Thursday, November 18, 2010

Scariest Haunted House Movie Ever...

The Changeling (1980):  In keeping with my promise to watch classic horror that I have no excuse for not ever seeing (like Suspiria), I checked out this venerated ghost story.  I used to think that the scariest haunted house movie was Robert Wise's The Haunting from 1963.  No longer.  A child's ghostly voice, an old music box with its mournful tune, an antique wheelchair that moves on its own...yeah, this one pushed all my buttons.  At least there wasn't a creepy doll.

George C. Scott plays John Russell, a composer who loses his wife and daughter in a freak car accident.  He packs up and moves to Seattle after accepting a teaching position at university.  Needing a place to live, he rents a ginormous house on the outskirts of town.  It's not long before strange things start happening.  And they're subtle things:  a supposedly broken piano key plays itself, a door slowly opens behind John while he's at the piano, unexplainable banging at 6:00 every morning.  It's not long after these opening salvos that you find yourself on a roller coaster speeding out of control. 

John discovers that decades earlier, the owner of the house had a disabled son.  Not wanting a less than perfect heir, the man drowned his son in a bathtub and substituted him with an orphan in perfect health (the changeling, who grows up to be a U.S. senator).  Thinking that the spirit in the house wants the truth known, John searches for and eventually finds the remains of the boy.  But unfortunately, the spirit is more interested in revenge than truth, ultio instead of veritas. 

It is my opinion that George C. Scott is one of the best actors who ever lived, and he doesn't disappoint in The Changeling.  The supporting cast support well.  The direction is deft, tight, and keeps the tension high.  There is no gore to speak of, but the drowning scene is a bit disturbing.  By the way, one scene in the film is included in Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments (the scene with the ball bouncing down the stairs).  The climax is intense and oddly cathartic.  The ending is a common one for modern horror movies but back then, it was probably considered jarring.  Either way, it worked. 

There is no question as to whether you should see this film.  It's right up there with The Exorcist, Psycho, and The Haunting.  I suppose if you're only interested in blood-drenched, torture porn, then you should pass...because you aren't a true horror fan anyway. 

Next up for review are a couple of brand new, pure Hollywood flicks:  Predators and Mirrors 2.  Yeah.  Sequels.  I just need to remember to keep my expectations Dead Sea low. 

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