Bathtub Blues – Rediscovering ‘The Changeling’ (Canada/US 1980 – 107 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - March 12, 2015
Bathtub Blues – Rediscovering ‘The Changeling’ (Canada/US 1980 – 107 mins)

Gory movies have never really bothered me. I can watch films where zombies are tearing off limbs and ones with cannibals enjoying dessert. But if there’s one movie that I still have trouble watching on my own it’s the outstanding ghost flick ‘The Changeling’. There’s something about an old dark house with a mysterious past that sucks me right in to the often compelling storyline. Both this movie and the superior 1989 television production of ‘The Woman in Black’ are two of the best of its type.

After his wife and daughter are tragically killed in a horrific road accident, composer John Russell (George C. Scott) retreats to an old Victorian mansion in Washington State. Unfortunately his much needed solitude is interrupted when the property turns out to be haunted by the ghost of a murdered child, whose tragic death is connected to that of aging senator Joseph Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas).

This Canadian co-production was supposedly based on events that the film’s writer Russell Hunter had experienced while he was living in the famously haunted Henry Treat Rogers Mansion, in Denver, Colorado, in 1968, which he had rented for a very low price.

Winner of various Canadian (Genie) Awards, ‘The Changeling’ is bolstered by the presence of the great George C. Scott, who looks suitably tortured throughout as widower John Russell. Scott’s real-life wife Trish Van Devere has one of her better roles as John’s realtor friend, Claire Norman. Hollywood legend Melvyn Douglas has the first of two late-career appearances in ghost pictures, the other being John Irvin’s pretty good and rather moody ‘Ghost Story’ (’81). Barry Morse crops up as a caring doctor, and English actress Jean Marsh can be seen in the pre-credit sequence playing Scott’s wife.

While there are numerous spooky moments, the two that stand out for me are the séance and its aftermath, where we see a point-of-view shot as the camera swiftly sweeps up the winding stairs to the little attic. The other is the unexplainable scene where a child’s red ball bounces down the stairs before landing at Scott’s feet, moments after he returns home from discarding the toy earlier that evening, many miles away. The fiery finale is also impressive and the fallout showing the chard remains of the ominous music box, which suddenly springs to life with its simple yet effective melody.

Hungarian-born director Peter Medak had earlier made the cult 1972 pictures ‘The Ruling Class’ and ‘A Day in the Death of Joe Egg’, and later the excellent crime biopics ‘The Krays’ (’90) and ‘Let Him Have It’ (’91). Cinematographer John Coquillon was a master of atmosphere, having worked closely with Sam Peckinpah on ‘Straw Dogs’ (’71), ‘Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid’ (’73) and ‘Cross of Iron’ (’77). Here he expertly creates an air of mounting dread while employing many unnervingly low-angled camera shots.

A gore-free chiller complete with imposing buildings, a child’s wheelchair, and a mysterious music box, ‘The Changeling’ is required viewing for ghost-loving movie buffs. While 1944’s ‘The Uninvited’ is my favourite ghost movie, this one still remains the scariest for me and one that I keep daring myself to watch alone.

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3 Comments on "Bathtub Blues – Rediscovering ‘The Changeling’ (Canada/US 1980 – 107 mins)"

  • Rob

    Thank you. This is one of the best reviews of The Changeling I have ever read. I agree with wholeheartedly.

    • admin

      Thanks for your comments. With all the scary movies being released these days, I thought this classic deserved a mention.

  • Simon

    One of my all-time favourites, a real chiller, and as you wrote, one of the best ghost/haunted house films out there.

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