My Favorite Scary Movie: The Changeling (1980)

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

For the month of October, staff will be gearing you up for the Halloween season with My Favorite Scary Movie, where we will share our favorite scary flicks, be it gory horror, supernatural thriller or bloody slasher flicks, lending the personal touch for each film and why it stands as one of our all-time favorite spooky flicks of the season.


What’s it about? After a tragic accident kills his wife and daughter, a composer moves into a secluded historical mansion to heal. Once he arrives, he finds that that the house is haunted by a seemingly malevolent force, leading to a heartbreakingly horrific discovery.

Who’s in it? The great George C Scott, Trish Van Devere and Melvyn Douglas.

Who made it? This classic ghost story is directed by Peter Medak (THE KRAYS, SPECIES 2), written by Diana Maddox and William Gray, with a story by Russell Hunter.

Why it’s my favorite scary movie: Out of the many horror films I grew up on, there are several images from THE CHANGELING that haunted my young mind. This is a classic ghost story with a very heartbreaking mystery. Instead of relying on shocks and jump scares, this haunted tale explores some very scary territory as George C. Scott’s John Russell discovers the horrors hidden in a large secluded mansion. As the film’s lead, Scott gives an absolutely brilliant performance as a man trying to get over his own recent tragedy, as well as dealing with a supernatural force. This is not only one of the most mature paranormal thrillers, it’s one of the smartest and most satisfying genre films ever made.

One of the most powerful things for me when it comes to genre is when a film deals with tragedy in a real way. The lead up to the horrific accident that kills Russell’s wife and daughter is chilling. As well, the connection that makes this even more disturbing, is the ghost story itself and why it is happening to Russell after the death of his own daughter. It's far better than movies like this tend to be. This is a well crafted mystery, one that unfolds brilliantly. Although, watching this as an adult – especially as a parent myself – there is a sense of sadness that lingers throughout. Still, all of it is perfectly balanced.

When it comes to movies about a spooky goings on at a haunted mansion, the house must work as a character as well. And this house is an exceptional example of how frightening that can be. The secrets hidden inside are just as effective. Peter Medak creates a classic tale that is beautifully shot, and the script is wonderfully compelling. This is that rare collaboration where every little thing works. In fact, next to perhaps the original THE HAUNTING directed by Robert Wise, this could be the best example of telling an atmospheric ghost story with such incredibly scary results.

the changeling my favorite scary movie george c scott trish van devere peter medak melvyn douglas 1980 ghost story haunted house

"It's a classical ghost story about some hidden things which have happened in the past and are indirectly discovered. That's the catalyst of the film. He (George C. Scott's character) thinks it's about his daughter, but it isn't. It's always full of surprises." – Peter Medak

Scariest Part: The boy in the floor. Holy shite that gave this young viewer nightmares for days. When a young girl wakes up in her bed and sees a drowned boy flaying in water where there shouldn't be any, it is one of the most chilling images even put to screen without relying on gore or shock value. And then there is the seance. As well as when Scott’s John Russell plays back the tape from said seance, it is s sublimely creepy example of how to do an EVP in a feature film. And finally, when the wheelchair attacks! When it literally chases Trish Van Devere out of the house, it makes for a very chilling scare. In fact, the entire last act is absolutely perfect, and yes, very scary.

Best Lines: 

John Russell: “You’re the beneficiary of the cruelest kind f murder… murder for profit!” 

Minnie Huxley: “That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. It doesn’t want people.” 

Medium: “We are here to help you… what is your name?” 
Mysterious voice: “Joseph”

Medium: "Why do you remain?"

Medium and George C. Scott: “How did you die?”

John Russell: “You  goddamn son of a bitch. What is it you want?”
[Shouting] “What do you want from me? I’ve done everything I can do!”

De Witt: “I understand you lost your wife and daughter a little while ago. Maybe it shook you up. Maybe too much… Maybe, you need help.”
John Russell: “I’d like you to leave now…”
De Witt: “We can see that you get it… do you understand what I’m saying?”
John Russell: Out! Now!
De Witt: Listen to me, Russell! You’ve got something of the Senator’s… he wants it back. It’s a little gold medal, a family heirloom, he lost it. He thinks you’ve got it.”

Gore and Nudity: If you are looking for nudity and gore you won’t find it here. THE CHANGELING didn’t need any of that. Of course there are a few disturbing sequences. This  includes a boy being drowned in a tub, a car crash that kills a woman and her daughter and a tragic car accident that flps a car over killing the passenger. However, there is no real nudity or gore to speak of, and frankly, none of that would have been necessary. This is scary without it.

Sequels, Spinoffs or Follow-Ups: Aside from fans getting this confused with the Angelina Jolie feature by the same name – not at all related – there was never a sequel or a spin-off. That said, I’ve not doubt that this film inspired modern haunted house features like THE CONJURING, INSIDIOUS, CRIMSON PEAK (Guillermo del Toro is a huge fan) and pretty much every ghost story made in the 80’s. And yes, like every other movie every made, word is that we will be getting a remake – currently with director Mark Steven Johnson – which is reportedly shooting in 2019.

the changeling george c scott peter medak trish van devere melvyn douglas ghost story my favorite scary movie haunted house 1980

"The whole house was a set… it was all built on three floors, and it enabled me to go from room, to room, to room, to room, which was great. I had a wonderful time. It was just very fun. It was a very easy shoot actually for me, and working with George was incredible. It didn’t make a lot of money, but it didn’t cost a lot either, you know. But I certainly was very happy with the film."  – Peter Medak

Scare-O-Meter-Score: This is a classic feature film. The acting is exceptional and the screenplay and the visual aspects all make this one of the most compelling horror films ever made. Shrouded in mystery, the strange noises and the slamming doors work brilliantly here. This is not your typical 80’s slasher fright flick, this is somber, scary and atmospheric. This is the kind of movie you want to watch with all the lights off, late at night, and you will most likely be satisfied. Even if you watch this during the day, it’s just a damn creepy and brilliantly made feature.

the changeling george c scott trish van devere melvyn douglas haunted house ghost 1980 my favorite scary movie


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My Favorite Scary Movie – THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974)


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JimmyO is one of’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.