Das Grauen (1980)

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Das Grauen: Directed by Peter Medak. With George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, Jean Marsh. After the death of his wife and daughter in a car crash, a music professor staying at an old mansion is dragged into a decades-old mystery by an inexplicable presence in the mansion’s attic.

“While I am not a big fan of haunted house films, the American public has always been fascinated by the notion of restless spirits at work where we sleep. I consider Mario Bavau0026#39;s u0026quot;Shocku0026quot; the high point of this subgenre, though Peter Medaku0026#39;s u0026quot;The Changelingu0026quot; comes awfully close in terms of suspense and atmosphere. George C. Scott plays John Russell, a NYC composer/pianist who loses his wife and daughter in a freak accident; decimated, he relocates to Seattle, quickly assuming a teaching position and living in a vacant mansion owned by the local historical society; not long after, Russell is awakened by an inexplicable loud banging, and uncovers a boarded up attic room that portends a revelation I wonu0026#39;t give away. The film avoids convention very well (for example, the relationship between Russell and Realtor Trish Van Devere never turns romantic), instead opting for an old-fashioned campfire-story quality where the supernatural is left to our imaginations. While u0026quot;Shocku0026quot; was awash in Bavau0026#39;s painterly image overkill (which suited his purposes), Medak is minimalist to a fault: there are some spectacular high- and low-angle shots taken from inside and outside the mansion (like omniscient POV shots from select crevices and corridors) that turn it into a character unto itself; also note the claustrophobic emphasis placed on characters in narrow corridors and stairwells. The first hour of u0026quot;The Changelingu0026quot; is very effective, building slowly to two brilliant scenes: the first involves a chest-tightening séance; the second involves Russell listening to the recording of it. But, as is inevitable with film, the plot begins to unravel in its second half, as a string of dark secrets implicating a U.S. Senator (Melvyn Douglas) comes into play. The screenwriters admirably keep the developments as spare as possible, thus maximizing their intended effect–by the end, we are fully convinced that Russell, in his attempts to u0026#39;liberateu0026#39; this spirit, is also trying to purge himself of the grief over his loss. u0026quot;The Changelingu0026quot; is a straight-faced, wonderfully subtle horror film, buoyed by fine performances–Scott especially, whose unlikely presence here lends the character and situation a pathos it might not have had otherwise. Think of it as a refreshing alternative to u0026quot;The Amityville Horroru0026quot; (both versions).u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003e(By the way, u0026quot;The Changelingu0026quot;u0026#39;s R rating is deceptive; while some scenes are intense (not explicitly violent), it would drift between a PG or PG-13 by todayu0026#39;s standards.)”

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