The Changeling (1980)

“That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.” One of the greatest atmospheric horror films, The Changeling ranks right up there with The Haunting (1963) as one of the scariest of the haunted house genre (okay so it’s not as good as The Shining, which came out the same year – but what the hell is?). After his wife and daughter die in a freak auto accident, grieving composer “John Russell” (George C. Scott) moves across the country and rents an eerie abandoned mansion in Seattle, Washington. Strange things start to occur almost immediately – inexplicable banging noises at the exact time early each morning, the piano playing on its own, windows shattered from the inside, a ball rolling down the staircase, a ghostly apparition in a bathtub, etc. Russell discovers a secret upstairs attic room that contains arguably the creepiest antique wheelchair in film history (this thing is destined to give you nightmares, believe me!). Aided by “Claire Norman” (Trish Van Devere, Scott’s real-life wife) of the Seattle Historical Preservation Society, who helped him acquire the home, Russell sets out to investigate the history of the house and determine why the ghost is desperately attempting to contact him. In one of the film’s scariest scenes, Russell even invites a medium, “Leah Harmon” (Helen Burns), to the mansion for an incredibly intense séance. Somehow the mysterious events lead to wealthy U.S. Senator Joseph Carmichael (Melvyn Douglas, fresh from portraying “Benjamin Rand” in Being There with Peter Sellers a year before). Believe it or not, Douglas had starred in James Whale’s The Old Dark House with Boris Karloff nearly a half-century before in 1932. Directed by Peter Medak, The Changeling was allegedly based on events that eccentric writer Russell Hunter reported to have experienced while residing in the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion (which was demolished in the 1970s) in Denver, Colorado. In a 2009 article for The Daily Beast entitled 11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time, Martin Scorsese listed The Changeling at No. 6 after The Haunting, Isle of the Dead, The Uninvited, The Entity and Dead of Night. Don’t confuse this film with the Clint Eastwood drama Changeling (2008), which starred Angelina Jolie. Filmed in Canada, The Changeling was the first movie to win Best Picture honors at the first-annual Genie Awards (formerly the Canadian Film Awards).

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