I'm relatively sure this one was a victim of hype. After all, when everybody and their mother tells you that The Changeling is one of the greatest ghost story movies ever made, you go into it with rather high expectations. But before you grab your torches and pitchforks, let me actually give you my thoughts. The film has a unique story in that John (George C. Scott) has recently lost his wife and daughter in an accident. He moves to Seattle where the historical society puts him up in an old mansion. However, strange things start happening, and he starts to figure out that the history behind what happened in the house might involve a bigger cover-up than one might think.
Besides the hype, I think the one disadvantage going into the film was that I'd seen dozens of ghost films... and all the tropes are the same. It might have been more original in 1980, but I literally knew every little thing that was going to happen (scare wise). Because of this, the film really wasn't scary whatsoever. It was just too predictable. There was one big that freaked me out, though. Despite seeing it coming a mile away (no pun intended), the moment following getting rid of his daughter's bouncy ball made me jump and gave me chills. I think it was more for the sound play than the event, though.
Speaking of, they probably could have played more with the fact he lost his wife and daughter. Besides the aforementioned scene, the only purpose it plays is a catalyst for his move and is never truly utilized within the plot. The story almost entirely focused on the current mystery.
All of that aside, it reminded me of a mixture of The Orphanage and Stir of Echoes (but grander in scale in conspiracy). It also felt strangely of J-Horror. I can see a lot of influences--or at the very least similarities--in modern Asian ghost stories from this film. The story itself was more intricate with the ghost itself wanting vengeance for what happened. Not to mention the ending was totally bizarre and rather metaphysical.
Another more unique turn of events for this film is how it paces itself. By the end of the first hour, you learn the Who, What, When, Where, and How. After another 10 minutes, you learn the Why (and another Who). I wondered what could possibly be left to do. But the last 35 minutes take an interesting direction and show us how the characters deal with the information they've learned. Whereas in most ghost stories, once you learn the mystery, it's fixed in minutes and that's about it. Here, you learn the mystery and still have a whole other third of the film left for them to try and find a solution.
Overall, the movie was slow paced at times (particularly in the first 30-40 minutes). The first hour (the true ghost story aspect) was quite predictable, but only predictable because I've seen all the films that have followed since. With the exception of maybe one moment, it wasn't very scary--it was more creepy and atmospheric. But it was still quite a solidly made film, especially for its time, and I especially recommend it if you're one who loves ghost stories and/or gets scared a little more easily than I do. It does have some unique takes on the genre, even by today's standards--the Title issue being the most unique. I recommend it.