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The Changeling is my personal scary movie gold standard

Updated on October 29, 2011

Check out this and other great scary movies

Looking over the list of movies I've reviewed this month, I see one John Carpenter movie, two Wes Craven movies, two Ridley Scott movies, three Jerry Goldsmiths, four Stephen Kings, two James Horners, two Tobe Hoopers, two Len Cariou movies, two Tim Curry movies, and even a Bing Crosby and a Bette Davis. But the one I held for last? That one's in a class of its own as far as I'm concerned.

I've been reviewing a different Halloween movie each weekday throughout October. However, I don't want to have to worry about writing my review on Monday, so I'm breaking with my pattern today. But I also want to be sure to give anyone who's actually listening to me the chance to find and watch this one if they want.

And frankly, I think you all should.

The Changeling is one of my personal yearly traditions. There are movies I like to watch arround Halloween, but this is the only one on my "have to" list for this holiday. I saw this first when I was a young kid. Then a few years passed. But when I got older and I saw this one on DVD, I snatched it up. And I've watched this one every year for Halloween since.

(Be sure you grab THE Changeling, not Changeling. There's no Angelina Jolie in this one. Sorry.)

But before I let myself run on at the keyboard, the movie.

The great George C. Scott plays John Russell, an accomplished composer living in New York. In the opening scene, there is a great tragedy in his life and he loses his wife and daughter. Needing a change of scene, he moves to Washington State and takes up a teaching position. He's hoping to distract his mind and move on with his life.

He leases a large mannor from the Historical Preservation Society. As can be expected from any ghost movie, things begin to happen, leading Russell to suspect that the house may have a history of unusual happenings and he starts to investigate.

What he uncovers reveals a very shocking event in the house's history. A secret that powerful men would go to great lengths to hide.

Personally this is exactly the kind of movie that I feel scary movies should aspire to be. The atmosphere is solid. The scares are genuine. The story is deep and really makes you think.

Last night, for instance, I showed this one to my sister—who hadn't seen it since she was six and remembered practically nothing about it—and my sister in law—who'd never seen it at all. In fact, my sister in law—we'll call her ... Grittny—is married to the brother "Smerrit" I mentioned in my review of The Others. Smerrit was there and he'd seen the movie before. But throughout the movie, he would periodically turn on some podcast on his headphones to distract himself.

I've seen this one, who knows how many times. But in the right circumstances (i.e. not with a sister in law asking what's going to happen every five minutes) it still gives me chills. A couple years ago, during my favorite scene, I got full-body chills for over a minute straight. Now that's good story telling.

You can difuse any scary movie by ragging on it as you watch it. I know some who do just that. If that's what you want to do while you watch this one, that's up to you. But if you want to enjoy a good scary movie with a rich story, just shut up and watch this one. I can't imagine it would let anyone down.

For me, this gets a 10 / 10.

The Changeling is rated R (there was no PG-13 at the time, which is the rating it would likely get today) for a bit of language, thematic elements, scary situations and a little bit of violence and blood.

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