FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Sep 28, 2015

Horror Without People: THE CHANGELING

Spoiler alert: you are gonna need some industrial-strength oven mitts to handle the extremely hot take I'm about to lay down. And that is: for my money ($0.36), the very best haunted house movies establish a real sense of place. Crazy, right? It should go without saying. But I'm saying it anyway, because saying things that people should already know is one of my favorite pastimes. In related news, pizza: so good!

But look, sure, you can have a successfully interesting and/or frightening supernatural horror film wherein you say a place is haunted and then you just plop some characters any-ol'-where and throw in some ghosts or whatever. (I don't want to brag, but I'm obviously pretty good at pitching stories.) But this is not the case with, say, The Shining or The Haunting, where the Overlook Hotel and Hill House are essential characters in the stories. Would the Torrance family have been as terrorized had they spent the winter at your local Motel 6? Yes, obviously, but for very different reasons: the rotting lady in the bathtub would have been high on krokodil, etc. It's just not the same!

The Changeling (1980) features a grand old haunted house that's rather reminiscent of Hill House. Why, it even comes with a warning, given by a Mrs. Dudley-esque dour, stern-faced matron.
That house is not fit to live in. No one's been able to live in it. It doesn't want people.
But no one ever listens to dour, stern-faced matrons–even though they always know what's up–and so John Russell stays in the sprawling manse. The exterior looms menacingly while inside there are seemingly endless hallways and staircases. Rooms are boarded up and hidden away, and the house is full of secrets. The visual cues in The Changeling are so abundant and the setting is so well-established that the tale is all but told without the need for dialogue.


Hunrzes said...

I used to love this movie. It scared the shite out of me- I happened to see the trailer one day as a kid and there was that wheelchair and the lady screaming and that was all it took for me to be afraid; I later saw the whole thing on TV and I was completely justified in being scareded half-to-death. Unfortunately, unlike The Exorcist, this movie doesn't hold up so well acting-wise. It's still spooky as hell, though. I still am afraid of 1) rubber balls bouncing out of the darkness, 2) big-ass houses, 3) stairs leading up into darkness, 4) loud ghost noises, 5) animate wheelchairs (+6 if they are antique), and 6) freaky seances.

Oh, and 7) ghost children clawing their way through the floorboards in order to hyperventilate living children.

originalslugboy said...

Oh, man! I've had this movie forever but haven't watched it yet.

Chris Otto said...

NOTE: Don't read this comment, OriginalSlugBoy ... go away until you've watched the damn film.


Three words: Little. Red. Ball.

This is a very, very good film. And a very scary film. Things coming down the stairs. The voice on the seance recording. The hidden room.

I will be brutally honest and say, though, that I'm not head-over-heels about the last reel of the film. Maybe it's the right and proper ending for the story. But for the movie it's so damn anti-climactic and a letdown from the tone that's been established.

Still an A-, but, man, this thing had a chance maybe to take on Hill House for #1 of all time.

Stacie Ponder said...


Yeah, I know what you mean. I don't mind all the mystery stuff so much–it's so "supernatural horror", you know? Gotta solve dem mysteries!–but it does wrap up perhaps a little too neatly, and there's maybe too much mystery/not enough "horror" in the last third. That scene near the very end, though, where Claire is lured into the house and upstairs? So, soooo good. And I *love* that there's no romance between Claire and John (particularly considering they were married in real life). It gave weight to his grief and didn't turn into a typical movie nonsense relationship.

Anonymous said...

As a kid in the 80s, I saw this on tv and it scared the heck out of me. I'm still a bit spooked to revisit it as an adult! I'm so glad you placed it on your blog, as I remember visiting before and didn't find anything about this movie here.