Film Forum won’t have any trouble selling out its 40th anniversary shows (today through November 4) of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, but more than a few discerning cinephiles will be traveling uptown tonight instead for the Walter Reade Theater’s rare screening of The Changeling (1980). Not to be confused with Clint Eastwood’s latest weepy (though admittedly, Angelina Jolie’s acting is pretty scary), The Changeling is one of Sound of the City’s favorite childhood horror films. Better yet, in place of the shitty VHS and DVD copies out there (‘Very Long Wait’ on Netflix), Walter Reade will be showing director Peter Mendak’s personal print, on loan for Halloween.
George C. Scott (your dad knows him as Patton) plays a grieving Manhattan composer whose wife and daughter have been killed in an upstate car accident before his very eyes. Seeking to resume his work, he takes a teaching post at the University of Washington and rents a rickety local mansion so vast he doesn’t even bother with the upper two floors. That is, until weird things start to happen.
Co-starring Trisha Van Devere—the real-life second Mrs. Scott, looking an awful lot like the first—as well as Hollywood legend/quasi-blacklist victim Melvyn Douglas, The Changeling was, in a sense, already passé upon its initial release, which may account for its forgotten status. Beautifully shot by Sam Peckinpah’s cinematographer John Coquillon, the movie’s throwback reliance on atmosphere over gore must have seemed quaint to its original audiences, who at the time were accustoming themselves to the excesses of the slasher pic. Engorged with Victorian-derived supernatural elements like late-night séances, ancient newspaper articles, music boxes, and the ghosts of dead children, The Changeling is your grandfather’s idea of a Halloween movie. That’s a compliment.—Benjamin Strong