Release Date(s)1980 (August 7, 2018)
Studio(s)Chessman Park Productions/Associated Film Distribution (Severin Films)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
Although many people from latter generations are likely to see 1980’s The Changeling as a quaint, TV movie of the week-type haunted house movie, particularly after decades of found footage, J-horror, comedic, and postmodern ghost-related movies that have aggressively gone in other directions with the material, they may also find themselves missing out on something special. The Changeling is a simple and straight-forward film, but it excels in two key categories: atmosphere and performances, two aspects that push it beyond its horror confines.
George C. Scott stars as John Russell, a music composer who has recently lost his wife and child in a terrible accident. Attempting to move on with his life and continue his work, he moves into an historical Victorian-era mansion, which has been vacant for quite a number of years. While there, he begins to experience supernatural phenomenon, such as loud banging noises every morning and unsettling visions of a young boy. Emboldened to discover the home’s past, he looks to Claire (Trish Van Devere), a woman from the historical society who originally rented him the house, for help as they search for the truth about the house’s mysterious and sordid family history and silence whatever ghostly presence that continues to dwell within it.
My original reaction to The Changeling when I saw it for the first time was an honest but incorrect one. I enjoyed it and found it to be fairly compelling, but I wasn’t entirely sure that George C. Scott was the right actor for the leading role. Now having seen it a couple of times since then, I was obviously incorrect as he’s perfect for it. It’s an emotionally-gripping role that requires less use of irony or anger and more of a sentimentality to carry us through it. Who would have thought that seeing him lying in bed grieving over the loss of his wife and daughter would be so devastating? It’s such an authentic moment that many of us have experienced that it completely seals our interest in the story and makes us actually care about what’s going to happen next.
There’s also the iconic horror moments throughout the film, beginning with the red ball that bounces down the staircase and continuing with Claire’s amazing reaction to something she sees on the second floor of the house. If it isn’t obvious by now, the film is loaded with atmosphere. The house is a character all unto itself and its spacious settings not only increase the depth of shadows and what might be lurking in them, but it also further illustrates the emptiness in John’s life – storytelling through set design and lighting, in other words.
Having read some of the reviews that the film received at the time, it’s hard to believe that The Changeling wasn’t received in a slightly more positive manner than it was. Critics seemed to miss the fact that it’s not just a typical scary ghost story. It’s an old-fashioned film, there’s no question about that, but it takes its time. It has plenty of spookiness to it, but it’s haunted in more of an emotional way, which can often be more effective than traditional jump scares, monsters, and ghostly figures, depending upon the execution. In this case, it works beautifully.
One of the most sought-after titles in the history of the Blu-ray format, The Changeling has been long overdue, and thanks to the folks from Severin Films, we now have excellent, disc-based, high definition representation. It comes sourced from a new 4K scan and restoration of the film’s interpositive, which is believed to be the best-existing element. The film has always had a heavily grainy look to it with super low light levels, so inherent (and intended) crush is to be expected, but detail has been dramatically increased and is much crisper than its nearly 20-year-old standard definition counterpart. Some shots look cleaner and more refined than others, but everything appears aesthetically even throughout. The color palette isn’t overly varied, but what is present stands out well, particularly reds, browns, and greens, as well as very good skin tones. Brightness and contrast levels are never problem, but there is some extremely minor wobble from time to time, which is barely noticeable, as well as some leftover speckling.
In the audio department, there are several options to choose from: English 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD, as well as Spanish, Italian, and German 2.0 Dolby Digital. The 5.1 option is a bit of a mess, unfortunately. While sync is never an issue, there are instances where dialogue and sound effects are missing. Everything is so much quieter and the placement of certain elements and the use of speaker to speaker movement aren’t all that aggressive aside from moving some of the sounds of the house and the ghosts inside it around slightly. Thankfully, the 2.0 is included and is the default option. It definitely shows its age with hiss and crackle throughout, particularly during the quieter moments of John at his piano, but it exhibits none of the problems of the 5.1 track. It’s slightly unbalanced in spots, but dialogue and sound effects are clear and discernible. Dynamics aren’t abundant, but there’s some decent separation, particularly during ghostly whispers or those aforementioned early morning booming noises. Optional subtitles are also included in English SDH.
The extras in this package include an audio commentary with director Peter Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels, moderated by Severin Films’ David Gregory, which is fairly lively and provides plenty of information, with Medak speaking highly of his cast and crew; The House on Cheesman Park: The Haunting True Story of The Changeling, an 18-minute interview with author and historian Dr. Phil Goodstein, who’s a bit kooky, but filled with information about the house that the original author of “The Changeling” claims to have stayed in; The Music of The Changeling, a 9-minute interview with the film’s music arranger Kenneth Wannberg, who discusses his work on the film, as well as some of his other films; Building the House of Horror, an 11-minute interview with art director Reuben Freed, who speaks about his career and the work that went into designing and building the film’s house; Mick Garris on The Changeling, a 6-minute piece with the horror director, author, documentarian, and podcaster about his feelings on the film; The Psychotronic Tourist: The Changeling, a 16-minute tour of the filming locations with author Kier-La Janisse, head of “Fangoria” Michael Gingold, director Ted Geoghegan, make-up effects artist and director Ryan Nicholson, and film programmer Clinton McClung; an animated still gallery containing 103 behind-the-scenes, promotional, and home video cover images; the original theatrical trailer in HD; a TV spot; and a CD soundtrack (which contains at least one dropout, as well as some skipping on the final track). Missing from overseas releases of the film is an older audio commentary track with Peter Medak, and not included from the U.K. Second Sight Blu-ray release (which was done concurrently with this one) is a double-sided poster, reversible artwork, a 40-page insert booklet, and rigid slipcase housing. By comparison, Severin’s release comes housed in a black Blu-ray case and a lovely (but limited) embossed slipcover. There’s also a standard Blu-ray release available without the soundtrack or the slipcover.
Alongside films like The Haunting and The Legend of Hell House, The Changeling has long-been considered by fans to be one of the greatest haunted house movies ever made. It really delivers on many different levels and it’s great to finally have it in high definition after years of waiting for it to make the jump. If you’ve never heard of or seen this and you’re a horror fan, I urge you to pick this one up. It’s a fantastic release and a wonderful film. Highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons