A decade before Hungarian-born director Peter Medak turned his eye on East London’s violent post-war underworld – boldly casting the Kemp brothers as Cockney rogues Ronnie and Reggie Kray – he whipped up a chilling supernatural treat.
The Changeling stars George C. Scott as John Russell, a prestigious composer mourning the tragic deaths of his wife and daughter in a car accident. Stumbling out from the deepest depths of despair onto a dark, meandering road to recovery, he packs up his New York life and makes for the sticks of Washington State. It’s here that the musician, seeking comfort in his work, takes over the tenancy of a strange Victorian mansion that creaks and clangs with a disturbing past of its own. Helped by a representative from Seattle’s Historical Preservation Society – played by Scott’s real-life wife, Trish Van Devere – he gradually unravels the alarming mystery of a child murder swathed in grand and meaty political scandal.
Paving a sturdy bridge between classic horrors of Jack Clayton’s ilk and more contemporary shockers, such as Hideo Nakata’s original Ring series, The Changeling is worth every inch of its iconic status (recently heralded by Martin Scorsese as one of his top 11 horror films of all time). Weaving a jerky but neat tale, Medak delivers a suspenseful masterpiece that bellows through the empty hallways and sprawling corridors of a rotten old Seattle property. Even as a moral quest for truth takes precedent, threat and terror rarely subside.
Elevated by Scott’s sternly controlled, modest performance, The Changeling represents the genre at its pioneering best – balancing a fine, muscular narrative with a pic ‘n mix of evil delights and sinister flourishes. Taking bits and bobs from a few trailblazing predecessors – like The Innocents and Don’t Look Now – its lasting influence is clearly visible in more recent gems, including The Others and The Woman in Black.
Verdict: Composed yet somehow thoroughly indulgent, Medak’s work is everything a horror movie should be: clever, creepy and relentlessly unforgettable.