Editor’s Note: This article was part of our April Fools 2010 project, in which our site was transported back to April 1, 1980. To see all of the retro articles written for this event, please visit our April Fools 2010 Homepage.
Fact of film – George C. Scott makes everything better. Bad films appear better than they are because of George C. Scott. Good films appear great, and great films become classics. He can do it all. He can lead a United States military to victory, or he can assist in ending the world in hilarious fashion – and, when need be, he can be as calmly terrified as he is calmly terrifying.
In The Changeling, Scott plays music composer John Russell, currently in a state of mourning following the death of his wife and child due to an automobile accident. In an effort to assist in dealing with his grief and getting back to creating music he rents out a large, turn of the century home fit for an artist looking for inspiration and solace.
Not long after Russell settles in he begins to feel as if he’s not the home’s only occupant – constantly hearing obscure noises and some not so obscure ones if he was knowingly not the only person living there. He then becomes consumed by the home’s history, its prior tenants, and begins to unravel a longstanding conspiracy of murder involving the home’s first owner.
At its worst, the film is textbook terror. But, that’s at its worst. It plays well with the use of sound and capitalizes on the eerie presence of the house’s interior architecture. It looks uncomfortable to stay in while being grand to look at. George C. Scott (that guy who makes everything better) displays an understanding of how to un-react so as not to appear overzealously petrified at what’s happening around him, and it’s a fresh spin on the more familiar (though, arguably more accurate) representation of how someone responds to a supernatural occurrence. I can only hope I do as well as he if I’m ever in a similar predicament, but my reaction might not make for good horror; probably decent comedy though.
At its best, the film is a thoroughly engaging murder mystery that seldom ceases to keep you on edge. If the film featured no ghosts of any sorts it could still make for immersive cinema with the non-supernatural elements of the plot. The loud noises, the séance sequence, and the dealings with the tormented spirit of the home are little more than a catalyst to set in motion Russell’s investigation of what happened years ago, and why the house is playing music he just wrote earlier that morning. It’s also a good way to scare the hell out of the patrons, but quite good at being both.
It’s relatively early in the year and The Changeling sets a good precedent for the months to come. It may not be considered amongst Scott’s best work, nor will it be held in as high regard as some of the haunted house pictures of the ‘60s – but it’s definitely a good film that Scott elevates to being very good. The intensity is there for thrills and the intrigue for the curiosity. I wouldn’t be surprised if I find this to be the best haunted house film of the year.