Iím not a huge fan of
haunted house movies, but this one is pretty good. I donít believe itís a
classic like many of you claim, just a well acted supernatural thriller done
with a great deal of style and care.
The Hungarian-born, England-based director Peter Medak has been quite
prolific over the years, with a varied output that includes THE RULING CLASS
(1972), THE KRAYS (1990), LET HIM HAVE IT (1991), ROMEO IS BLEEDING (1993) and
SPECIES II (1998). Medak directed 1979ís THE CHANGELING after a string of box
office flops, telling one interviewer that the film, initially conceived as a
quickie grade-B effort, was ďall the work I can getĒ.
1979 also marked a low point for the late George C. Scott, the
once-distinguished headliner of classics like DR. STRANGELOVE and PATTON (for
which he infamously refused to accept the Best Actor Oscar he won). In Scottís
later years his notoriously tempestuous personality and erratic choice of films,
most notably his disastrous self-financed 1974 directorial effort THE SAVAGE IS
LOOSE, meant he closed out his career appearing in undistinguished genre fare
like FIRESTARTER, THE EXORCIST III and MALICE. On THE CHANGELING, however, both
he and Peter Medak gave their all, which is fully evident in the finished
The film is also notable as one of several collaborations between George C.
Scott and actress Trish Van DeVere (playing his love interest), who married in
1972 and remained so until Scottís 1999 demise.
John, a distraught widower trying to get over the shocking deaths of his
wife and young son, has just moved into a luxurious Seattle house thought by
locals to be haunted. He disbelieves the claims at first, but soon becomes
convinced by the loud banging he hears each night. He gets some local
spiritualists to hold a sťance, and they uncover evidence of an unquiet spirit
residing in the house named Joseph, who as a child was drowned in a bathtub
seventy years earlier by his father. John researches the lives of the houseís
previous inhabitants and discovers it was occupied for many years by the
Carmichaels, a wealthy clan whose offspring is now a high-powered senator. John
somehow deduces that Joseph, the ghost loose in the house, was the actual
offspring, but was killed by his father, who then replaced him with another
John tries to confront Senator Carmichael directly with his knowledge but
is blown off, and later has his house investigated by a police officer...who
upon driving away is killed in a suspicious accident. Thinking the situation
over, the senator calls a meeting with John, during which Johnís newfound
girlfriend Claire enters his house and is harassed by its ghostly inhabitant.
The pissed-off Joseph then takes on Senator Carmichael directly and burns down
the house--luckily John and Claire manage to escape in time.
The script, by Diana Maddox and genre specialist William Grey (HUMONGOUS,
THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT), is serviceable at best, but Peter Medak helms with
considerable skill, creating a compellingly subtle and atmospheric ghost story.
He favors wide angle lenses, a preference that occasionally gets out of hand
(resulting in distorted images that distract, even in straightforward dialogue
scenes), but overall the visuals are strong and expressive. Medak also creates
some good shock sequences, most memorably the sight of a dead child rising to
the surface of a bathtub, and handles the special effects-packed climax with a
fair amount of flair.
In the lead role George C. Scott reminds us why he was hailed as one of
Americaís finest actors, in a performance of considerable refinement and
restraint (a rejoinder to those who think he spent the seventies and eighties
recycling his PATTON role). He plays an uncomplicated nice guy, yet still
manages to make the character of John into a fully-rounded and compelling
individual whose exploits seem worth following.
Chessman Park/Tiberius Film Productions
Director: Peter Medak
Producer: Joel B. Michaels, Garth H. Drabinsky
Screenplay: William Gray, Diana Maddox
Cinematography: John Coquillon
Editing: Lilla Pedersen
Cast: George C. Scott, Trish Van DeVere, Melvyn Douglas, John Colicos, Jean
Marsh, Barry Morse, Madeleine Sherwood, Helen Burns, Frances Hyland, Ruth
Springford, Eric Christmas, Roberta Maxwell, Bernard Behrens, James B. Douglas