‘The Changeling’ is a 1980 horror film about a composer who has lost his wife and child in a tragedy. Hiring a very large house for one person–which anyone who has ever been to the cinema would suspect is haunted to the rafters and not the best choice for a man with his own ghosts to deal with. Of no surprise to anyone but him and the realtor who dropped casually into conversation that the house hasn’t been able to attract residents for 12 years, he begins to encounter strange noises and occurrences… What can it mean? A ghost. And it’s time to leave. Now. For him–and for us. That’s what it means…
‘The Changeling’ is cited in many reviews as being one of the most frightening horror movies. The people that think this should not watch ‘American Horror Story’ season 1 or 2, ‘Mama’ and ‘Insidious’, and probably shouldn’t watch Doctor Who’s ‘Blink’. They might actually die of fear. OK, that’s modern horror, and it’s unfair to compare modern and vintage horror. Yet it’s equally unfair that film’s get titles of ‘most frightening’ when they’re undeserving of it–which seems to happen with older movies. I know ‘opinions’ and all that, but ‘The Omen’, ‘The Exorcist’, ‘The Entity’ ‘The Nanny’, are all older horrors, not a 100% effective now with the advancements in cinematography and the desensitisation of audeinces through the excesses of modern horror, but they have thrills and chills and set pieces and are entertaining, and I consider them good films in and of themselves despite their age.
‘The Changeling’ has none of these redeeming qualities. It’s a slow ponderous mystery with a confused resolution. Haunting’s are typically evil ghosts that want the house to themselves and are willing to kill for that outcome, or they are wronged spirits that want the living to act in bringing justice to the still living wrong-doers. This film’s spiritual lead is both of these, the ghost is of a murdered boy, and the justice he wants? Well, hard to say. He definitely wants to be left alone in the house, but the perpetrator of the murder? Well, he’s long dead. The only relative can’t really right the wrong, and really, without giving any spoilers away, he would’ve been too young to be held accountable. He sure as well couldn’t unmurder the boy. So, it’s a ghost film that has little plot, and what there is can’t be satisfyingly resolved.
It’s such a shame because its age, approach and music sets it tonally alongside ‘The Omen’ but it just can’t stand up to it. I’m not a fan of ‘Don’t Look Now’, but it’s superior to this. ‘The Changelling’ does have an effectively strong start rooted in the tragedy of the main character losing his wife and child in a horrific accident. But, while this did give him a reason to seek isolation, it feels like his loss should have been more prevalent, escpecially as his daughter’s ball is used to creepy effect in a couple of scenes. It’s a shame there wasn’t some kind of transference or connection between his loss of a child and the dead boy’s loss of his childhood.
I read that a lot is made of the audioscape for the film, and while the spiritual goings on are mainly portrayed through the audio work, it didn’t feel enough, perhaps some creative directing, some quickcut editing, would have complimented the ghostly sounds. Even the lauded seance scene fell flat for me–it really should have ramped the fear up. While this kept me company suffering with flu, sadly this is an overrated horror, lacking enough plot and scares for the running time to feel anything more than an unsatisfying watch. I would give it two bouncing balls out of five. You can find something better to watch. Or I’ll come round and scare you instead.
Are you one of the people that genuinely finds this film frightening? I’d love to know what you find frightening about this film. I can’t help thinking a lot of kids watched this and found this ‘adult’ film scary and haven’t re-evaluated it now they’re older, or the memory cheats in regard of how scary the film actually is… What do you think?