ICFVT: The Changeling (1980)

Hello everyone. I decided to retire Dollar Deals for a month, and instead bring back one of my favorite segments, It Came From Video Tape. I pick up tapes all the time, and I have a huge backlog to cover so this will give me a chance to do just that.

Tonight's tape comes to me by way of my friend, Fran Goria. She has long extolled the virtues of this film, and I think it even made her Halloween Top 5 list. Now the problem with borrowing films from a friend that they love is what to do if you don't like it as well. Well most folks can just tell a couple of white lies and manage to squirm out of giving their friend a straight opinion. Unfortunately for me, I don't have that luxury. Instead I have to give up the low down on why I didn't care for...

The Changeling (1980) starring George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Barry Morse, and Madeleine Sherwood, Directed by Peter Medak.

When the family car gets stalled on a snowy road, composer John Russell (Scott), his wife, and daughter all pitch in to push it along. When John spies a phone booth, he goes to call help. His family begins to frolic and play in the snow. While John looks on helplessly, they are run down by an out of control car.

Four months later, John takes a job teaching at a school in Seattle. Through a friend, he moves into a giant manor house which comes furnished with it’s own piano. Soon enough John begins to hear strange banging noises in the house. The caretaker tries to assure him that, “it’s an old house, it makes noises.”  Soon the activity in the house worsens, and John begins to see visions. Slowly he begins to unravel the secrets to the house, and the history he uncovers begins to weave it’s way through John’s real life tragedy. 

Film Facts

--The film is based on events that transpired at a house in Denver in the 1960's. 

--Lamburto Bava made the unofficial sequel The Changeling 2 in 1987.

--The score by Rick Williams has only been issued for sale twice, and both times limited to 1000 copies. The Changeling is only one of seven movies with music by Williams.

--George C. Scott, who passed away in 1999, started his film career in 1958. 

The Bug Speaks

Perhaps my expectations were too high. Perhaps I just wasn't in the mood for a film with a slow burn. Perhaps it was the dearth any physical scares. It could be any of those things, but in the end the result is the same. I have some very large issues with this film.

Let me start with me expectations first. I love a good ghost story. Hell, I love a bad ghost story so I expected to like this film on that basis alone. After all, I've sat through quite a few stinkers just on the strength of a film involving a haunting. Then there's the man himself, George C. Scott. A wonderful actor who has appeared in many of my favorite films like Hardcore (1979), A Christmas Carol (1984), Dr. Strangelove (1964), and The Hustler (1961). So I was feeling like a combination of a ghost story and Scott could do no wrong. After all Scott excels when he's given a role where he plays a deeply troubled person, and his widowed composer was surely one of those.

Scott does put on a wonderful performance throughout the film, and he is the saving grace to the proceedings. The first problem that really tarnishes the film is the pacing. The film moves at a dreadfully slow pace, and with this being a ghost story devoid of blood, gore, and even jump scares, it was far too easy for me to lose focus during drawn out scenes where the atmosphere is supposed to carry the film. This is of course the other big problem. The large Victorian manor house he settles into would freak me out if I was there (because I would need no convincing that it was haunted). The camera work never really sets the tone to me. I want the house to have an oppressive feel as if John is being watched. It never really gets there though, and the shots where they donate movement on the ghost's part are tragically coupled with swooshing noises that Casper would be embarrassed to make. 

There were a few things other than George C.'s performance that I did enjoy. There is a scene of a seance which I really liked. This was one of a the few points in the film that I felt genuine tension, and I truly thought that this was where the film was really going to pick up. Unfortunately, it mostly lead to more slow scenes where Scott's character was investigating the history. The score is also quite stunning, and it does stand to reason if you're making a film about a composer, the music better really come through. The score does what it can to set the film's tone, but with no help from the visual, we're left with some amazing music that can't deliver. 

I know there are lots of people out there who love this flick, and I thought it was Okay. For my money, I'd just rather spend my ghost watching dollar on The Sentinel or Poltergeist. This film also suffers from being overlong, so be warned that it's run time is nearly 2 hours. If you don't mind a slow burn, you might find a film here that you really enjoy  However, I feel that many horror fans will be disappointed when the film fails to make good on the promise of real scares. That being said, I'm going to give it an average rating because I do feel that it's not a bad film,  just one where my disappointment weighs heavy on my opinion.  

 Bug Rating


  1. By coincidence I watched this with my missus the other week, it was no where near as scary as I remember (I saw it last when it came out on vhs).

    Its a good film but pacing of film has changed a lot since when it came out. Changeling would make a good double bill with one of the early 80s Fulci films by the way.

  2. a good review, of not a bad movie, just not a good one. yer right though. a lot of missed chances for good scares here and there and overall sorta dullsville. i believe Nigel makes a good point about the pacing.

    the banging noise (kid in the tub) that he kept hearing would have been enough spooking for me. old house or no old house. after hearing that i'd be out of the house.

  3. I'd glad both of you gents enjoyed the review. There just seemed to be an element missing from this film to make it feel complete.

    Pacing has changed a lot over the years, and I find there is a style of suspense/horror film in the early eighties such as this flick and The Hand. Both if those films suffer from want of a tighter edit.

  4. You have won a Dardos Award from yours truly!

  5. I love haunting movies, and so I appreciate The Changeling and its atmosphere, esepecially since it arrived in the the middle of the slasher era, but it never get to "11." I do love the scene with the psychic scribbling on paper; very intense.


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