Peter Medak?s The Changeling (1980)
George C Scott, Douglas, music, cinematography, and the house.
ZZZZZZZZ...are we there yet?
The Bottom Line:
Recommended only for Scott fans, and architecture buffs. Good treatment for insomnia. It worked for me.
Without all the fanfare of modern special effects, this movie is a little bit scary with only the use of a couple of very important tools. First, it has a marvelous old house which is roomy and gloomy, and second, it has George C Scott in all his glory, emoting and over emoting as only he can do.
It manages to capture your interest (not your attention) mainly by dealing out the old skeletons from the closet one at a time, in a fairly unexpected manner. When the music builds we darn sure know SOMETHING is going to happen, we just are not sure what. Toss in a few antiques that seem to move on their own, and a boy that never has to really do anything but be there, and Viola, we have a HAUNTING movie.
Generally it takes very little to scare me, I am susceptible to the hocus-pocus supernatural stuff more than most normal people (Normal? ) I honestly felt that I had to work extra hard to keep up the idea that this movie was supposed to be scary. It isn't impossible, just a little difficult. Because to be honest with you, the pace is excruciating, and you have to pay attention to get all the important details. On the Granniemose sleep-o-meter, this one rates a low 2.5 on a scale of 1-10, in spite of the fact that I kept waking her up.
Peter Medak the director, is Hungarian born, and has worked on television projects and major film Industry, starting in British films. The only other movie of his I remember seeing is Species II, which I remember as not as good as Species I. He has dome more work for television including Tales of the Crypt, and producing Wagon Train(!?). His The Ruling Class (1972) is probably his best known film although he is also responsible for the hideous Pontiac Moon.
The filming of the house, the angles of the shooting and just generally , this movie is extremely well photographed. The colors are muted, the tone is dark. But the house and all its angles frames every shot impressively.
THE MUSIC AND SOUND EFFECTS
The original music was composed by Howard Blake and it is one of the best things about this movie. The main character is a composer, and the music he composes is an integral element of the plot. Other classical pieces also exist in this piece, all performed with skill.
The sound effects are actually pretty impressive, especially the noises of the house and the noises the ghost makes within it. The best sound effects have to do with water in this film. At other times the noises and the creepy sounds are just annoying. The child ghost's voice makes me want to tear my hair out. (Whine, whine whine.)
If you saw this movie and said "what special effects?" I would have to agree. Most of the work for the haunting is going to have to occur in your own imagination. A few less stereotypes might have made this film better. Cobwebs and wheelchairs, chandeliers and slamming doors, a skeleton in the cellar, bony fingers, but no gore . For the times I guess it was adequate. Less could have been more.
Oh well. Take a look at the cast notes. It is all about George C Scott, this time. And that's O.K., if you like him. A second title for the movie might be Patton Plays Piano. More later.
THE MAJOR FLAWS
Pacing is the biggest problem. The film is long, and it is tough to sit through it without twitching or wanting to be doing something with your hands. There are a few disturbing times where the film doesn't fit the story(or the expository dialog). For example The ghost was supposed to be a wasted invalid, but looks pretty darn healthy even underwater following his "drowning".
When it gets down to the nitty gritty though, it is the screenplay that is the problem. Credits go to William Gray and Russell Hunter. The dialog is pretty much worthless, the only character that develops is Scott's, and for much of the time, the audience will have to play extremely close attention to figure out what's going on. In addition, the ending did not seem to follow the rest of the flick, except in intent. We already knew the truth was going to be exposed (and we know it halfway through the movie) but the dynamic ending didn't belong with the careful painstaking development of the rest of the flick.
One character, a curator at the Historical Preservation society, seems to "know the truth" and warns the guilty party, but the relationship that would make her privy to that information is never revealed. And at one point, our leading cast member faints dead away after a prolonged seance. I see nothing in his character that should have made this possible.
There is a point too where the ghost turns malevolent, and this development is only explained by what we presume is frustration, but it is never clear to me why he attacks Claire.
The DVD has nothing on it but the film itself, available with closed captioning, and some biographical material on the stars. It is probably better this way.
