October 15, 2010

Rabid Rewind: The Changeling

Title: The Changeling
Starring: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere
Director: Peter Medak
Screenplay: William Gray & Diana Maddox
Genre: Horror; Paranormal Suspense

This might be the least masculine role I have ever seen performed by George C. Scott. The gruff, scowling face of the guy was meant for those butch roles like in Patton and Firestarter. Portraying a orchestral composer in anguish over the death of his wife and daughter shows a much more vulnerable side to his talents.

I've never seen this movie before. I didn't even know it existed until this summer when it was mentioned in passing on one of the horror blogs on my blogroll. A quick check on my library's website unearthed a copy, so I queued it and watched it one night.

Seeing as it was originally released in the late seventies, there's a particular style to the cinematography that makes it feel less cinematic and more of a teleplay. That might be a bit unfair considering this is a paranormal drama with a pace that is more "slow boil" than what I'm used to these days.

Scott plays John Russell, a composer who moves to Seattle in the wake of his wife's and daughter's untimely deaths. He takes up residence in a rented mansion leased by the historical society of the town, and is instantly charmed by the woman who arranges the lease, Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere). But soon after his arrival, he begins to hear strange noises each morning at six. Loud, thunderous booms that echo through the entire house. At first dismissed as problems with an old furnace, the noises persist and lead Russell to inexorably believe the mansion is haunted. And he is the man to solve the mystery behind the spirit's manifestation.

To watch this movie with a discerning eye, I'm forced to conclude that the writers were instructed to throw as many haunted house tropes as they could fit into the script. As a result, not a lot of it feels cohesive to the plot. For instance, the spirit seems to be confined to manifesting itself solely within the confines of the now diced-up property of a large estate, however, there are moments where its influence is violently shown far away from the mansion. That kind of thing just forces me to wonder why the spirit would seek a grieving old man's assistance in solving its mystery when it can clearly manipulate things beyond the house's walls. If it wanted someone exposed as a fraud, brought to justice, or killed, then it seems odd it would wait so many years before communicating with a man while also wreaking a little havoc of its own.

Oh well, for all the difficulty I had with the logistics of the spirit, I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of the setting and the numerous little jump scares and eery phenomena presented on screen. I love a good ghost story and this movie was a good hodge-podge. Who cares how that ball got back across town, into the house, to fall back down those steps a second time? It was just damned creepy to see it happen.

I can't remember offhand when The Shining came out in theaters, but I'd bet that this movie came out as a cash grab response. Haunted house movies are hot right now, so we need one with a marquee actor! Someone call George C. Scott!!

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