The Changeling (1980)


The Changeling was made in 1980 and directed by Peter Medak and starred George C Scott. The film is a Canadian Psychological Horror and is one of the films I hold in my top ten of scary films.

The screenplay for the movie is based on events that the writer Russel Hunter said he witnessed while he was living in the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion in Denver Colorado.

The Plot

John Russell (George C Scott), a composer from New York City, moves to Seattle Washington following the deaths of his wife and daughter in a traffic accident while on a winter vacation. John rents a large and eerie mansion from an agent Claire Norman of the local historical society, who tells him that the property had been vacant for 12 years.

Not long after moving in, John begins to experience unexplained phenomena, starting with a loud banging which resounds through the house every morning. One night John finds the water taps turned on and sees the apparition of a drowned boy in a bathtub. Days later he discovers a hidden attic bedroom behind a concealed door, which contains a child’s wheelchair. Claire helps John to investigate the history of the house and its previous tenants, initially believing that the ghost is that of a young girl killed outside the house in a traffic accident in 1909. John holds a seance at the house and overhears the voice of the spirit caught on audio recording equipment, calling himself Joseph Carmichael.

John’s investigation leads him to a property that was once owned by the Carmichael family, where he believes the body of the real Joseph Carmichael was dumped in a well.  John finds the skeleton of a young child, together with his christening medal after excavating one of the floors of the property, he decides to conceal what he finds from the police.

John attempts to speak to Senator Carmichael who he believes is connected in some way to Joseph. As the senator is about to board a plane John confronts him but is restrained by police. The Senator is disturbed to see the medal, as it is identical to the one in his possession. The society then cancels John’s lease on the house and fires Claire. Carmichael sends a detective, Captain DeWitt, to John’s home in an attempt to intimidate John and retrieve the medal. John refuses, and when DeWitt leaves to obtain a search warrant, his vehicle mysteriously crashes, killing him.

After hearing of DeWitt’s death, the Senator agrees to meet with John, who tells him the entire story. The Senator refuses to believe the story and angrily berates John for accusing his father (whom he claims was a “loving man”). John then leaves the real Joseph’s medal, files the only copy of the seance recording and apologizes. The Senator threatens John that there will be consequences if he has told anyone else of his story.

Meanwhile, Claire goes to the house alone in an attempt to find John and is chased by Joseph’s wheelchair until she falls down the stairs. John arrives and the house begins to shake violently. He escorts Claire outside and then goes back in to try and appease the ghost of Joseph. A strong wind causes John to fall from the second story. Joseph then lights the house on fire. Simultaneously, the Senator compares the two medals, realizing the truth, before he falls into a trance while staring at the portrait of his father. John witnesses the Senator’s astral body climbing the burning stairs to Joseph’s room. Claire comes in and rescues John, while the Senator witnesses the murder of the real Joseph and suffers a fatal heart attack. John and Claire arrive to see the Senator’s body being loaded into the ambulance.

The next morning, Joseph’s burnt wheelchair sits upright amid the ruins of the mansion. His music box opens and begins playing a lullaby.

The screenplay was inspired by mysterious events that supposedly took place at the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion while the playwright Russel Howard was living there during the 60’s. He claims to have experienced paranormal phenomena and found a very old diary detailing the life of a disabled boy who was kept locked up in the house by his parents. Howard also claims to have held a seance were the dead disabled boy leads him to another house where he found a gold medallion bearing the dead child’s names,

Henry Treat Rogers was a powerful Denver attorney he and his wife were childless and other proprietors of the house remain undocumented, The mansion was knocked down in the 1980s.

The Changeling won the first ever Genie award for the best Canadian film it also won another seven Genie awards.

Also, film director Martin Scorsese placed the film in his top 11 all-time scariest movies.

To this day this remains one of my favourites all time scary movies which owe’s a lot to the great screenwriting you will be on the edge of your seat from the very first minute of the film.



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