By Craig Leask
I’m a sucker for movies with big old creepy houses (check out my article on Spooky House Comedies here). So, as you can imagine, in the weeks leading up to Halloween my Blu-ray player is kept busy with everything from the classics (Dracula (1931), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Psycho (1960), and The Haunting (1963)) to more current movies (The Amityville Horror (1979), The Shining (1980), and Woman in Black (2012))
One of my “go to” Halloween movies has always been The Changeling (1980), a Canadian film based upon mysterious “true” events which surrounded a Denver, Colorado mansion, rented in the 1960’s by playwright Russell Hunter. While living in the home, Hunter experienced and documented many of the alleged occurrences which formed the basis of the movie’s screenplay, including the finding of the antique diary of a child kept locked away by his parents in a hidden attic room. The child’s tale and the location of the diary were revealed to Hunter though a psychic medium. How perfect is this for a backstory!
Headlining the strong cast of The Changeling are George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere and Melvyn Douglas (in one of his final roles), who deliver and tell a great ghost story centered on the mysterious locked attic room, the séance and the spirit of the mischievous forgotten child. However, the star of the movie as far as I’m concerned is the isolated creepy old mansion at the end of an overgrown lane.
The screenplay for The Changeling tells the story of a widower (George C. Scott), who has recently lost his wife and young daughter. Requiring a change of scenery to get his life back in order, he accepts the offer of a new position and relocates to Seattle. Once there, he is convinced to lease a secluded gothic mansion through a contact at the Historical Society (Trish Van Devere). The house is enormous and suitably atmospheric with concealed rooms, seemingly endless corridors, and dark shadowed corners. This atmosphere perfectly supports séances, unexplained noises, striking piano keys in empty rooms and windows breaking from previously unknown attic chambers. All of which ensures viewers are kept on edge while the story is revealed. The basis of the unexplained activity in the house is attributed to the spirit of a young boy, desperately trying to get his message out through any means to connect with Scott. Director Peter Medak masterfully builds the story and the tension providing the viewer with access to the frustration of the spirit of a deceased child desperate to be heard.
It takes a talented director to create fear through the simple image of a wet ball bouncing down a set of stairs. These simple few seconds of the film will absolutely make your hair stand on end. The Changeling, a true classic!
From as far back as Craig can remember he has been passionate about architecture and the atmosphere that can be created through a well-designed building. In movies, he fulfills this passion by gravitating to films where the production infuses the location into the plot as one of the characters. Be it the long dark shadows of mysteries and haunted house films, to classics of the 40’s and 50’s set in big old houses, grand Italian plazas, or remote villages. It’s the locations Craig is drawn to, so much so that, on occasion, he has even been accused of overlooking plot failures and weak directing, having been so engrossed in the set design and location. What he hopes to accomplish with his writing is to share this passion and encourage others to see for the first time – or revisit – movies where the architecture plays as pivotal a role as a character in the plot.