Schlocktoberfest #14: The Changeling
No, not the new one with Angelina Jolie. George C. Scott plays John Russell, a composer mourning the wife and child who died before his eyes. A change of scenery is in order; he cannot bear the memories that his old home brings, so he moves to a large mansion in a quieter area, hoping for some peace. But he is not alone: the house is branded by its history, and John becomes obsessed with revealing its secret past.
The creepy, big old house is a horror movie staple; we expect them to be haunted. Every creak and groan that can be attributed to old pipes and weary floorboards may actually be the shadows of previous inhabitants trying to communicate with us. In John’s case, a clanging that he assumes is the boiler happens long after the repair man assures him the plumbing is not to blame. Eventually he follows the source of the noise to a closed-off room, and in frustration he smashes the door knob off with a hammer, and goes inside.
Within he finds a cobwebbed chamber with a bed, a bath, and a disturbingly small wheelchair. That of a child. Perhaps the loss of his own child makes this mystery appeal to him, and he seeks out the history of the family who owned the house. He has psychics hold a seance, and learns more. He hears weak cries in the night. The spirit makes it clear that it is trying to tell him something, and that it will torment him until its will is done; the mystery eventually leads him to a well off the property, and what he finds there sets forth a course of events both terrifying and satisfying.
From the title, the mystery is not all that unclear. A changeling comes from Irish myth, when fairies would swap their child with a human one. It was an explanation for deformed children or worse, but here the story cleverly reverses it. The crippled child, bound to a wheelchair and forced to live in shame in a secret room, living a short life of misery. The ghost’s pain is palpable throughout the film, and George C. Scott is stoic in how he deals with it. It is unspoken that he feels he can bring closure to the senseless death of his wife and daughter if he can give the ghost the justice it demands.
This is one of the classics, and while it is relatively straightforward as a haunted house tale, it performs the job admirably and tells a gripping tale. George C. Scott is always good, and he is supported by a fine cast. As the story unravels we are shown the traps of inheritance within a wealthy and powerful family, and you’ll see just what a scion of such a family will do to wear that mantle. You’ll feel the fury of the unwanted, and of love denied. And if you ever see a wheelchair rolling at you down a deserted hallway, you might just shit your pants.