The Changeling (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Peter Medak|
|Screenplay by||William Gray|
|Story by||Russell Hunter|
|Music by||Rick Wilkins|
|Edited by||Lilla Pedersen|
Chessman Park Productions
Canadian Film Development Corporation
|Distributed by||Pan-Canadian Film Distributors (Canada)|
Associated Film Distribution (US)
|Box office||$12 million|
The Changeling is a 1980 Canadian supernatural psychological horror film directed by Peter Medak and starring George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, and Melvyn Douglas. Its plot follows an esteemed New York City composer who relocates to Seattle, where he moves into a mansion he comes to believe is haunted. The screenplay is based upon events that writer Russell Hunter claimed he experienced while he was living in the Henry Treat Rogers mansion in the Cheesman Park neighborhood of Denver, Colorado in the late 1960s; Hunter served as a co-writer of the film.
The film premiered at the USA Film Festival in Dallas,Texas on March 26, 1980, and was released simultaneously in Canada and the United States two days later. It received positive critical reviews, and was an early Canadian-produced film to have major success internationally. The film won eight inaugural Genie Awards, including Best Motion Picture, and was nominated for two Saturn Awards. It is considered one of the best horror films of all time, and one of the most influential Canadian films of all time.
John Russell, a composer from New York City, moves to Seattle, Washington following the deaths of his wife and daughter in a traffic accident while on a winter vacation upstate. He rents a large and eerie Victorian mansion from an agent of the local historic society, Claire Norman, who tells him that the property has been vacant for 12 years.
Not long after moving in, John begins to experience unexplained phenomena, starting with a loud banging every morning. One night, he discovers all of the water taps turned on and sees the apparition of a drowned boy in a bathtub. Soon after a red stained glass window pane shatters as he is outside and, upon investigation, he finds a locked, boarded up door in a closet leading to a hidden attic bedroom. He takes a music box from the mantle and discovers it plays the exact piano tune he has just recorded downstairs. Claire and John investigate the history of the house, believing that the ghost is that of a young girl killed outside the house in a traffic accident in 1909. John holds a seance and overhears the voice of the spirit on audio equipment, calling himself Joseph Carmichael.
John discovers that Joseph was a crippled and sickly six-year-old who was murdered in 1906 by his father Richard because he was unlikely to reach the age of 21, upon which he would have inherited an enormous fortune from his late grandfather. To ensure the inheritance, Richard replaced the dead boy with one procured from a local orphanage and spirited him away to Europe under the pretense of seeking treatment for his condition. After years away, he returned with the boy when he was 18, claiming that he was cured. The boy is now an old man, a prominent U.S. Senator who is also a major patron of the historical society that owns the house.
John's investigation leads him to a property that was once owned by the Carmichael family, where he believes the body of the real Joseph Carmichael was dumped in a well. There, he finds the skeleton of a young child with his christening medal. He attempts to speak to Senator Carmichael but is restrained. The Senator is disturbed to see the medal, as it is identical to the one in his possession. The society cancels John's lease on the house and fires Claire. Carmichael sends a detective, DeWitt, to John's home in an attempt to intimidate him and retrieve the medal. John refuses, and when DeWitt leaves to obtain a search warrant, his vehicle mysteriously crashes, killing him.
After DeWitt's death, the Senator agrees to meet with John, who tells him the story. The Senator refuses to believe it and angrily berates John for accusing his father (who he claims was a "loving man") of murder. John leaves the real Joseph's medal, files and only copy of the seance recording, and apologizes. Claire goes to the house to find John and is chased by Joseph's wheelchair until she falls down the stairs. John arrives and the house begins to shake. He tries to appease Joseph's ghost but falls from the second story, and Joseph lights the house on fire. Simultaneously, the Senator compares the two medals, realizing the truth, before he falls into a trance staring at the portrait of his father. John witnesses the Senator's astral body climbing the burning stairs to Joseph's room. Claire rescues John, while the Senator witnesses the murder of the real Joseph and suffers a fatal heart attack. John and Claire see the Senator's body being loaded into the ambulance.
The next morning, Joseph's burnt wheelchair sits amid the ruins of the mansion and his music box begins playing a lullaby.
