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John’s Horror Corner: The Changeling (1980), a slow burn murder mystery and classic haunted house movie

January 15, 2019


MY CALL: This haunted classic better serves audiences seeking an engaging historic murder mystery over horror, as horror serves more as a setting. It’s truly more of an intriguing slow burn, with not a gory or terrifying moment to boast.

The film opens with a horrible accident and loss—the kind that likely inspired Pet Sematary (1989). After witnessing the death of his wife and daughter, music composer John (George C. Scott; The Exorcist III, Firestarter) is a husk of his former self looking to relocate, start a new job as a university professor, and rebuild himself. So he moves into a secluded historic mansion which quickly starts hinting us of its haunted nature.

After a few minor strange occurrences, someone warns John that “the house doesn’t want” residents and that it isn’t fit for occupation. But when he finds a secretly concealed door to the dustiest attic ever containing a cobwebbed child’s wheelchair and a hundred-year-old music box, you know things are due to escalate. Perhaps the most iconic scene is more telling than terrifying (but also a bit harrowing)—the scene involving his deceased daughter’s ball coming down the staircase.

With the aid of Claire (Trish Van Devere; The Hearse) from the historic society, John investigates the history of the mansion. He covers all the bases—newspapers and legal documents—until turning to a medium to conduct a séance. The ghost, it seems, seeks help.

Typically, only the most significant classics impress me in terms of cinematography (e.g., The Shining) and scoring (e.g., any Italian horror featuring Goblin). This film seems to capture both, along with excellent acting performances (also rare in the genre, generally speaking). George C. Scott works wonders on the screen, lending a sincere credibility to his character’s desire to move on after his loss and focus on his work.

This is not a fast-paced film—at least, not in terms of action or horror. However, in terms of timely revelations and intrigue, the pace is good for a slower-burn film. In fact, this film feels much more like a murder mystery in a soft horror setting than horror enshrouded in mystery. Director Peter Medak (Species II, The Babysitter) brings zero gore and little actual “horror” to the table. To those of you looking for a good scare, this may disappoint. But for those of you simply seeking a good intriguing mystery film for a rainy Sunday afternoon, this may be right up your alley.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 15, 2019 7:07 am

    I loved this movie and the slow burn of it. Definitely had great and spooky mystery to it.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      January 15, 2019 7:12 am

      I really enjoyed this (first time watch BTW) but it is absolutely not what I expected. This film was discussed on Eli Roth’s AMC show and I figured this was more of an Amityville-ish Ghost Story dread movie. Instead, this was built far with bricks of intrigue. Some scary(ish) parts yes, but no gore, some “horror” but nothing that would unnerve anyone for long. Still, excellent film. And the title now seems rather spoilerish. LOL. I thought it was going to be a malevolent ghost masquerading as (thus a changeling for) the ghost of a child who once lived there–which would be typical.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      January 22, 2019 8:59 am

      Thanks for (me) replying…? Thank YOU for the comment. I seldom get much back on forth-ing on here. 🙂


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