In THE CHANGELING (1980), a composer (John Russell, played by George C. Scott) grieving over the death of his wife and daughter relocates to Seattle, where he takes up residence in an old mansion. Soon, he discovers the house is haunted by an angry spirit that appears to be trying to communicate with him. Aided by an agent of the local historic society, Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere), he attempts to solve the mystery and help the spirit find peace.
I watched this film as a teenager and remembered being mightily bored. Watching it again now, I appreciated it far more. After nearly 40 years, the film holds up, though many of its conventions are by now very worn tropes, and some of its conventions don’t hold up–such as long moments of stage direction and the female lead being prone to hysteria. The result is a classic, old-fashioned, well-told ghost story wrapped around a mystery of who the ghost is and what it wants.
Back in 1980, film critic Roger Ebert wrote that despite the film’s craftsmanship, there isn’t enough of a sense of menace, and John Russell is so rational and unflappable there’s no sense he’s in any actual danger, giving the viewer too much confidence everything will turn out fine. Though the creepiness ramps up dramatically in the last act, I have to agree with that assessment. Despite some nice eerie elements, the ghost is rarely scary in this film, emphasizing mystery over horror.
Overall, I’m glad I revisited the film at an age I could appreciate it more, and found it to be a fine classic ghost story, well worth a watch, and a pilgrimage of sorts for genre fans.