Reed Alexander's Horror Review of 'The Changeling' (1980)
Jessica Fletcher would have finished this plot faster...
I honestly can't understand why this movie didn't get just as much recognition as The Exorcist (X1). It wasn't as graphic or controversial as X1 so perhaps that's why it didn't get the notoriety? The thing is, The Changeling is every bit as good. It's got a fantastic cast, with our old friend George C. Scott, and even the venerable Melvin Douglas. So the acting solid and matched by a great character driven plot with solid dialog. The over arcing premises of the plot is clever, and it was the first of it's kind at that time. The story was brilliantly plotted, tho a bit poorly paced. And while there are a few questions sort of just left to interpretation, the plot is strongly devoid of holes.
The most important part about this movie, is like X1, it stands the test of time. Most haunting movies from the 70s and 80s seem charmingly antiquated at best or a pile of dust covered rubbish at worst. Even The Amityville Horror has moments that seem silly by modern standards, which is what likely prompted the remake in 2005.
The Changeling got it right the first time by focusing on simplicity. It's just as much a murder mystery as it is a haunting movie, which is what drives the plot. The practical FX are simple yet stunning, showing that some times less is more. It also doesn't lead the viewers by the nose, but rather presents each new piece of evidence towards a simple conclusion and respect the audience to follow along.
As I said before, the only real problem with this movie is the pacing, but I think the director fell for an easy trap in targeting a specific conclusion, rather than letting the movie have a more natural conclusion. I can't really get to it without going into the spoilers, but needless to say, the movie was pretty much over two thirds of the way through, but still had a half hour to tie up a few loose ends.
I want to call this a must watch for Horror Heads, even though I'm sure many of them won't like it or even get bored watching it. This movie is an important lesson in horror and it set the standards for many haunting films to come. A standard, that is so poorly followed, I even coined a trope 'Bad Ghost' for many movies inability to follow it correctly.
The problem with the pacing is that the main character John, played by George C. Scott, figures out the whole mister about two thirds of the way through. The moment he uncovers the body of the young Joseph Carmichael, it's obvious the living Senator Joseph Carmichael is an impostor. The remaining movie is really just delivering the evidence to the Senator and the ghost of the real Joseph Carmichael exacting revenge.
So, the moment John pulls the body of young Joseph out of the well, the next scene should just be confronting the senator with the information Jessica Fletcher style, boom, movie over. The problem is, while that might make good cinema, you could tell the director had something more real, more tangible in mind. Almost like a new chapter, the last thirty minutes of the movie is the Senator trying to use his influence to crush John and bury the truth.
John, of course, makes his way through to the Senator eventually, but ultimately decides to take pity on the man. It wasn't really the Senator's fault. He was adopted to replace the dead Joseph so young that he hardly remembers and only has a subtle incline that something might be off. He didn't kill the original Joseph, his father did, and indeed, likely has no idea that the young Joseph was killed at all. John really didn't want to have anything to do with the mystery to begin with, and considering the Senator didn't actually commit any crime, John decides to just drop it, turning over the evidence to the Senator.
This, of course, infuriates the ghost of the young Joseph, who sort of takes his temper out on both John and the Senator, killing the Senator, and nearly killing John. Even though it wasn't really the Senator's fault, the ghost of young Joseph just felt robbed of his life and as his father was already long dead, takes it out on the impostor that replaced him, the 'changeling.'
The plot, even dragged out, is still very intriguing and, while little dull at points, not at all boring. It really is a fantastic movie, and should be mandatory viewing for Horror Heads, as a sort of history lesson on hunted house movies.