The 1980 horror film, The Changeling is one that has been around the majority of my life, in one form or another. Almost like a ghost who was haunting me. My initial and minimal exposure to the movie came in an old-school clamshell VHS box. See, when I was a kid, there were these places called video stores. My local version of which was called Video Corner, and it was one of my favorite places in the world. Alas, I was not allowed to see R-rated movies. Hence, the horror section was forbidden as far as rentals went. However, I could bask in the box-art of these movies, and among them was the classic art for The Changeling.
After the VHS days, the movie in review became a hard one to find. But, as the adage goes, “The best things come to you when you aren’t looking for them.” Perhaps that’s why I stumbled upon a DVD of the film in a flea market at the beach. This thing was a first-generation DVD release as well, complete with a cardboard, snapper case. Considering The Changeling’s well-regarded reputation in the horror genre; I figured it was worth spending $2 bucks on. To say I got more than I bargained for would be accurate.
The Changeling takes its inspiration from events that supposedly occurred in real-life in the 60s. At the time, playwright Russell Hunter was looking to have a roof over his head and save a few bucks at the same time. Thus, Hunter moved into the Henry Treat Rogers mansion, located in a Denver, Colorado neighborhood called Cheesman Park. Soon, the playwright discovered why the monthly estate was only $200. Not long after moving in, Hunter started experiencing paranormal activity and quickly moved out. After the fact, he wrote a story inspired by these events.
A story which made its way into the hands of producer Joel B. Michaels (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles). Who, after reading the story and hearing a seance that was recorded during Hunter’s stay at the mansion, immediately wanted to adapt these occurrences into a film. Michaels attained the rights to the story and hired Hunter along with screenwriters William Gray and Diana Maddox to craft the story into a screenplay; once the script was completed the red ball started bouncing. Highly-respected European director Peter Medak agreed to helm to picture after reading and being “Petrified” by its screenplay. Then, almost as quickly, legendary actor, George C. Scott (Patton) agreed to star in the film. Interestingly, part of Scott’s deal was that there would also be a role for actress (and Scott’s real-life wife) Trish Van Devere. Together, the cast and crew told this story:
Tragedy, for better or worse tends to breed change. And a change of scenery is exactly what composer John Russell (George C. Scott) is seeking after the deaths of his wife and young daughter in a car accident. As such, he moves from New York to Seattle where he takes a job as a lecturer at a local university while he composes his latest musical work. He also takes up residence in an old mansion, rented to him by an agent from the historical society named Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere). Not long after settling into his new and vast abode, John begins to experience paranormal disturbances. As these disturbances grow more intense, he begins to wonder if it is the spirit of his daughter or something else? To get to the bottom of all this, John and Claire become intent on solving the mystery behind these disturbances.
At their core, all good ghost stories are about the horror of tragedy. The Changeling is a great ghost story because it taps into the horrific aspects of tragedy and loss in a way that most horror films aren’t able to. I’d wager that if you’ve ever experienced a personal loss, you’ll be able to empathize with the film’s protagonist. The Changeling pulls you in with melancholy and cinematic beauty. Then once you’ve settled in, things start to get scary. Not in a jump scare tactics kind of way; but instead by being an exceptionally slow-burn of a film that taps into the viewer’s emotions and psyche. One that in the process, builds many ghost story sub-genre tropes.
Aside from possessing an intriguing and emotionally-rooted story, The Changeling is a beautifully crafted film. Peter Medek leads a cast and crew who are all at the top of their game in every respect. While the cinematography by John Coquillon (Straw Dogs) and music by Rick Wilkins stand-out, along with the production and art design; I frankly find all the filmmaking here to be impeccable. Of course, it helps that the cast is delivering the goods here as well. There’s no doubt that Scott is an excellent actor. But, I’d be remiss if I did not point out that many of his performances depend reasonably on yelling fueled by emotion. In The Changeling, Scott gives the most subdued performance of his career. Furthermore, I think Scott’s performance in this picture may be his career-best.
The thing I love the most about this movie is that you can feel the passion of everyone involved. That’s not something I get to say often about movies, much-less horror movies. Perhaps that passion is a large part of what propels this picture to perfection. I tried to find issues with The Changeling, I really did! However, I simply could not; in my estimation, this is a perfect film. Moreover, it’s one of the better, if not best, horror movies ever made. We would not have Poltergeist (1980), Ghost Story (1981), The Sixth Sense (1999), or The Conjuring (2013) to name a few, without this film.
