Review: The Changeling

Blu-ray: The Changeling (1980)

After losing his wife and child in a tragic accident, composer John Russell (George C. Scott) leaves the city to escape to a rambling rented house in the countryside.  He soon finds out that this house ‘should not be lived in’ as strange things start to happen.

‘Serious’ actors tend to give some gravitas to films that could, possibly, become ‘silly’. George C. Scott, a true Titan of cinema (Patton, The Hustler, Anatomy of a Murder, Dr Strangelove) is a marvel in this film and elevates it to the status of ‘Classic Horror’.

There are no knife attacks, jump scares, or gore in The Changeling, but rather an insidious grief that permeates every frame of film. Scott’s character Russell is a man in pain, having witnessed the death of his wife and child in front of him; he is a broken man, who clings to a lullaby he’s just composed. A tune that is part of the house, a tune sent to him by an entity that is trapped in there.

Haunted house films prey on a very base fear that the place you should feel most secure in can be invaded, and the house in this film contains a malevolent presence that may want to harm you, or is it actually a cry for resolution and help?

John soon realises he is not alone in the imposing house. Strange ‘BOOM BOOOM BOOOOOOOM‘ noises lead him to a bordered-up attic room, in which he discovers, among the decades of accumulated dust and cobwebs, a small, child sized wheelchair. Convinced the ghostly presence and this room are linked, John enlists the house agent Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere; Scott’s real wife) to help him in finding out the truth.

What follows is one of the best séance scenes on film, made even more chilling with the new 4k scan. Even now it retains its power and is quite terrifying. The camera stays close to wide eyes and jittery looks while the medium in her slow far away voice asks the entity its name (Joseph) and drones repeatedly ‘did you die in this house’?  Even writing about it is making the hairs on my arms stand up.

Creeping dread mixed with a deep, rooted melancholy is the key to this film, along with a bouncing ball and a sense of past wrong doings – lingering, until they are ‘put right’.

George C Scott is flawless in the role of world weary widower John Russell. His performance is subtle and effective, he conveys the air of quiet grief and despair that attracts the ghost of Joseph to him. John listening back to the tapes recorded during the séance, makes for chilling viewing, hearing a small child’s voice answering the medium is the very definition of a ‘hair standing up on the back of the neck’ moment. This is a film is full of small creepy moments, which gradually escalate to a twisted crescendo at the end.

In fact the ending is the only thing that lets the film down slightly, due to lack of clarity about what happens to certain characters, and a sudden apparent case of ‘astral projection’ that seems to come out of nowhere, after such a tantalising and careful build up, it rushes a bit at the end sadly. But even so, it doesn’t diminish the film as a whole.

True Horror to me, must pass a test of time, it has to remain in my memory, and the thought of re-watching it makes me feel a little hesitant. The Changling has always been in my list of ‘Do I REALLY want to watch that’? films. Simply because, it scares the hell out of me.

I must add that the extras on this package are fantastic, (No spoilers!) especially the short ‘The Haunting on Cheesman park’ which uncovers some facts about The Changling that honestly shocked me and made me think about the film is a whole new light.

This is a MUST BUY for any film fan, a real classic that every film fan should own and love.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

• Brand new 4K scan and restoration
• Limited Edition packaging featuring outer rigid slipcase, Amaray case, poster, 40 page booklet and OST CD
• Audio commentary with director Peter Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels moderated by Severin Films’ David Gregory
• ‘The House on Cheesman Park’: The Haunting True Story of The Changeling
• ‘The Music of The Changeling’: Interview with Music Arranger Kenneth Wannberg
• ‘Building The House of Horror’: Interview with Art Director Reuben Freed
• ‘The Psychotronic Tourist’: The Changeling
• ‘Master of Horror Mick Garris on The Changeling’
• Trailer
• TV Spot
• New English subtitles for the hearing impaired

Limited Edition Contents
• Original Soundtrack CD
• 40 page perfect bound booklet with new essay by Kevin Lyons, production notes and on-set interview with George C. Scott
• Double-sided poster and reversible Amaray sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by artist Christopher Shy and original poster art

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Review by Tina (co-host of 60 Minutes With) from a disc kindly supplied by Aim Publicity for Second Sight Films.