The Changeling (film)

The Changeling is a 1980 Canadian supernatural psychological horror film directed by Peter Medak and starring George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, and Melvyn Douglas. Its plot follows an esteemed New York City composer who relocates to Seattle, where he moves into a mansion he comes to believe is haunted. The screenplay is based upon events that writer Russell Hunter claimed he experienced while he was living in the Henry Treat Rogers mansion in the Cheesman Park neighborhood of Denver, Colorado in the late 1960s; Hunter served as a co-writer of the film.[3]

The Changeling
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPeter Medak
Produced by
Screenplay byWilliam Gray
Diana Maddox
Story byRussell Hunter
Music byRick Wilkins
CinematographyJohn Coquillon[1]
Edited byLilla Pedersen
Chessman Park Productions
Canadian Film Development Corporation
Distributed byPan-Canadian Film Distributors (Canada)
Associated Film Distribution (US)
Release date
  • March 28, 1980 (1980-03-28)
Running time
107 minutes
Box office$12 million[2]

The film premiered at the USA Film Festival in Dallas,Texas on March 26, 1980, and was released simultaneously in Canada and the United States two days later. It received positive critical reviews, and was an early Canadian-produced film to have major success internationally.[4] The film won eight inaugural Genie Awards, including Best Motion Picture, and was nominated for two Saturn Awards. It is considered one of the best horror films of all time,[5][6] and one of the most influential Canadian films of all time.[7][8]


John Russell, a composer from New York City, moves to Seattle, Washington following the deaths of his wife and daughter in a traffic accident while on a winter vacation upstate. He rents a large and eerie Victorian mansion from an agent of the local historic society, Claire Norman, who tells him that the property has been vacant for 12 years.

Not long after moving in, John begins to experience unexplained phenomena, starting with a loud banging every morning. One night, he discovers all of the water taps turned on and sees the apparition of a drowned boy in a bathtub. Soon after a red stained glass window pane shatters as he is outside and upon investigation he finds a boarded up locked door in a closet leading to a hidden attic bedroom. He takes a music box from the mantle and it discovers it plays the exact piano tune he has just recorded downstairs. Claire and John investigate the history of the house, believing that the ghost is that of a young girl killed outside the house in a traffic accident in 1909. John holds a seance and overhears the voice of the spirit on audio equipment, calling himself Joseph Carmichael.

John discovers that Joseph was a crippled and sickly six-year-old who was murdered in 1906 by his father Richard because he was unlikely to reach the age of 21, upon which he would have inherited an enormous fortune from his late grandfather. To ensure the inheritance, Richard replaced the dead boy with one procured from a local orphanage and spirited him away to Europe under the pretense of seeking treatment for his condition. After years away, he returned with the boy when he was 18, claiming that he was cured. The boy is now an old man, a prominent U.S. Senator who is also a major patron of the historical society that owns the house.

John's investigation leads him to a property that was once owned by the Carmichael family, where he believes the body of the real Joseph Carmichael was dumped in a well. There, he finds the skeleton of a young child with his christening medal. He attempts to speak to Senator Carmichael but is restrained. The Senator is disturbed to see the medal, as it is identical to the one in his possession. The society cancels John's lease on the house and fires Claire. Carmichael sends a detective, DeWitt, to John's home in an attempt to intimidate him and retrieve the medal. John refuses, and when DeWitt leaves to obtain a search warrant, his vehicle mysteriously crashes, killing him.

After DeWitt's death, the Senator agrees to meet with John, who tells him the story. The Senator refuses to believe it and angrily berates John for accusing his father (who he claims was a "loving man") of murder. John leaves the real Joseph's medal, files and only copy of the seance recording, and apologizes. Claire goes to the house to find John and is chased by Joseph's wheelchair until she falls down the stairs. John arrives and the house begins to shake. He tries to appease Joseph's ghost but falls from the second story, and Joseph lights the house on fire. Simultaneously, the Senator compares the two medals, realizing the truth, before he falls into a trance staring at the portrait of his father. John witnesses the Senator's astral body climbing the burning stairs to Joseph's room. Claire rescues John, while the Senator witnesses the murder of the real Joseph and suffers a fatal heart attack. John and Claire see the Senator's body being loaded into the ambulance.

The next morning, Joseph's burnt wheelchair sits amid the ruins of the mansion and his music box begins playing a lullaby.




