Seeking Out The Changeling 35 Years Later

Seeking Out The Changeling 35 Years Later

The supernatural has played a part in Horror films since Georges Melies’1896 French short, Le Manoir Du Diable (The Devil’s Castle/The Haunted Castle).  1980 Horror film The Changeling upheld that tradition eighty-nine years later. By definition,  Changeling means a creature found in European folklore and Folk religion, typically described as being the offspring of a fairy, troll, elf or other legendary creature that has been secretly left in the place of a human child. Releases on March 28, 1980 the Canadian Supernatural/Psychological Horror film, The Changeling was directed by Peter Medak (Ghost in the Noonday Sun 1973, The Odd Job 1978), produced by Joel B. Michaels (Bittersweet Love 1976, Lolita 1997) and Garth H. Drabinsky (The Silent Partner 1978, Half Light 2004), from a script by William Gray (Blood & Guts 1978, The Philadelphia Experiment 1984), as well as Adrian Morrall (Bittersweet Love 1976), now it celebrating its 35th anniversary of haunting.

Still from The Changeling
Still from The Changeling

Composer John Russell (George C. Scott: The Hustler 1961, Patton 1970) is a widower and grieving father.  To move on and start making music again, he rents a century’s old house from the local Historical Society curator, Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere: Harry in Your Pocket 1978, Movie Movie 1978), but he quickly realizes he is not alone.  He sees glimpses of a little boy (Voldi Way: Boo 2005, The Crusaders #357: Experiment in Evil! 2008), but when he looks again, he is gone. What does the boy have to do with the house, and what does Claire have to do with the boy and the house?  The movie is based on a true story.

The Changeling was based on the true story of writer Russell Hunter and his experiences while living in the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion in Denver, Colorado for which Morrall and Gray poured over six months’ worth of research before filming was even started. Next, legendary George C. Scott and his real-life wife, Trish Van Devere, were cast as two of the main character, John Russell and Claire Norman respectively. With that, their characters are believable. He as the man trying to get his life back in order and later as the man obsessed with solving the mystery of what happened in his rental house. She as the helpful welcoming committee of sorts and later as the one who tries to help John with solving his mystery.  The supporting cast play well as John’s antagonists.

Like so many films, The Changeling utilized Canada’s economic-friendly filming environment to spread the film’s estimated $600,000 budget as shooting was done in little over a year at locations like Seattle and New York City for establishing shots. Interiors of the university were filmed at the University of Toronto like Prom Night the same year with the Historical Society scenes shot at the Flatiron-shaped Hotel Europe in Vancouver. The senator’s home scenes were filmed at what was then Royal Roads Military College, now Royal Roads University, in Victoria, British Columbia. Interiors and exteriors of John’s mansion were a set.  From the outset of the film, viewers get a sense of sadness after the opening sequence that turns into a sense of hope as John starts his life anew with his new teaching job at the local university, but the mansion set has a foreboding feel as things happen off and on camera that does not let up until the climax plays out.

Still from The Changeling
Still from The Changeling

The practical effects such as the runaway wheelchair, which was replicated in 1987’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and the necklace coming out of the well/grave were effective in giving the film the suspense build up to the climax.  Granted, in today’s age of CGI, the effects might seem clunky to younger viewers, but nothing looks like the viewer’s watching a video game film.

When The Changeling bowed, it earned approximately $5.3 million on a the stated $600, 000 budget.  In addition to winning Canada’s first Genie Award for Best Canadian Film, The Changeling won Genie awards for Best Foreign Actor for the Virginia-born George C. Scott, Best Foreign Actress for the Jersey Trish Van Devere, and Best Adapted Screenplay for William Gray and Diana Maddox as well as Genies for Best Art Design, Best Cinematography, Best Sound, and Best Sound Editing. In a testament to The Changeling’s longevity, it has placed #54 on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Even director Martin Scorsese places The Changeling on his list of the 11 scariest Horror films of all time.

Also, throughout the years, The Changeling has been referenced and given homage. For instance, 1997’s Kokkuri, 2002’s Feardotcom, and 2004’s Terkel in Trouble has a sequence of a red ball bouncing down stairs, rolls, and gets picked up. In 1998’s Ring, Samara’s bones are found at the bottom of a well like Joseph’s.  Television and video games have also paid homage to The Changeling with the 2008 episode of Supernatural: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Dean Winchester with the complete ball sequence, and actress Neve Campbell said The Changeling is her favorite scary movie on the 2011 episode, “#19.122” of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno while the video game, Silent Hill 3 looks identical to the wheelchair from the movie.  The Changeling, of course, has been spoofed in movies like Fatal Instinct (1993) and Scary Movie 2 (2001).

Still from The Changeling
Still from The Changeling

Finally, sadly, the real life haunted house where the real life events apparently took place was the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion, which was located at 1739 East 13th Avenue, Cheesman Park in Denver, Colorado, has since been demolished.  Yet, googling the Changeling True Story brings up 63,100 hits as a testament to the impact The Changeling has had over the last 35 years.

Associated Film Distributors
Associated Film Distributors

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Jason Rhode
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Jason, a Horror and Children Story writer and artist specializing in alternative art, was adopted from the Bronx, NY, and currently lives in Midland, TX with his wife, Joey, and their two dogs, Chewy and Hollywood.

  • morris campbell
    Posted at 23:47h, 08 January Reply

    a great ghost story all horror fans should check it out

  • Jess and Tex
    Posted at 02:12h, 14 February Reply

    I hadn’t heard of this movie until a few months ago, and only saw it last week. While I wasn’t scared, I would definitely call it spooky, suspenseful, atmospheric, and tragic. Great movie!

  • Tom Lunke
    Posted at 17:58h, 11 September Reply

    Hi, I just want to correct a mistake in the article above. “Interiors of the university were filmed at the” University of Washington, not the University of Toronto. I know this because I’m in the film scene where George C. Scott “performs” on the piano. Best, Tom

  • Morton snudpuckle
    Posted at 15:17h, 13 October Reply

    Was there an actual book this movie was based on, I can’t find it anywhere

  • derp
    Posted at 09:41h, 10 May Reply

    The book has all but ceased to exist, and according to someone at the Denver library, the Denver Phipps family was more than happy to see that book’s copies disappear.

  • Dave Glover
    Posted at 04:41h, 16 May Reply

    I saw this film at 14 when it came out & imho is Still the scariest (non gory). Never found schlock horror particularly entertaining but this film grabbed me from the start with tue tragic events of Johns Loss.
    As I said I was 14 & I managed to see it at least 10x’s when it played in Toronto at the Imperial Six. It was my childhood haunt.

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