The Changeling would have seemed antiquated and anachronistic at the time of its release. But the intervening years and current trend in horror for mindless torture and sadism have conspired to make this film seem a lot more intelligent than it actually is. The value of restraint, minimalism, and subtlety, has reached a premium in the horror genre, and although we may look back on The Changeling as an example of how to achieve this difficult blend, one must caution against a temptation to dilute the horror to such a degree that it becomes irrelevant. Nevertheless Peter Medak’s film is vastly superior to one of its immediate contemporaries of the haunted house sub-genre The Amityville Horror (1978 - a film I particularly dislike). But vastly inferior to another - The Shining (1980). In the former director Stuart Rosenberg failed to curb the hysteria and excessiveness, in the latter Stanley Kubrick achieved a finely balanced bland of subtle scares and exaggerated horror. The Changeling falls somewhere in between the two - neither hysterical or over the top, but also lacking the punch, drive, and energy one requires of a horror film.
Much more could have been made of Russell laying to rest the memory of his family, by laying to rest the ghost that inhabits his house. An actor with a little more pathos and belief in the screenplay by William Gray and Diane Maddox may have brought these subtleties to life. From a technical perspective though The Changeling is a major accomplishment. The cinematography by John Coquillon is of his usual high standard, and the music by Rick Wilkins (especially the nursery rhyme motif that offers the first hint of a spectral presence) is haunting and beautiful. But like so many haunted house films the true plaudits have to go the sound design. The loud hammering of pipes when first heard is particularly effective. A nice touch is added by the symbolic motif of the wheelchair - a device which at one time is of use and help, but which becomes a potential murder weapon. Hungarian born director Medak has only returned to the horror genre sporadically, and although he crafted a technically proficient and tasteful film here, The Changeling is ultimately a rather hollow cinematic experience.
© Shaun Anderson - 2010