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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Day 330: The Changeling

The Changeling

Haunted house movies usually fall into one of two categories: evil spirit and spirit looking for help. Personally, I prefer the evil spirit because they create a true sense of fear and urgency among the inhabitants of the house to get rid of it. Maybe I'm just too jaded, but I feel that if I was in a haunted house and the ghost needed me to do something, I'd just move out rather than trouble myself. You're on your own, ghosty. Many movies see the problem and force the characters to help out (or in the case of American Horror Story, they're just really, really, unbelievably stupid). Whatever the case may be, haunted house movies need to create a wider story than other horror genres because escape is too easy. Sometimes the results are good and other times you're left bored and disappointed.

The Changeling is a 1980 horror movie starring George C. Scott (Dr. Strangelove, Patton) as composer Dr. John Russell. During a vacation in upstate New York, Russell's wife and daughter are killed in a tragic accident. Devastated by the loss, Russell moves across the country to Seattle to teach at a university. With the help of a young woman named Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere, Going Ape, The Hearse), Russell rents a large and slightly eerie Victorian-era mansion. As he slowly puts the pieces of his life together, Russell begins to hear and see strange things in the house. He hears a deafening banging every morning for about thirty seconds that abruptly stops. Doors open and shut for no reason and when Russell tosses his daughter's old ball into the river, he finds it back inside the house. During a seance, it is revealed that the ghost of a young boy named Joseph Carmichael from in the early 1900s. While doing research, Russell discovers that Joseph was a sickly boy and as per the terms of his inheritance, if he died before his 21st birthday, the money would go to his mother's side of the family. Rather than risk losing the money, his father drowned him in a bathtub. Supposedly, Mr. Carmichael replaced his now deceased son with an orphan in order to gain the inheritance. Using more clues, Russell is able to find Joseph's bones in an old well that belonged to the Carmichael family. He tries to reach out to wealthy United States Senator also named Joseph Carmichael about what he has discovered. Scared that the truth will come out, the Senator sends a policeman after Russell, but he dies under mysterious and possibly supernatural causes. Will Russell be able to reveal the truth about Joseph Carmichael and free the spirit from his home?

Oh, balls

The Changeling put me in the interesting position of really liking the horror part of the movie and really disliking the rest of it. The movie pops up on a lot of "Best horror movie" lists and director Martin Scorsese has it on his list of scariest movies of all time. The haunting is quite good with some legitimately scary moments. While a lot of haunting/ghost movies like to bait-and-switch or start off with horror and then sputter out, The Changeling is very up front with it's scary intentions. The fear starts out like a trickle with strange noises and soon becomes a waterfall leading to an intense and slightly bizarre ending. The movie doesn't really rely on any film-making tricks, relying on good old-fashioned storytelling and spooks to get the audience riled up. The house in the film is actually a set which is surprising considering how great it looks. It really adds a Gothic touch to the entire story.

I didn't particularly care for the rest rest of the story though. Most haunting movies involve a family and I found it odd that the story surrounded a single, older man. I think including a family would have allowed the film to be scarier, putting children in danger and such. I also thought it was strange that the police officer sent after Russell was supposedly killed by the ghost while driving. If the ghost is that powerful, why not just go after Senator Carmichael? The back story with the Senator is slightly interesting, though it wasn't enough for me to continue enjoying the story. The movie came out in 1980, but looks more like 1970. Something about the clothes and the quality of the film made it look much older than it really was. The acting is fine, but I wasn't blown away by any particular performance.

  Here's your problem right here.

The Changeling is a good haunted house story, but only a so-so overall story. I wouldn't say it's bad, it just becomes rather boring once the haunting is over. Perhaps the longer-than-usual run time of the film had something to do with it. The movie has some good scares and a nice, creepy feel to it. The sets look very good and help create an appropriate atmosphere. I can see why the movie finds it's way onto a lot of horror lists simply based off it's scares. Beyond that, though, I wasn't particularly impressed with the movie overall. The horror is good, but I wasn't thrilled with back story and felt it hurt the movie overall.


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