Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Changeling

I love a good ghost story. A cold winter night, curled up on the couch with a glass of wine and my sweetie, getting chills from a movie I've seen several times over the years and finally bought for my collection.

Ghost stories, the really good ones, share that element of unfinished business, of the ghost demanding justice of their slow-witted and disbelieving (sometimes terrified and unwilling) human servant. Relentless. Unforgiving. Righteous. Even so, brush aside their uncanny nature, and ghosts are, in a sense, the most sympathetic character you can create.

The Changeling (1980), starring George C. Scott as John Russell, is one of the really good ones. After his wife and daughter are killed on the side of a snowy road, Russell moves to Seattle to teach music at his old college and to lick his wounds. Through a new acquaintance, Claire Norman of the Historical Preservation Society, (played by real-life wife Trish Van Devere) he secures a lovely Victorian mansion to live in. It's furnished with everything he could ever need, including a piano to compose on. And, we all know, an invisible resident. Over the next few days, Russell is awakened by a loud pounding noise at exactly 6:00 AM, and you all know what that means.

Russell begins to have visions of past events that have occurred in the house, the most vivid being that of a little boy being murdered by his father.

I'm really not kidding when I say this movie still gives me chills. There is no gore, but there is a skilled building of tension that neatly replaces the shock value of any bloody beheading. Scott's performance is masterful, particularly in the moment he shouts at the ghost: "What is it you want from me?"

Rent this movie, make some popcorn, and put your arm around your sweetie when you hit, "Play." You'll need someone to hide your eyes behind.

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