Although the early 80s witnessed the slasher film go mainstream, one of the first and most beautiful horror films of the decade was emphatically not a slasher film, but a gorgeous throwback to the atmospheric B-movies of the 40s and 50s. Like so many of those films – especially those made under Val Lewton – The Changeling is essentially about the relationship between a character and a space, in this case renowned composer John Russell (George C. Scott), who moves into an old house in Seattle following the accidental deaths of his wife and daughter in New York. Although the house appears to be set on a regular suburban block, its massive Victorian Gothic edifice quickly dislocates it from the surrounding streets and city, as it starts to communicate with Russell through a variety of sonic and musical devices, from the piano in the downstairs parlour room to a music box that he discovers in the attic. As Russell investigates and explores this endless, labyrinthine structure with the assistance of his property agent, Claire Norman (Trish Van DeVere, Scott’s actual wife at the time), director Peter Medak crafts a kind of object lesson in the music of suspense, a tribute to suspense as a classical art, a symphonic co-ordination of sound and image that’s folded quite subliminally into Russell’s latest symphony, which becomes indistinguishable from the haunted spaces in which he is composing it. In part, that’s due to Medak’s gorgeous camera, whose movements are always a little too fluid or a little too spacious to feel as if they’re tethered to Russell’s perception, but too curvaceous and anamorphic to feel omniscient either, instead poising themselves at the receding threshold between Russell and the house, swivelling around the enormous, endless staircase that acts as echo-chamber and opening up great glissandoes of space with a precision and patience that often makes it feel as if the film is shot in slow motion. Whereas contemporary slasher films tended to alternate between suspense and shock, here shock is entirely subsumed into suspense, with the horror emerging gradually and wholistically, much like Medak’s incredibly detailed, deep-focus compositions, which seem to seek out and isolate the most eccentric and exotic aspects of any space, even when we venture outside the house. Admittedly, venturing outside might initially seem unnecessary and even undesirable, but part of the pleasure and surprise of the film is the way in which this languorous, peripatetic curiosity – a very spatial curiosity – segues effortlessly and brilliantly into neo-noir in the third act, as we sink into something like a cold case - or at least a cool case – that uncovers a deep past to Seattle, a Pacific Northwest answer to Vertigo, in the spirits that flit in and out of Russell’s cupboards and chandeliers. Shrouded in the cool, moody textures of a cityscape that’s cloudy all year round, George C. Scott never felt quite so rarefied as among these wanderings and wonderings, never quite so attuned to the autumn of his years – every look, phrase and gesture is musical in its understatement, vibrating in perfect unison with Medak’s directorial vision.