Years before Sadako Yamamura, we met a little boy named Joseph.
While it may have been released in March of 1980, director Peter Medak’s The Changeling has way more in common with the decade it was made in: the 1970s. Spurred on by Friday the 13th and gory slashers of that ilk, the ’80s were a time for fun excess in the genre; but if you’re looking for elegant and classy horror films that tell great stories and have the power to genuinely terrify, you need look no further than the horror output of the ’70s. And The Changeling, driven by an incredible performance by Oscar-winner George C. Scott, is very much cut from that cloth.
In the film, Scott’s character, a renowned composer, moves into an old house to get some work done in the wake of his wife and young daughter being killed in a tragic accident, and he soon discovers that he’s not alone in the house. With strange activity plaguing his days and nights, the man eventually holds a seance, discovering that a young boy was killed in the house by his own father many decades prior. It’s the boy’s spirit who haunts the building, and he doesn’t intend on resting until the bizarre circumstances of his death are known… and even that’s not enough.
A genuinely chilling haunted house movie that’s equal parts horror and detective mystery, The Changeling is nothing if not riveting, taking its time to invest you in the story and the unnerving atmosphere of the house. Loaded with twists and turns, it’s a great horror film that kicked off the ’80s on an incredibly high note, in many ways feeling like one of the last vestiges of the ’70s.
And The Changeling, well, it sure seems to have inspired The Ring.
Hideo Nakata’s original 1998 Ring (aka Ringu) was of course based on a story written nearly a decade prior by Koji Suzuki, which itself was inspired by the real-life legend of Okiku’s Ghost. But several key elements of the story also seem to have been plucked directly out of The Changeling, which came along a decade before Suzuki wrote the story that spawned a massive franchise.
In The Changeling, main character John Russell’s investigation leads him to a property that once had a well on it… but the well seems to have vanished. He eventually deduces that the well still stands on the property, but that a house was literally build directly on top of it. Inside that well, which Russell digs up, is the skeleton of the young boy killed by his father in the early 1900s.
Of course, this is exactly the same thing that happens in Ring. A woman and her ex-husband eventually find their way to a cabin, discovering that it was built atop… a well. They rip up the floorboards to find the well underneath, and it contains the bones of Sadako Yamamura: a young girl who was killed by her father and then dumped into the well, before it was sealed shut.
But the similarities don’t stop there.
In both films, the main characters are sure that discovering the remains of the dead child will finally put their vengeful spirits to rest… but that doesn’t turn out to be the case. In The Changeling, young Joseph Carmichael seems to be made even angrier after Russell unearths his makeshift grave, and in Ring, Sadako’s curse is similarly not lifted even upon her exhumation.
Sadako and Joseph are also similar in that they’re not exactly “normal” children. Sadako’s murder is attributed to the supernatural abilities she possesses, while Joseph Carmichael is killed by his father due to his physical condition. Joseph is very sick and frail, and without giving the whole movie away for those who haven’t seen it, his murder is a result of his physical weakness.
Mind you, nearly every story can be traced back to another from the past, but revisiting The Changeling ahead of Rings being released this weekend, I couldn’t help but notice the strong similarities between the 1980 film and the origin story of Sadako Yamamura. If nothing more, Peter Medak’s film seems to have at least partly inspired Suzuki’s story of the girl in the well.
If you’ve never seen it, now is the perfect time to experience The Changeling.