- George C. Scott as John Russell
- Trish Van Devere as Claire Norman
- Melvyn Douglas as Sen. Joseph Carmichael
- John Colicos as DeWitt
- Jean Marsh as Joanna Russell
- Barry Morse as Doctor Pemberton
- Madeleine Sherwood as Mrs. Norman
- Helen Burns as Leah Harmon
- Frances Hyland as Mrs. Grey
- Eric Christmas as Albert Harmon
- Roberta Maxwell as Eva Lingstrom
- Bernard Behrens as Robert Lingstrom
- James B. Douglas as Eugene Carmichael
- J. Kenneth Campbell as Colin
- Janne Mortil as Linda Grey
- Terence Kelly as Sgt. Durban
- Michelle Martin as Kathy Russell
- Antonia Rey as Estancia
- Louis Zorich as Stewart Adler
- Voldi Way as Joseph's Ghost
The film's screenplay was inspired by mysterious events that allegedly took place at the Henry Treat Rogers mansion in Cheesman Park, Denver, Colorado, while playwright Russell Hunter was living there during the 1960s. After experiencing a series of unexplained phenomena, Hunter said he found a century-old journal in a hidden room detailing the life of a disabled boy who was kept in isolation by his parents. During a séance, he claimed, the spirit of a deceased boy directed him to another house, where he discovered human remains and a gold medallion bearing the dead boy’s name. Henry Treat Rogers, a wealthy Denver attorney, was childless; but prior inhabitants of the house remain undocumented. The mansion was demolished during the 1980s and replaced with a high-rise apartment building.
While The Changeling is set in Seattle, most of its scenes were filmed in the Canadian cities of Vancouver and Victoria, and their environs. Exceptions include introductory location shooting in New York City and establishing shots of Seattle points of interest, including SeaTac Airport, University of Washington's Red Square, the Space Needle, the Rainier Tower, and the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge. Interior college scenes were shot at the University of Toronto. The Historical Society was Vancouver's historic Hotel Europe. The senator's home was Hatley Castle on the grounds of Royal Roads Military College (now Royal Roads University) in Victoria. Exterior shots of Russell's home were filmed using a facade, erected in front of an existing home in Victoria. The haunted mansion's interior was a series of interconnected sets on a Vancouver movie lot.
Peter Medak was the third director hired for the project. His predecessors, Donald Cammell and Tony Richardson, both withdrew due to "creative differences". Medak was hired with only a month to facilitate script re-writes and set construction.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote in his review of the film: "If it only took craftsmanship to make a haunted house movie, The Changeling would be a great one. It has all the technical requirements, beginning with the haunted house itself... [the film] does have some interesting ideas... But it doesn't have that sneaky sense of awful things about to happen. Scott makes the hero so rational, normal and self-possessed that we never feel he's in real danger; we go through this movie with too much confidence." Edwin Miller of Seventeen wrote that the film was a "visually classy chiller... aided by stunning film locations." Richard Grenier of Cosmopolitan praised Medak's direction, but added: "it is Scott, using the full range of his immense talent, who gives the story its spine-tingling impact," and deemed it the best horror film of the year. Variety also praised the film, noting it as a "superior haunted house thriller."
Ed Blank of the Pittsburgh Press referred to the film as "an unexceptional but diverting horror story with better-than-average performers." A review published in Florida Today praised the film as "the best ghost story of the year," noting Medak's direction as "brilliant," and likening it to The Innocents. The Arizona Republic's Michael Maza wrote a less favorable review, calling the film "a sure-thing haunted house story" and "routine picture" supplemented with "formulaic eerie noises, cobwebbed stairways, crashing glassware and unbelievable coincidences." In The Morning News, the film was noted as a "good ghost story... George C. Scott's demonic energy works well for him here, giving a force and power that might elude a weaker actor. Trish Vandevere is appealing in the role of the historic society woman and Melvyn Douglas is superb as a crusty old millionaire."
Fiona Ferguson of Time Out was critical of the plot, noting: "the leaps made by Scott's agile mind in identifying both victim and usurper leave logic and credence on the starting block." Film 4 noted the film as "a minor classic" and "underrated member of the haunted house movie genre."
The film was released on LaserDisc with a digital Stereo soundtrack by HBO Videos in 1982. The film was also released on DVD by HBO Home Video in 2000. The independent distributor Severin Films announced a limited edition Blu-ray release of the film, which was released in the United States on August 7, 2018.