The film's screenplay was inspired by mysterious events that allegedly took place at the Henry Treat Rogers mansion in Cheesman Park, Denver, Colorado, while playwright Russell Hunter was living there during the 1960s. After experiencing a series of unexplained phenomena, Hunter said he found a century-old journal in a hidden room detailing the life of a disabled boy who was kept in isolation by his parents. During a séance, he claimed, the spirit of a deceased boy directed him to another house, where he discovered human remains and a gold medallion bearing the dead boy’s name.[3] Henry Treat Rogers, a wealthy Denver attorney, was childless; but prior inhabitants of the house remain undocumented.[9] The mansion was demolished during the 1980s and replaced with a high-rise apartment building.[3]


While The Changeling is set in Seattle, most of its scenes were filmed in the Canadian cities of Vancouver and Victoria, and their environs. Exceptions include introductory location shooting in New York City and establishing shots of Seattle points of interest, including SeaTac Airport, University of Washington's Red Square, the Space Needle, the Rainier Tower, and the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge. Interior college scenes were shot at the University of Toronto. The Historical Society was Vancouver's historic Hotel Europe. The senator's home was Hatley Castle[10] on the grounds of Royal Roads Military College (now Royal Roads University) in Victoria. Exterior shots of Russell's home were filmed using a facade, erected in front of an existing home in Victoria. The haunted mansion's interior was a series of interconnected sets on a Vancouver movie lot.[11]

Peter Medak was the third director hired for the project. His predecessors, Donald Cammell and Tony Richardson, both withdrew due to "creative differences".[12] Medak was hired with only a month to facilitate script re-writes and set construction.[13]


Critical response

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote in his review of the film: "If it only took craftsmanship to make a haunted house movie, The Changeling would be a great one. It has all the technical requirements, beginning with the haunted house itself... [the film] does have some interesting ideas... But it doesn't have that sneaky sense of awful things about to happen. Scott makes the hero so rational, normal and self-possessed that we never feel he's in real danger; we go through this movie with too much confidence."[12] Edwin Miller of Seventeen wrote that the film was a "visually classy chiller... aided by stunning film locations."[14] Richard Grenier of Cosmopolitan praised Medak's direction, but added: "it is Scott, using the full range of his immense talent, who gives the story its spine-tingling impact," and deemed it the best horror film of the year.[15] Variety also praised the film, noting it as a "superior haunted house thriller."[16]

Ed Blank of the Pittsburgh Press referred to the film as "an unexceptional but diverting horror story with better-than-average performers."[17] A review published in Florida Today praised the film as "the best ghost story of the year," noting Medak's direction as "brilliant," and likening it to The Innocents.[18] The Arizona Republic's Michael Maza wrote a less favorable review, calling the film "a sure-thing haunted house story" and "routine picture" supplemented with "formulaic eerie noises, cobwebbed stairways, crashing glassware and unbelievable coincidences."[19] In The Morning News, the film was noted as a "good ghost story... George C. Scott's demonic energy works well for him here, giving a force and power that might elude a weaker actor. Trish Vandevere is appealing in the role of the historic society woman and Melvyn Douglas is superb as a crusty old millionaire."[20]

Fiona Ferguson of Time Out was critical of the plot, noting: "the leaps made by Scott's agile mind in identifying both victim and usurper leave logic and credence on the starting block."[21] Film 4 noted the film as "a minor classic" and "underrated member of the haunted house movie genre."[22]

As of August 2019, The Changeling holds a rating of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 22 reviews.[23]

Home media

The film was released on LaserDisc with a digital Stereo soundtrack by HBO Videos in 1982. The film was also released on DVD by HBO Home Video in 2000.[24] The independent distributor Severin Films announced a limited edition Blu-ray release of the film, which was released in the United States on August 7, 2018.[25]

Awards and recognition

The Changeling won the first ever Genie Award for Best Canadian Film. It also won the following Genie Awards:[13]

This film was No. 54 on Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments.[5] Director Martin Scorsese placed The Changeling on his list of the 11 scariest horror films of all time.[27]


The Soundtrack to The Changeling was released by Percepto Records on CD on December 21, 2001 and was limited to 1,000 copies.[6] On April 13, 2007, Percepto released a 2-CD "Deluxe Edition" of the soundtrack, which was also limited to 1,000 copies and has subsequently been sold out.[28]

