Monday, May 17, 2010

The Changeling (1980)

I was recommended to see this by a friend who claimed that it was so scary, when watching it by himself he actually had to turn it off.

I did not watch it by myself.

The Changeling is one of those ghost stories where someone has a terrible family tragedy, then finds themselves living in a haunted house. The haunting is unrelated to the tragedy, but the fact of it seems to have drawn the ghost to the bereaved person.

This is a good movie, highlighted by a strong performance from George C. Scott in the central role. He plays a character whose reaction to a haunting is not to run screaming into the night, but to try to do something about it. When he hears the strange noises and witnesses the strange phenomena, he does not write it off as impossible, but rather he assumes there is a ghost and goes out of his way to find out what it wants to try to lay it to rest.

As I'm sure everybody knows, a changeling is a creature that is left in the place of a real child which has been spirited away by beasties. It's sometimes used to describe non-supernatural child swapping as well, and it's the latter definition that's appropriate here. (This is a supernatural ghost story, but there are no other kinds of beasties except in a metaphorical sense.)

I did not find this movie as gibberingly terrifying as my friend, who will remain nameless. Part of this might have been simply because I was watching it in good company, but I also think that it was quite clear from early on that the ghost was not actually a threat. Compared to a vengeful ghosts in movies like Ring and Candyman, this one is gentle.

The movie followed genre lines to the point of being somewhat predictable, but I didn't mind. It was well shot and spooky, featured an effective score, and was nicely acted by a very capable cast. I didn't think it was as exemplary as its reputation suggested (it had been talked up in reliable horror movie tomes such as Stephen King's Danse Macabre and Kim Newman's Nightmare Movies) but it was solid and entertaining.

Out of the handful of stories I've looked at so far, this was probably the most traditional ghost story. The ghost is of a specific person; the protagonist is trying to put right something that was terribly wrong; there are guilty family secrets and an unpunished murder; sinister characters start to tell the protagonist something, but stop after letting something slip that they shouldn't have; there are plenty of knockings, objects moving by themselves, and mysteriously shattering pieces of glass, etc.

According to wikipedia the story was based on true events. Aren't they always?

Tomorrow, The Willows.

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