Cult Movies

Cult Movie Essentials: The Changling (1980)

The Changeling is a 1980 Canadian/American horror film directed by Peter Medak and starring George C. Scott and Trish Van Devere (Scott’s real-life wife). The story is based upon events that writer Russell Hunter said he experienced while he was living in the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion of Denver, Colorado


  • George C. Scott as John Russell, composer
  • Melvyn Douglas as Sen. Joseph Carmichael
  • Trish Van Devere as Claire Norman
  • Eric Christmas as Albert Harmon
  • John Colicos as De Witt
  • Jean Marsh as Joanna Russell
  • Roberta Maxwell as Eva Lingstrom
  • Barry Morse as Doctor Pemberton
  • Terence Kelly as Sgt. Durban


John Russell (George C. Scott), a composer living in Syracuse, New York, moves cross-country to Washington state following the deaths of his wife and daughter in a traffic accident while on a winter vacation in upstate New York. In suburban Seattle, John rents a large, old and eerie Victorian-era mansion and begins piecing his life back together.

However, John soon discovers that he has unexpected and unwelcome company in his new home: the unhappy ghost of a murdered young boy. The ghost makes its presence felt by various phenomena such as shattering windows, abruptly opening and shutting doors, and manifesting itself dramatically during a seance. John investigates the identity of the dead child and finds that the mystery is linked to a powerful local family, the heir of which is a wealthy United States senator, Joseph Carmichael.

John subsequently discovers that the real Joseph Carmichael was murdered by his father, Richard. Joseph was a crippled, sickly child, and in the event of his death, the family fortune (which he inherited from his late mother) would pass to charity. Desperate to keep control of the fortune, Joseph’s father drowned young Joseph in the bathtub, secretly replaced him with a healthy orphan, and took him to Europe in the guise of seeking a treatment or cure. He returned several years later with the impostor, now grown and “cured” of his illness, and continued as if nothing had happened.

Now, the ghost of the real Joseph haunts the house, making great efforts to persuade John to investigate his murder, and give him some form of justice. John’s investigation leads him to a property that was once owned by the Carmichael family, and after convincing Mrs. Gray (the owner of the property and whose daughter has seen Joseph’s ghost), John discovers the body of Joseph in a well, as well as his birth medal.

After refusing to hand the medal over to the police, John attempts to speak to Senator Carmichael as he is about to depart by plane but is taken away. It is then revealed that the Senator has an identical medal to the one John found. The Senator then sends the policeman, Captain Dewitt to John’s home in an attempt to retrieve the medal, John refuses and when Dewitt leaves to obtain a search warrant, his vehicle “mysteriously” crashes, killing him.

After hearing of Dewitt’s death, the Senator finally agrees to listen to John’s story and meets with him. John reveals the entire story to the Senator, that his father murdered his natural son and replaced him with a changeling, which is the Senator. The Senator refuses to believe the story and scolds John for accusing his father, whom he claims was a “loving man”, of murder. John then leaves the Senator Joseph’s medal, files and the only copy of the séance and apologises. The Senator threatens John that there will be consequences if he has told anyone else of his story.

Meanwhile, John’s friend, Claire, goes to the house alone in an attempt to find John and is chased by Joseph’s wheelchair until she falls down the stairs. Meanwhile the house begins to shake and rumble. John arrives, and escorts Claire outside, and then goes back inside to try and stop the ghost of Joseph. A strong wind causes John to fall from the second story, he survives though. Joseph then lights the house on fire.

Meanwhile, back at the Senator’s home, he is observing the two birth medallions, and throws Joseph’s away while placing his own on a portrait of his father. Suddenly, the picture and the desk start shaking violently and an illusion of the Senator is transported to the house and begins to climb the stairs which then crumble. John sees the Senator’s illusion walking up the main staircase, and narrowly escapes being crushed by a chandelier. Meanwhile the Senator’s illusion then climbs the stairs to Joseph’s attic room where he witnesses how his father murdered the real Joseph by drowning him. Meanwhile, back at the mansion, the Senator himself suffers a heart attack and dies as Joseph’s attic room explodes. John and Claire arrive and see the Senator’s body being hoisted away. The ambulance then passes the Carmichael mansion which is now completely engulfed in flames.

The next morning, at the ruins of the mansion, Joseph’s burnt wheelchair is seen sitting upright and his music box then opens and begins playing a lullaby, possibly signifying that the justice he wanted has finally been served.

Categories: Cult Movies

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