This is not so much a horror film as a mystery, and not so much a mystery as a thriller. The movie opens on a snowy mountain road, where the Russells are pushing their stalled vehicle up the road. John goes to a telephone booth. There is only one in at least a hundred miles, and John is in it when his wife and daughter are run down by a careening truck that slews into them and over them on the icy road. This bizarre opening certainly whets you appetite for more excitement, but it won't quite hold you until the next adrenalin rush.
The bereaved father moves to Seattle, and takes a job teaching music at a university. He rents an old house, courtesy of the Historical Preservation Society, and gets to know the woman he rented it from. The house is magnificent, and I can almost recommend this film for the sole purpose of discovering it.
Soon though, he finds he is not alone, as a ghost with issues communicates with him. It takes a while for our man John to figure it all out. But you won't hear it from me.
The movie lasts 115 minutes, but it seems longer.
George C Scott-AS John Russell. (Now that is an original name. I shouldn't complain, I had a grandparent born with that surname. ) Either you like Scott or you don't, and I respect his ability. He does an excellent job in this film, but he is a little hard to accept as a sensitive composer of classical music, when he has such a rough and ready exterior. At one point he stands in the middle of the all and shouts at the ghost. Bombastic? I guess. Patton played the piano, a cigarette dangling from his lip, so no one could accuse him of being too sensitive. The man who refused Oscar nominations and received one anyway, (Patton) is definitely worth watching if you are already a fan.
Trish Van De Vere as Claire Norman-This is the friend of the composer, who rents him the old house from the Historical society. There is an implied relationship of more than friendship, but no kissing on screen. These actors should have had good chemistry, though. They had been married for 8 years to each other, when this movie was filmed. Three guesses as how Trish was picked for her role. That was rude of me, because she wasn't bad. They must have cut something from her part, because she has one scene where she is hysterical, but we never see her getting there. Her career started on TV soaps, on The Search for Tomorrow. She is really only in this movie to give Scott someone to talk to.
Melvyn Douglas as Senator Joe Carmichael-This is the second to last film this actor would ever make, and he is old, doddering, and completely believable as the powerful senator. That he is frightened and threatened by Russell's activities as he uncovers the past, we need only to watch his face and see his trembling fingers to know. I would have loved to see this guy on stage in his salad days. I wasn't even a glimmer in those days, and my parents were children.
Jean Marsh as Joanna Russell-British actress who gas a small role as Russell's wife in the first 5 minutes of the flick. Known best for her role in the series Upstairs Downstairs.
John Colicos as Captain De Witt- says OOT instead of OUT, and it never says he is Canadian.( Oh just shut up Jude!) The man who played the first Klingon EVER on Star Trek plays a minor role here. John was also known for his work in the TV series Battlestar Gallactica.
Barry Morse as Parapsychologist-This man has played a million different roles, and played them well. This is a tiny role, as a goofy sounding parapsychologist. Word is that we was trying to sound like his Hungarian born director and succeeded. Known as the pursuing detective in the TV series The Fugitive.
Madeleine Sherwood as Mrs. Norman. This is a well known Canadian actress in a minor role, whose presence in the film serves no useful purpose.
Helen Burns as Leah Harmon-this is the psychic., that runs the seance. She was nominated for a Genie award, but frankly, I found the scene to be one of the most annoying in the entire movie.
Francis Hyland as Elizabeth Grey-the lady that owns the ranch where the body was buried. Well known in Canada. Ho hum.
Ruth Springfield as Minnie Huxley-This person has an evil presence , threatening and devious, and no one really knows why. She coulda been somebody, but we will never know.
Eric Christmas as Albert Harmon-insignificant
Roberta Maxwell as Eva Lingstrom-equally insignificant
Voldi Way, the boy who played the ghost never acted again. He founded a software company at the age of eleven, and I guess he didn't need to. Got his name from his flower children parents.
Janne Mortil, who plays the daughter of Mrs Grey who sees the ghost at the ranch, is still acting. This movie was her debut, and her scream was memorable. Her face looked as though she had drool, but granniemose assured me it was the end of the trail of a large tear.
Oh, there are a few more, but who cares?
I have written this entire review not being sure whether or not I will recommend this movie. If there is that much doubt, then the answer must be no, unless of course you are a George C Scott fan, hungry to watch an effort of his well after his career peaked. The movie is watchable, but it waited 22 years for me, and could probably wait that long for you.