Even though I loved The Changeling upon first seeing it many years ago; I cannot say the film’s presentation was impressive. In fact, from what I recall, that first-generation DVD looked close to a VHS transfer. Something I found to a be real shame as The Changeling is one of the most beautifully photographed films in horror movie history. The cinematography is a character in the movie as well, with the camera serving as the ghost’s perspective. Well, now The Changeling receives the high-definition treatment it deserves, thanks to the folks over at Severin Films.
A company that has earned itself a reputation among horror fandom as being one of the genre’s premier restoration houses and home entertainment distributors. Despite Severin Films’ bonafides, I hadn’t purchased anything from them up until now. For me, when it comes to owning a physical copy of a movie, there has to ideally be the trifecta: A movie I love, substantial special features, and preferably eye-catching packaging. A trifecta which Severin Films provides with their Limited Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray release of The Changeling. This beautiful edition features a black Blu-Ray case featuring the original poster art. Of course, it’s housed inside of a gorgeous slipcase with a new blue hued take on the original cover.
As impressive as the packaging of this release is, the disc itself is even better. For this release, The Changeling has been given a full 1080p restoration, from the film’s original negative. Thus, this is easily the best this film has ever looked. Moreover, I own many movies from the 70s and 80s in HD, and this release of The Changeling is one of best-looking ones by a long shot! The sound here as also been given a nice upgrade. Together, these restored video and audio elements make the film an even more immersive experience! Now, let’s take a look at this edition’s Special Features:
Audio Commentary with Director Peter Medak and Produced Joel B. Michaels, Hosted by Severin Films’ David Gregory- As far as movie commentaries go, this is one of the better ones. While not being particularly scene specific, Medak and Michaels provide lovely insights on the making of The Changeling.
The House On Cheesman Park: The Haunting True Story Of The Changeling- In this 17-minute featurette, a Denver, Colorado historian fills us in on the history, paranormal and otherwise behind the Henry Treat Rogers mansion. As a bit of a history buff, I found this to be an interesting featurette. Though I must say I found the historian to be a bit of a grating and eccentric character.
The Music Of The Changeling: Interview With Music Arranger Kenneth Wannberg- While running a bit on the short-side at 8 minutes; this is a very informative interview with Ken Wannberg. He talks about his history with the legendary John Williams before going into working on the film in review. Most interestingly, Wannberg explains why The Changeling contains a few scenes with what looks like a bad dub. According to Wannberg, the entire movie had to be re-dubbed in post-production.
Building The House Of Horror: Interview With Art Director Reuben Freed- A touching 10-minute interview with the movie’s art director. Freed talks about immigrating from South Africa to work on The Changeling.
Master of Horror Mick Garris On The Changeling- In this short 5-minute interview, horror director Mick Garris talks about the impact that the film had on him and its place in genre history.
The Psychotronic Tourist: The Changeling- This 16-minute featurette takes on a tour of over 20 of the movie’s locations. While I’m not the world’s biggest film location tourist, I found this to be a fun featurette.
Still Gallery- A beautiful slideshow type gallery set to the film’s score. This gallery runs for 8 minutes and contains dozens of black and white stills; as well as all the movie’s marketing materials.
TV Spot- A vintage 30 second TV spot. One which I enjoyed, but found incredibly uninformative. Then again, that’s not a bad thing as I find modern movie marketing could stand to be a little less informative.
Trailer- A tremendous old-school trailer, voiceover and all. This trailer intrigues, while keeping the film a mystery.
Soundtrack CD- Available in this edition only, a CD release of the film’s full score.
Hands-down, this release of The Changeling is one of the better Blu-Ray releases of the year. Severin Films has done an exquisite job with this restoration, so much so that I’m thrilled to add it to my collection. While I would have preferred a feature-length making-of documentary, I understand why that was not possible as most of the people who participated in making the movie are now deceased. That aside, this is the high-quality release that The Changeling deserves! If you’ve never seen the film reviewed here, this Blu-Ray would be a great introduction to it!
PLEASE NOTE: This is a review of the Limited Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray release of The Changeling, now Available for Purchase. The Changeling is also available in a Standard Edition Blu-Ray & DVD.