I love a good old fashioned creaky haunted house story, and HBO’s The Changeling is one of the best, and most under appreciated spooky tales out there. Like I say time and time again (no doubt sounding like a broken record at this point), real effective horror lies in atmosphere and the buildup of tension, chilling our spines instead of bombarding us with tasteless dismemberment. The Changeling takes its time in establishing cozy atmosphere and engulfs us in a gigantic New England mansion (actually Shaughnessy for anyone who can tell), inhabited by the lonely, desperate ghost of a young boy who met a tragic fate there many decades earlier. George C. Scott is the musical composer who moves in all by himself, seeking solitude as he nurses the grief of losing both his wife and daughter in a car accident. He’s barely there one night when strange things begin to happen; rhythmic banging from some far off room, eerie crying noises, doors opening and closing of their own accord and a mysterious toy bouncing ball that ominously follows him around. Saddled with an already troubled mind, he sets out to learn the origins of the ghost and resolve the situation, putting it to rest. The story is smart and succinct, involving ancestral deception and an elderly US Congressman (Melvyn Douglas, stealing every scene) with ties to the past. It’s never too complicated or busy, always keeping it’s cool and reigning in the frightening moments in a minimal fashion that pays off greatly. The lush, overgrown Vancouver locale makes a great setting, almost Stephen King like, and the house itself is a towering cluster of dusty hallways and wide open ceilings that shield ancient secrets and watch over anyone who sets foot inside with an unseen eye. I never thought a bouncy ball and a small children’s wheelchair could raise such goosebumps, but when used as well as they are here, in scenes which set up the creep factor wonderfully, they’ll get to you big time. Scott is weary and wary, but has a strong sense of compassion for the restless spirit that shows in his baleful, ice blue eyes and gives him the charisma a horror protagonist needs. HBO original films are almost always hidden gems of humble craftsmanship and breezy, effortless skill, whatever the genre. Here they’ve tried their hand at the ghostly fright flick, and wrought one of the best I’ve ever seen.