon sets about getting back to a symphony he'd been writing when weird things start to happen. Windows break for no reason. Doors open and close without being touched. But worst of all, John wakes several days in a row to a banging sound that would send me running for the hills. He voices his concerns to the handyman, who reassures him that old houses make strange noises.
Yeah, that makes it all okay.

When he goes to the historical society to ask if there's ever been any problems at the house, though Claire isn't able to tell him anything Mrs. Huxley, one of the heads of the board, complains to him that Claire rushed his paperwork through before consulting with everyone else, and that the house "isn't fit to live in", adding that "it doesn't want people." O....kay.

Finding that rather silly, John continues his search for answers (because he's still getting the regular banging noises and sometimes hears what sounds like voices). Snooping around a bit more, he finds a hidden attic door covered over with a bookcase. Upon breaking into the room by banging off the huge lock with a wrench ('s a rental, keep that in mind) he gains entry and finds a child's room, covered in cobwebs and dust. Stranger still is the music box he opens - it is playing the exact melody that John had "composed" earlier that week.
NOW it's time to get the hell out.

But NO, he brings Claire into the investigation. They research the house history but really can't find anything conclusive. Mrs. Huxley gives them the name of the family that lived in the house prior to 1920, but before they check into that, they head to the attic of the house and find an old child's wheelchair. Interest piqued, they head to the local library and discover a little girl was hit by a car and killed right outside the house. Naturally this takes him to the cemetery where she is buried, which brings back the horrible memories of his daughter's death. John feels the house is trying to reach out to him, because of the similarities between the death of the little girl Cora and his own daughter.

Even though Claire warns him to leave the house, we find John sitting in his library later, looking through an old photo album of his family. Suddenly, his daughter's ball comes bouncing down the steps and stops right outside the doorway of the library. Rattled, John takes the ball and drives out to a bridge outside of town where he promptly tosses the ball over the side.
Not five minutes after he returns, he hears some quiet laughter and the ball comes bouncing down the stairs yet again, and this time, John is downright terrified. Who wouldn't be?
Amazingly, he STILL doesn't leave. He next goes to consult a psychic researcher, who suggests they hold a seance at the house.

The night of the seance, the medium agrees something about the house is troubling. She does psychic handwriting while under her "trance" and though she isn't writing actual words or sentences, her scribbling becomes more and more frenzied as they go along. She seems to be able to speak to the ghost at the house, and the further she goes, she starts to actually write words, like yes or no. They ask if Cora is the one haunting the house but she writes no. (This woman is a human Ouija Board!) When she asks the spirit's name it writes Joseph.

This isn't the best news to get, considering they thought the ghost's name was Cora. The spirit continues to talk through the psychic, claiming it wants John to help him. When it seems like she's went a bit too far, apparently the ghost gets pissed, throwing the cone in the center of the table across the room to break a glass dish on the mantle.
And he STILL doesn't leave. Guess he's just too far gone now.

The next day he plays back the recording of the seance, only to hear a very quiet voice whispering the answers to the questions. Indeed the ghost admits his name is Joseph.
Now, more intrigued than anything else, John just can't let it go. When he hears Joseph whispering something about his father is the reason he died, and then something about a medal, John is shown a glimpse of the past in which an older man is drowning a young boy in a bathtub. The child, being held by his feet, continually bangs on the side of the cast iron tub (hence the banging sounds John had been hearing), until he finally dies. It is only then that the ghost mutters his last name. Carmichael. Just like the senator.

So at this point, John is barely able to contain his feelings of grief and is utterly overwhelmed at what he's discovered. He calls Claire, but as he's talking to her, he passes out (in fine dramatic fashion, I have to say!)
While most people should be heading off to the hospital, he seems to have recovered fairly quickly, as in the next scene we see Claire, overcome with sadness after having listened to the recordings herself. When John comes to her side to comfort her, she stares up the stairs with such a look of extreme fear you'd have thought Satan himself was standing there. Instead, it's the dirty old wheelchair they found in the attic. Quite a spooky moment.

The search and eventual discovery of the true mystery of the house and the ghost is as interesting and compelling as an Agatha Christie novel. There are some truly chilling moments in the movie, and just when you think you have things figured out, you don't.
I have no intention of giving away the ending, as I think everyone should see this film for themselves, as this one of the best ghost stories I think has ever been produced. So if that's you cup of tea, drink up - cause this is one fine film.


Bleaux Leaux said...

Not much I can add to what's already been said here. "The Changeling" is absolutely among the few truly elite horror films, with George C. Scott in one of his all time greatest roles.

Cinema Du Meep said...

What a creep fest. Love The Changeling.