Boo and double boo, it’s Burl, here with a haunted house story! Now, the picture under review today is not a universally-known movie, but those who like it tend to like it a lot! Ha ha, it’s a Canadian picture, but stars perhaps the last person you’d expect to be frightened by ghosts: the carved-out-of-mahogany George C. Scott, whom we recall from Dr. Strangelove! And the movie, of course, is The Changeling!
It starts with a tragic sequence in which Scott, trapped in a phone booth, watches as his wife and daughter are run over by a dumptruck! Months later, in his bereavement, he moves to Seattle and rents the biggest and most-likely-to-be-haunted home he can find, with local historical society member Trish Van Devere, whom we know from The Hearse and Hollywood Vice Squad, and who was Scott’s real-life wife, acting for some reason as the realty agent!
Strange things begin to occur from the moment Scott moves in, ha ha! Echoing clangs, moanings and whisperings, and strange tunes from dusty music boxes fill the mansion; hidden rooms and cobwebbed wheelchairs are discovered; rubber bouncing balls materialize and roll across the floor! Scott and Van Devere put on their deerstalkers and investigate, and the clues lead them to unearth an eighty year-old scandal-mystery involving a powerful old senator played by Melvyn Douglas, who of course fought and succumbed to a phantom again in Ghost Story! The Scott-Van Devere team also pull up some floorboards in a different house to simultaneously reveal a) an old well containing a child’s bones, and b) the striking similarities between this picture and The Ring! Ha ha!
I’ve got to mention a few effective scenes! Most famous is when the wheelchair comes to life and chases Van Devere around the house - ha ha, many recall having the gumdrops scared out of them by this sequence, though it wasn’t as intense as I recalled from my own junior viewings of the picture! Better, though less showy, is the séance scene, with the scrawling hand on the paper and the husband reading out what the medium is writing down! Yes, I thought it was a fine scene, well-directed and acted by solid old pros!
There are plenty of familiar Canadian and British and British-Canadian faces in here! We get Jean Marsh from Frenzy; John Colicos from Phobia, playing his usual hard-nosed cop; Barry Morse from Funeral Home; Eric Christmas from Porky’s; Bernard Behrens from The Man With Two Brains; and Frances Hyland from Happy Birthday To Me! These folks all help the movie with its classy, mid-Atlantic bona-fides, as does the director, Hungarian-born, British-based Peter Medak, who also brought us such varied pictures as The Ruling Class, Romeo is Bleeding, and Species 2!The Changeling, for its part, is a fine movie, but that’s all it is really! It’s not a great haunted house movie like The Haunting, nor is it quirky, weird and eerie like The Legend of Hell House! Like the house it’s largely set in, the film is solid, expansive, and foursquare; and though it’s a winter picture, it’s a good item for this Halloween season! I give The Changeling two and a half old biddies!