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Film: The Changeling

The Changeling is a 1980 Canadian horror film directed by Peter Medak, starring George C Scott, Trish Van Devere and Melvyn Douglas. It has been described as one of the scariest films of all times by Martin Scorsese, and was a direct inspiration for The Others.

After losing his wife and daughter in a freak car accident, well-known composer John Russell (Scott) moves into the Chessman House in Seattle to rebuild his life. There, he experiences several supernatural events, prompting him to research the history of the place. With the help of his friend, Claire Norman (Van Devere), he uncovers a horrific crime that was committed in the house years ago. The beneficiary of that crime is still alive and prosperous. However, the long-dead victim won't let them rest until justice is meted out.

Despite the relatively stereotypical plot, the film is memorable due to its off-beat tone, the performance of its leads, and some genuinely disturbing moments.


This movie contains examples of:

  • Adult Fear: After witnessing the death of your only child, you have to re-live the murder of another child, whose spirit won't let you rest until you help him.
  • Broken Pedestal: The Senator can't think of his foster father the same way again, ever.
  • Cobweb Jungle: The hidden room in the attic.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: It's implied that the deaths of his wife and daughter have numbed John to the point he can be stoical in the face of nightmare fuel.
  • Crusty Caretaker: Averted. Mr Tuttle's actually quite obliging.
  • Damsel in Distress: For a short while, Claire when she's being chased by the wheelchair.
  • Deadly Bath: Poor Joseph.
  • Dull Surprise: John's reaction to the medal revealing itself. Justified, as by then, he has seen it all.
  • Emotional Fainting: John after witnessing Joseph's murder.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: During the seance scene, John tries not to look cynical but fails to dissimulate his skeptical expression.
  • First Name Basis: Off-screen, some time during the horse-ride, John and Claire drop the prefixes and surnames.
  • Gentleman and a Scholar: John Russell's a Nice Guy and a distinguished composer.
  • Girl Next Door: Claire Norman.
  • Good Is Not Soft: Russell.
  • Haunted House: And not just one.
  • Hurting Hero: John Russell's coping with the deaths of his wife and daughter, and a Haunted House. Arguably, though, the Haunted House diverts his mind from his grief.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted: Kathy, Cora and Joseph had their lives tragically cut short.
  • Just Friends: Implied with John and Claire.
  • Karma Houdini: Joseph's dad
  • Maybe Ever After: The ending implies that Claire will stand by John and help him recover from what has been his second ordeal in less than six months.
  • Mirror Scare: Captain DeWitt doesn't get very far after threatening to institutionalise John.
  • Mood Whiplash: At least twice.
    • The opening scene begins with John, Joanna and Kathy laughing about being stuck in the snow, and quickly turns into the worst embodiment of Adult Fear when Joanna and Kathy are run over by a car, as John is forced to watch helplessly from a telephone booth.
    • Another scene opens as a tearjerker, with John grieving over Kathy's death, but unexpectedly turns into nightmare fuel as loud, banging noises fill the whole house and interrupt John in his grief.
  • Motif: The red-and-white striped ball represents Russell's inability to get over Kathy's death until it becomes an independent source of horror.
  • Nerves of Steel: Russell/G.C.Scott's portrayal of him. What kind of man decides to dig up evidence deep down a haunted well all by himself, in the middle of the night? That too, after the remains of a dead child were found in the same spot just a few hours ago.
  • Not So Stoic:
    • A poignant example when Russell cries in bed, thinking of his daughter.
    • Another memorable moment: "Joseph! You G**d*** son of a bitch!"
  • Nothing Is Scarier: One of the best examples of this.
  • Offing the Offspring: Joseph's father murdered him and replaced him with a healthier "changeling" to prevent his inheritance from going to charity in case Joseph died early.
  • Ominous Music Box Tune: The musicbox found in the hidden room.
  • Red Herring: Cora.
  • Spooky Seance: It leads to the protagonists uncovering who's actually haunting the Chessman House, and why.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Both John and the audience find it hard not to feel sorry for the Senator once we know his role in the story.
  • Unfinished Business: Joseph won't rest until the beneficiary of his murder is punished.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Joseph at the end, perhaps.
  • The Usurper: Deconstructed with Senator Joseph Carmichael - he had little choice in matter at the time.

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