A personal favourite of mine this, The Changeling (1979) starring George C. Scott (Firestarter ’84, The Exorcist III ’90) as composer John Russell.
After Russell’s wife and daughter are killed in an accident he rents a huge historical house where he can live and work, composing at the piano. He soon begins to experience strange and frightening phenomena and sets about investigating the property in what is in essence a beautifully traditional ghost story rivalling even The Amityville Horror ’79 and The Shining ’80, and I’m not saying that lightly, it really does.
George C. Scott is as phenomenal as ever, one of my favourite actors ever in fact; I can’t even read Legion, sequel to The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty, which I am reading at the moment, without picturing Scott as Detective Kinderman, and believe me, this only adds to the novel.
Yes, The Changeling is ‘scary’ as well as engrossing, if engrossing isn’t enough, the paranormal activity is wonderfully subtle and memorable. I must tip my hat to the director, Peter Medak, for a film that literally doesn’t put a foot wrong for its entire duration. When John listens to the recording he makes at a seance in the house the film becomes a masterclass in how to deliver a haunted house film and the little wheelchair featured on the poster should be an iconic image of horror cinema if ever there was one.
The film certainly gets around and adds location after location to a film that could have got away, I suppose, with confining itself to the house itself; using the Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, for example, adds a major touch of class and scale, and this film is all about class and scale.
I’m not even going to mention ‘special effects’ as this and indeed other outstanding films from the 70s/80s simply transcend that kind of thing and deliver the goods supremely well, dated or not; I can’t take criticisms of films like this or The Exorcist ’73 or The Omen ’76 or many other true classics seriously even as they just seem so fatheaded and pointless. Films age, technology advances but you can’t knock a classic and expect anything less than berating by true film buffs who if they had to pick a list of desert island horror films certainly wouldn’t be choosing Insidious ’10 or Mama ’13; I mean get real! And no, I’m not being overtly nostalgic; you get your shit together and make a film as decent as this, the ones I’ve mentioned or others at the same level of quality and I’ll gladly rave about that.
Anyway, The Changeling concludes its story brilliantly, it’s a consistently great film from end to end and I would highly recommend it to anyone.