Standard edition
1."Main Title"2:31
2."The First Look"1:46
3."First Chill"1:31
4."Music Box Theme for Piano" 
5."Country Ride"1:04
6."Bathtub Reflections"3:03
7."Secret Door"3:31
8."The Attic"2:45
9."Music Box Theme"1:45
10."The Ball"3:15
11."The Seance"7:31
12."The Killing"3:42
13."Carmichael Reflects / On the Floor"2:18
14."Face on the Bedroom Floor"1:59
15."Chain Reaction"3:46
16."The Doors"1:10
17."Mirror, Mirror on the Wall"1:11
18."The Attic Calls Clair"3:52
20."End Title"3:10
21."The Seance (Alternate Version)" (bonus track)7:09
22."Carmichael's Demise" (bonus track)3:43
23."Piano Solos" (bonus track)1:37
24."Alternate End Titles" (bonus track)2:31
Deluxe edition
Disc 1
1."Main Titles"2:33
2."Piano Source"0:57
3."Arrival at the House"1:48
4."Piano Source"1:11
5."Piano Source"0:13
6."First Chill"1:33
7."The Door Opens by Itself"0:21
8."Music Box Theme for Piano"2:06
9."Country Ride"1:06
10."Bathtub Reflections"3:05
11."Finding the Secret Door"3:33
12."Up Into the Attic"2:47
13."Music Box Theme"1:47
14."The Wheelchair"0:25
15."Microfilm Research / Cemetery"1:30
16."Ball Over the Bridge / It's Back!"3:17
17."The Seance / Talk to Us!"7:14
18."Murder Flashback"3:43
19."Wheelchair / Carmichael Tower"1:00
20."Carmichael Reflects"0:34
21."The House on the Lake"1:56
22."Breaking into the House"0:54
23."Face on the Bedroom Floor"2:01
24."The Chain Appears in the Dirt"3:47
25."All the Doors Shut"1:12
26."Mirror, Mirror (Vision of Death)"1:13
27."Russell Goes to See Carmichael"2:02
28."The Attic Calls Clair"3:53
29."The Big Finale / Resolution"5:55
30."Music Box / End Credits"3:13
Disc 2
1."The Seance (Alternate Version)"7:11
2."Carmichael's Demise (Unused Cue)"3:45
3."Alternate End Title"2:31
4."Unknown Cure"1:51
5."Unused String Quartet (V1)"0:48
6."Unused String Quartet (V2)"1:17
7."Solo Celeste"0:47

In 1987, Italian director Lamberto Bava directed Until Death, an unofficial made-for-television film that was marketed as a sequel for its home video releases; however, there is no connection between the films.

See also


  1. Muir 2012, p. 76.
  2. Nowell 2010, p. 260.
  3. Rudolph, Katie (October 22, 2013). "A Denver House that Inspired a Horror Film". Denver Public Library. Retrieved December 28, 2017.
  4. "The Changeling and other Canadian movies you don't want to watch alone | The Star". Retrieved 2019-10-14.
  5. Bravo (October 26, 2004). "The 100 Scariest Movie Moments".
  6. Archived October 25, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  7. "10 Canadian Film Gems You May Have Never Seen — But Should!". National Canadian Film Day. Retrieved 2019-10-14.
  8. "History of the Canadian Film Industry | The Canadian Encyclopedia". Retrieved 2019-10-14.
  9. Goodstein 1986, pp. 472–474.
  10. "Hatley Castle: Movies".
  11. Seeking out The Changeling 35 years later., retrieved January 26, 2017.
  12. Ebert, Roger (April 2, 1980). "The Changeling". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved June 12, 2018.
  13. "Director takes a peek through the looking glass". Detroit Free Press. Detroit, Michigan. April 25, 1980. p. 25 via
  14. Miller, Edwin (April 1980). "The Changeling". Seventeen. p. 75. ISSN 0037-301X.
  15. Grenier, Richard (May 1980). "Reviews: The Changeling". Cosmopolitan. p. 10. ISSN 0010-9541.
  16. Variety Staff (December 31, 1979). "The Changeling". Variety. Retrieved June 11, 2018.
  17. Blanks, Ed (May 24, 1980). "'Changeling' Beats Most Ghost Movies". Pittsburgh Press. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. p. 5 via
  18. "'Best Ghost Story of the Year'". Florida Today. Marquee. Cocoa, Florida. April 18, 1980. p. 11 via
  19. Maza, Michael (March 28, 1980). "Routine horror haunts 'Changeling'". The Arizona Republic. Phoenix, Arizona. p. 84 via
  20. "'Changeling' a good ghost story". The Morning News. Wilmington, Delaware. March 28, 1980. p. 32 via
  21. Ferguson, Fiona. "The Changeling Review". Time Out. London. Archived from the original on December 14, 2009. Retrieved June 9, 2018.
  22. Film4 Staff. "Changeling, The". Film4. Archived from the original on October 30, 2010. Retrieved May 20, 2018.
  24. "The Changeling [DVD]". Amazon. Retrieved June 12, 2018.
  25. Evry, Max (June 6, 2018). "The Changeling Blu-ray Brings the Classic Horror Thriller Home". Retrieved June 12, 2018.
  26. The Changeling (1980) - Awards
  27. Scorsese, Martin (October 28, 2009). "11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time". The Daily Beast. Retrieved November 15, 2009.
  28. Archived October 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine

Works cited

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