Peter Medak’s 1980 film The Changeling has terrified filmmakers and audiences alike and has been listed by Martin Scorsese as one of the greatest and his most favourite horror movies. Guillermo Del Toro, too, is a huge fan of the film and the director, in general.
The Canadian psychological thriller, now a cult classic, starring George C. Scott, Melvyn Douglas and Trish van Devere, revolved around a New York City-based composer who moved into a Seattle mansion that is allegedly haunted by a childlike presence. Based on the true story of Russell Hunter, where the composer was haunted by the same apparitions in the ‘60s, the film is well-known among horror aficionados due to the brilliant use of psychological and spatial terror.
Medak, who was influenced by the 1963 horror film The Haunting, admitted that he wanted to avoid the stereotypical blood and gore typical in gruesome horror films as much as he wanted to do away with typical jump scares. His motive was to make the movie “very psychological, so it didn’t have any cheap shocks in it”.
Medak even expressed his gratitude at Steven Spielberg’s kind reception of the film when the latter screened The Changeling on the sets of his 1982 zeitgeist horror classic Poltergeist. He revealed that Spielberg had apparently asked the crew to view the film carefully as it was, according to him, everything a horror film should be like. Medak said that both Scorsese and Spielberg had 35mm copies of the film and expressed his joy at being able to “be on their lists of the greatest ghost stories of all times”.
Medak’s 1980 classic is a work of sheer brilliance, and very few horror films have managed to achieve a feat of that sort. The atmospheric horror adds to the general eerie and unsettling nature of the film, and various iconic sequences, including the small red ball or a tiny wheelchair, have been later used in various other films as a tribute to Medak’s ingenious creation, namely in Guillermo Del Toro’s 2015 film Crimson Peak where the references to multiple sequences reflect the latter’s admiration and respect for Medak’s work.
Medak revealed how Del Toro had gushed over him at the BAFTA Awards in 2018. Del Toro was allegedly screaming, “You’re my mentor! You’re my mentor!” which baffled the filmmaker. Del Toro went up to Medak and said: “Your movie The Changeling is just a masterpiece”.
Medak affirmed that the appreciation and reception from “fellow directors whose work [I] love and respect” filled his heart with warmth and gratitude.
Watch the trailer for the film below.