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Blu-ray Review

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The Changeling (1980)
(2023 4K Restoration)


Starring: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, John Colicos and Jean Marsh
Distributor: Second Sight Films


Certificate: 15
Release Date: 05 June 2023

When he loses his wife and young daughter in an horrific road accident, composer John Russell moves from the big city and rents an old mansion house via the Historic Society. The seclusion he seeks to work on his new music piece is immediately interrupted by strange noises which soon escalate to manifestations. With the help of a historian, he seeks to uncover the violent history of the house and a conspiracy which reaches as high as political office. A hidden room is discovered at the top of the house. But what happened there, and who is calling out for justice from beyond the grave...?

Haunted house scenarios are notoriously slow burners with an even slower reveal. The Changeling hits the ground running by showing a happy family on a Winter break, and abruptly pulls the rug from under it by having the wife and daughter killed in an accident. This loss is portrayed as being the link to supernatural goings on in the mansion house. Someone from beyond is reaching out to John.

The techniques used are simple but effective. John finds himself composing new music, only to find the hidden room and a music box which plays the same tune. The children’s ball appears in several set pieces, appearing from nowhere to drop down the stairs. John even takes the ball out and drops it from a bridge into water, only to return to the house and see it bounce down the stairs yet again. Lights swinging, unexplained sounds, and a voice that only reveals itself on tape are the other occurrences on the road to the spectacular finale of fire running down the banister and engulfing the house. Undoubtedly, the most scary moment is when the empty wheelchair chases the historian along the upper level at breakneck speed – part of which is cleverly filmed from the point of view of the chair.

John Russell is played realistically by George C. Scott. The character is not easily spooked. He is quite reserved and methodical about what is going on under his roof, but that doesn’t prevent him from being quietly creeped-out by something unexpected. It is so refreshing as, proceeding this film in 1979, protagonists were standardly screaming hysterical wrecks. Scott’s wife Trish Van Devere is also well-cast as the historian who, throughout these events, remains purely a helping colleague, rather than falling into the clichéd love interest.

Peter Medak’s film was a ground-breaking ghost story for its time, setting some of the tropes for films that followed. For example, the well which has to be dredged to find a body has been copied countless times since – most notably in the Japanese classic The Ring. Without giving too much away, The Changeling’s back story actually makes sense (unlike many other supernatural tales), and has far-reaching consequences. The whole story is mapped-out carefully, so it’s not by chance it’s considered a classic. I often wonder what would happen had films like this continued beyond the known conclusion. In this one the old mansion goes up in flames, so John would probably be charged with arson. They would learn about the fate of his family and conclude he had gone mad, and commit him to an asylum!

This release is a must have for lovers of ghost stories or horror in general. It’s pitched just right, with the pacing, emotion and mood spot-on – a haunting masterclass. I reviewed the 2018 restoration release; this new release comes in three formats. There is a Limited Edition 4K & Blu-ray Box Set, a Standard Edition 4K, and a Standard Edition Blu-ray. The limited edition packaging contains a 108-page book incorporating several new essays and an archive interview with Peter Medak, an original soundtrack CD (the music is fantastic and sets the mood) and five collector’s art cards. Other disc extras on all versions include an audio commentary by Peter Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels; Mick Garris (director of several Stephen King Projects, as well as Masters of Horror) on The Changeling; Interview with Art Director Reuben Freed; Interview with Music Arranger Kenneth Wannberg; The Psychotronic Tourist (a dull journey around the locations); and The House on Cheesman Park: The Haunting True Story of The Changeling (by far the most interesting and entertaining piece, told with enthusiastic eccentricity). There are also two audio commentaries, an interview with the director at the Morbido Fest 2018, and Medak on his early years in swinging London.


Ty Power

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