Awards and recognition
- Best Foreign Actor - George C. Scott
- Best Foreign Actress - Trish Van Devere
- Best Adapted Screenplay - William Gray and Diana Maddox
- Best Art Design - Trevor Williams
- Best Cinematography - John Coquillon
- Best Sound - Joe Grimaldi, Austin Grimaldi, Dino Pigat, Karl Scherer
- Best Sound Editing - Patrick Drummond, Dennis Drummond, Robert Grieve
The Soundtrack to The Changeling was released by Percepto Records on CD on December 21, 2001 and was limited to 1,000 copies. On April 13, 2007, Percepto released a 2-CD "Deluxe Edition" of the soundtrack, which was also limited to 1,000 copies and has subsequently been sold out.
|2.||"The First Look"||1:46|
|4.||"Music Box Theme for Piano"|
|9.||"Music Box Theme"||1:45|
|13.||"Carmichael Reflects / On the Floor"||2:18|
|14.||"Face on the Bedroom Floor"||1:59|
|17.||"Mirror, Mirror on the Wall"||1:11|
|18.||"The Attic Calls Clair"||3:52|
|21.||"The Seance (Alternate Version)" (bonus track)||7:09|
|22.||"Carmichael's Demise" (bonus track)||3:43|
|23.||"Piano Solos" (bonus track)||1:37|
|24.||"Alternate End Titles" (bonus track)||2:31|
- Deluxe edition
|3.||"Arrival at the House"||1:48|
|7.||"The Door Opens by Itself"||0:21|
|8.||"Music Box Theme for Piano"||2:06|
|11.||"Finding the Secret Door"||3:33|
|12.||"Up Into the Attic"||2:47|
|13.||"Music Box Theme"||1:47|
|15.||"Microfilm Research / Cemetery"||1:30|
|16.||"Ball Over the Bridge / It's Back!"||3:17|
|17.||"The Seance / Talk to Us!"||7:14|
|19.||"Wheelchair / Carmichael Tower"||1:00|
|21.||"The House on the Lake"||1:56|
|22.||"Breaking into the House"||0:54|
|23.||"Face on the Bedroom Floor"||2:01|
|24.||"The Chain Appears in the Dirt"||3:47|
|25.||"All the Doors Shut"||1:12|
|26.||"Mirror, Mirror (Vision of Death)"||1:13|
|27.||"Russell Goes to See Carmichael"||2:02|
|28.||"The Attic Calls Clair"||3:53|
|29.||"The Big Finale / Resolution"||5:55|
|30.||"Music Box / End Credits"||3:13|
|1.||"The Seance (Alternate Version)"||7:11|
|2.||"Carmichael's Demise (Unused Cue)"||3:45|
|3.||"Alternate End Title"||2:31|
|5.||"Unused String Quartet (V1)"||0:48|
|6.||"Unused String Quartet (V2)"||1:17|
Music from the film also included:
- Mozart, Rondo in A minor for Piano, K. 511
- Brahms, Symphony #1 in C minor, Opus 68
- Brahms, Scherzo from Quintet in F minor, Opus 34
In 1987, Italian director Lamberto Bava directed Until Death, an unofficial made-for-television film that was marketed as a sequel for its home video releases; however, there is no connection between the films.
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- Nowell 2010, p. 260.
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- "'Best Ghost Story of the Year'". Florida Today. Marquee. Cocoa, Florida. April 18, 1980. p. 11 – via Newspapers.com.
- Maza, Michael (March 28, 1980). "Routine horror haunts 'Changeling'". The Arizona Republic. Phoenix, Arizona. p. 84 – via Newspapers.com.
- "'Changeling' a good ghost story". The Morning News. Wilmington, Delaware. March 28, 1980. p. 32 – via Newspapers.com.
- Ferguson, Fiona. "The Changeling Review". Time Out. London. Archived from the original on December 14, 2009. Retrieved June 9, 2018.
- Film4 Staff. "Changeling, The". Film4. Archived from the original on October 30, 2010. Retrieved May 20, 2018.
- "The Changeling [DVD]". Amazon. Retrieved June 12, 2018.
- Evry, Max (June 6, 2018). "The Changeling Blu-ray Brings the Classic Horror Thriller Home". ComingSoon.net. Retrieved June 12, 2018.
- The Changeling (1980) - Awards
- Scorsese, Martin (October 28, 2009). "11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time". The Daily Beast. Retrieved November 15, 2009.
-  Archived October 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
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- Nowell, Richard (2010). Blood Money: A History of the First Teen Slasher Film Cycle. New York: Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-1-441-12496-8. OCLC 939942165.