Revisiting The Changeling (1980)

Losing his wife and child in a traffic accident, John Russell leaves New York arriving in Seattle to begin a new life. His new home is a spectacular mansion managed by the local historical society but it has a past and as with most horror films – it isn’t going to be a pleasant one.

Unlike some ghost stories, we are not faced with an evil entity that is vengeful upon its inhabitants; John Russell is faced with a restless soul that seeks justice and the exposure of the truth. The plot involves a young boy by the name of Joseph Carmichael who was drowned in a bathtub by his Father (of course there is more to this story but no spoilers here). Perplexed by why the boy is trying to contact him, John decides to find out as much as he can to seek out the truth.

George C Scott

What is so wonderful about this film is its simplicity and how it plays on our inquisitive nature with regards to the existence of the supernatural. The film uses simple devices that will allow an audience to use their imagination with very simple prompts. From the loud banging in the house, the ball bouncing down the stairs of its own accord and that wheelchair at the top of the stairs. None of these use special effects, CGI or anything too extravagant; simple imagery is important here to ramp up the scare factor. Ghost stories should be creepy and insidious, and this film achieves that to great effect, even after all these years we are still scared by it. If you mention this film to any horror fans, they will tell you how scared it made them feel.

The traditional ghost story has been living in our culture for years now and the subject matter doesn’t get any easier. We know that people can’t turn into werewolves or vampires but there is still a question mark over what happens to us when we die. Do we return? Is the idea of a ghost just the product of an overactive imagination? Will we ever stop talking about it or making films about them? I highly doubt it.

To add to this, it is interesting to note that this film had its beginnings in a true story. Yes, these ghostly happenings were reported by Russell Hunter while living in an old home near Cheesman Park in the late 1960s. It is quite an interesting story and more can be found right here –

Whether or not an audience believes that what they are seeing actually happened is one thing but what we do know is that The Changeling is one of the best ghost stories ever told in film history.