"That house is not fit to live in. No one's been able to live in it. It doesn't want people."
— Minnie Huxley
You know my fellow fiends, there is nothing quite as unnerving as a good haunted house story. Perhaps because there is such an unsettling quality about a home being violated so blatantly by supernatural elements. We would like to think of our homes as places of rest and retreat from the world, beyond the reproach of spirits or salesman for that matter. This, coupled with themes of loss and despondency is what makes The Changeling one of the most frightening movies I've ever seen.
Make no mistake however, this flick does have its flaws. In particular it suffers from being a relic of the time (70's style pacing, a cheesy line or two, being a little longer than what a modern audience would find palatable) despite all this, I still think it is vastly underrated. The opening is utterly devastating. John Russell (George C. Scott) watches from a phonebooth as his wife and daughter are crushed underneath the wheels of a car after it loses control. Although this scene isn't terribly graphic, it doesn't need to be. It is very clear that this character has lost everything in a freak accident that could happen to anybody.
Unable to cope with the loss of his wife and child, he packs up his bags and moves to a mansion in Seattle. As he slowly starts to put his life back together, teaching music at a nearby college (Seattle U. perhaps?), odd things begin happening. Russell funnels his grief into uncovering what is going on in his new home. He finds a false wall and opens it to find a room within...this film is obscure enough that I won't spoil the rest, but I will say that the twists and turns that this film takes will keep even seasoned horror film goers guessing.
Speaking of grief and despondency, Russell is largely alone throughout this movie. The creaking mansion that he rents out looms over his sense of loss and hopelessness. The atmosphere of the house is thick with an air of melancholy that is only made worse by Russell's despair which is movingly tied together with the film's score. The tragic underpinnings of the music played throughout the film are filled with the undertow of a quiet, unsettling menace.
Don't expect any kind of Poltergeist over-the-top style hauntings here, but what you can expect is a bunch of really unnerving, unexpected scenes. Like the one where a ball that Russell keeps as a momento of his dead daughter rolls down the stairs.
As per usual, I've included the trailer below. Until next time.