The Changeling (film)

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The Changeling
Changeling ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Peter Medak
Produced by Joel B. Michaels
Garth H. Drabinsky
Written by Russell Hunter
William Gray
Diana Maddox
Starring George C. Scott
Trish Van Devere
Melvyn Douglas
John Colicos
Jean Marsh
Helen Burns
Madeleine Sherwood
Music by Rick Wilkins
Cinematography John Coquillon
Edited by Lilla Pedersen
Lou Lombardo (sup)
Distributed by Associated Film Distribution
Release date
March 28, 1980 (U.S. & Canada)
Running time
107 minutes
Country Canada
Language English
Budget $600,000
Box office $5.3 million[1]

The Changeling is a 1980 Canadian psychological horror film directed by Peter Medak and starring George C. Scott and Trish Van Devere (Scott's real-life wife). The movie's executive producers were Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna; its screenplay is based upon events that writer Russell Hunter claimed he experienced while he was living in the Henry Treat Rogers mansion in Denver, Colorado.[2][3]


John Russell (George C. Scott), 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. John rents a large and eerie Victorian-era mansion from an agent of the local historic society, Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere), who tells him that the property had been vacant for 12 years.

Not long after moving in, John begins to experience unexplained phenomena, starting with a loud banging which resounds through the house every morning. One night John finds the water taps turned on and sees the apparition of a drowned boy in a bathtub. Days later he discovers a hidden attic bedroom behind a concealed door, which contains a child's wheelchair. Claire helps John to investigate the history of the house and its previous tenants, initially believing that the ghost is that of a young girl killed outside the house in a traffic accident in 1909. John holds a seance at the house and overhears the voice of the spirit caught on audio recording equipment, calling himself Joseph Carmichael.

After further investigation, John discovers that Joseph was a crippled, sickly six-year-old who was murdered (in 1906) by his father Richard because he was unlikely to have reached the age of 21, upon which he would have inherited an enormous fortune from his late maternal grandfather. To ensure the inheritance, Richard replaced the dead boy with one adopted 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 of his illness. The boy is now an old man (Melvyn Douglas), a prominent U.S. Senator and business tycoon who is also a major patron of the historical society which 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. The owner of the house built on the site, Mrs. Gray, at first refuses to allow John to excavate, but gives her permission after Joseph's ghost visits her young daughter at night and terrifies her. John finds the skeleton of a young child, together with his christening medal, which he conceals from police.

John attempts to speak to Senator Carmichael as he is about to depart by plane but is restrained by police. 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, Captain DeWitt, to John's home in an attempt to intimidate John and retrieve the medal. John refuses, and when DeWitt leaves to obtain a search warrant, his vehicle mysteriously crashes, killing him.

After hearing of DeWitt's death, the Senator agrees to meet with John, who tells him the entire story. The Senator refuses to believe the story and angrily berates John for accusing his father (whom he claims was a "loving man") of murder. John then leaves the real Joseph's medal, files and the only copy of the seance recording and apologizes. The Senator threatens John that there will be consequences if he has told anyone else of his story.

Meanwhile, Claire goes to the house alone in an attempt to find John and is chased by Joseph's wheelchair until she falls down the stairs. John arrives and the house begins to shake violently. He escorts Claire outside, and then goes back in to try and appease the ghost of Joseph. A strong wind causes John to fall from the second story. Joseph then lights the house on fire. Simultaneously, the Senator compares the two medals, realizing the truth, before he falls into a trance while staring at the portrait of his father. John witnesses the Senator's astral body climbing the burning stairs to Joseph's room. Claire comes in and rescues John, while the Senator witnesses the murder of the real Joseph and suffers a fatal heart attack. John and Claire arrive to see the Senator's body being loaded into the ambulance.

The next morning, Joseph's burnt wheelchair sits upright amid the ruins of the mansion. His music box opens and begins playing a lullaby.



The film's screenplay was inspired by mysterious events that allegedly took place at the Henry Treat Rogers mansion in 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.[4] Henry Treat Rogers, a wealthy Denver attorney, and his wife were childless; but prior inhabitants of the house remain undocumented.[5] The mansion was demolished during the 1980s and replaced with a high-rise apartment building.[6]

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 a building 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.[7]

Peter Medak was the third director hired for the project. His predecessors, Donald Cammell and Tony Richardson, both withdrew due to "creative differences".[8]

Awards and recognition[edit]

The Changeling won the first ever Genie Award for Best Canadian Film. It also won the following Genie Awards:

This film was #54 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.[10] Director Martin Scorsese placed The Changeling on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time.[11]


The Soundtrack to The Changeling was released by Percepto Records on CD on December 21, 2001 and was limited to 1,000 copies.[12] 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.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Richard Nowell, Blood Money: A History of the First Teen Slasher Film Cycle Continuum, 2011 p 260
  2. ^ Melrose, Frances. "Moviemaker's tale is the stuff from which movies sprout." Rocky Mountain News, October 26, 1986. "Denver Haunts." Retrieved on 2012-02-28.
  3. ^ "A Denver house that inspired a horror film." Retrieved September 18, 2014.
  4. ^ A Denver house that inspired a horror film. Denver Public Library archive, retrieved January 26, 2017.
  5. ^ Goodstein, PH. The Ghosts of Denver: Capitol Hill. Life Publications (1986), pp. 472–4. ISBN 0962216941
  6. ^ The history of a Denver house that inspired a horror film. Denver Public Library archive, retrieved January 26, 2017.
  7. ^ Seeking out The Changeling 35 years later., retrieved January 26, 2017.
  8. ^ The Changeling at, retrieved January 26, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g The Changeling (1980) - Awards
  10. ^ Bravo (October 26, 2004). "The 100 Scariest Movie Moments". 
  11. ^ Scorsese, Martin (October 28, 2009). "11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time". The Daily Beast. Retrieved November 15, 2009. 
  12. ^ [1] Archived October 25, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ [2] Archived October 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.

External links[edit]