That House Is Not Fit To Live In

I caught The Changeling when I was twelve years old and it spooked me out. The imagery lingered in my mind for a while after and then I kind of forgot about the film. When it would randomly pop up in my head I couldn’t remember the name of it, then years later I rediscovered it and now when I think of the movie or I give it another go it triggers some memories, bringing me back to where I was when I first viewed it. Those memories are not necessarily unpleasant, enough time has surpassed that I’m indifferent to them, there is an emotional neutrality. They are not positive or negative recollections, they’re just recollections.

At the time I lived with my dad on the second floor apartment of a two family house he rented near the border of Whitestone and Flushing. Things were not going well in my parent’s marriage, maybe not ever, irreconcilable differences from the jump. I’m sure they probably had a few good moments but their union was destined for failure. I wasn’t surprised when she left.

One afternoon my mother took my little sister with her and they went to live with her new boyfriend, who would become my step father, I was not thrilled about her selection. Despite my feelings for my step father, which have softened slightly over time, they remained together until her death in January 2014. That should count for something. She asked me if I wanted to go with her or stay with my dad, she offered me a courtesy, but she wanted me with her. I think it broke her heart a bit that I opted to stay with my dad, but I had been displeased with her, and didn’t want to leave him.

My dad worked long hours driving a truck for a furniture delivery company. It didn’t matter how much he worked it was never enough. The felon’s dilemma, be legit and barely get by or risk your freedom returning to the only way you know how to make money. He was broken and barely existed until he passed in March 2018.

My father was content with a pot of coffee and a sandwich, and a television. Westerns or war movies, preferably. I loved my parents, but when I think about him and I do often, just as I think about her, if I’m being completely honest, I feel a bit angry, but mostly I feel sad for them. They are two people I will never understand. I don’t know if they haunt any houses but at times, they haunt me.

He would be long gone before I woke up and return home late in the evening. Sometimes we’d sit and make small talk but mostly I stayed in my room. I was pretty much on my own in our austere apartment. The fridge was never stocked, which is why I can’t bare to have an empty fridge now. I’d stretch out some cold cuts to make them last, sustaining off of junk food. When the electric got turned off, I made the best of it by pretending it was olden days, sometime prior to 1879 and I’d light a candle and read. I never bitched, because no matter the conditions I didn’t want to have to live with them, but it would only be a matter of time before we would be evicted and I’d be forced to live with my mother. I didn’t make that transition easy on anyone.

If that time taught me anything about myself, I learned that I didn’t need much to survive. Maybe I was better suited to live in another time, anytime rather the present, anywhere opposed to this increasingly superficial world we’re in now. To quote Jack White, before covering “Jolene” under Blackpool Lights, “I’m in the right place, the wrong time? That’s how I feel everyday.”

One night I couldn’t sleep, that would be most nights, and the Late Movie on channel 7 was The Changeling.

A classic ghost story from 1980. George C. Scott, a veteran actor with a reputation for heavy drinking and a bit of a temper, drives this haunted house film. The film starts off nightmarish, as John Russell (Scott) witnesses the death of his wife and daughter in a freak automobile accident. To me that seems worse than moving into a haunted house.

One of Roger Ebert’s gripes in his review on April 2nd 1980, is that Russell is “too impassive.” Ebert who married late in life and never fathered any children might think that, but any loving parent and devoted husband probably wouldn’t give a fuck about most things after witnessing such a tragedy.

Russell is a composer, and leaves his apartment in New York City, for a teaching position in Seattle. The memory attached to his apartment of his deceased wife and child is unbearable and maybe a change of scenery would be good for him. He winds up renting a big old, lovely mansion through a historical society that has acquired it, because of the music room where he can sit and compose. He trades one haunted place for another. Is it places or people that are haunted?

Russell doesn’t live in the house long before phenomena begins to occur. I don’t want to spoil it completely so I’ll stop there. It is streaming now on Shudder. Turn off the lights and watch it.

Peter Medak, the director, creates a chilling atmosphere in this psychological gothic horror flick. The story is captivating and the tension burns slow. It may not be a perfect film but it is a great one, if you allow yourself to be immersed. It made Martin Scorsese’s list of 11 of the greatest horror films of all time, if you need validation from someone other than myself.

The screenwriters took half a year to research parapsychological encounters, but the story itself, was supposedly based off of real life events witnessed by compser/ playwright Russell Hunter. The haunting allegedly occurred at the Henry Treat Rogers Mansion, located in Cheesman Park in Denver, Colorado, during the 1960s when Hunter lived in the mansion. Of course, Hunter embellished and certain parts of his account doesn’t add up. The mansion was torn down so a high-rise could be built in its place, which Hunter was present for the demolition. Russell Hunter died in 1996. It has since become known that Cheesman Park was originally a graveyard, and sightings and strange goings on are still reported in the area.

Henry Treat Rogers Mansion, built in 1892.

In the film, Russell is warned by a woman who works at the historical society, “That house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in. It doesn’t want people.” And all I can think is, yeah, I’ve spent some time in houses like that.

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