The early 1980’s were my formative years in terms of a horror education. This was in the main thanks to a certain girlfriend of mine who taught me (easy, Tiger!) that there that the decade of the 1970’s was the true golden age of horror as we gauged each other (I said behave!) on 70’s horror delicacy after 70’s horror delicacy. Good times.Of course, me being me decided that t would be a fine idea to bet with her that I could find a horror film made after 1979 that was superior to any of the wonders from the previous decade, she said that this was an impossibility…….naturally, the wager was on.
She had been isolated at home after being diagnosed with tonsillitis and after a few days of me moping around like some lovesick suck (yeah, what a suck) I decided to wander down to my local video store to find something to take my mind of things. This being 1984, the video rental industry was still pretty much in its infancy so finding something new and worth watching was always a challenge in itself, I remember being less than hopeful of finding anything that would catch my attention. After what seemed like hours of deliberation whether to watch a movie I had seen a hundred times or a movie I had seen five hundred times my eyes caught sight of a dark looking video case with an orange effect lit wheelchair in the dimly lit shadow of what looked like a child. The video case was hidden away on the far end of the shelf and by its immaculate condition it was clear that it had hardly been rented – the movie was called ‘The Changeling‘. Best of all, it was made in 1980, so this might be a long-shot for me winning my major but I thought I would give it a go.
As one does, I read the blurb on the back and it should be immediately put down on record that I didn’t hold out too much hope of it being particularly good. Yes, it starred George. C. Scott, one of my favourite actors (and in my humble opinion, still the best ‘Scrooge’ there has been on the silver screen). However, the rest of the movie’s synopsis didn’t inspire many other positive feelings. I had never heard of it, even though it was only four years old at the time (thanks to ‘her’ I now regarded myself as something of a horror movie aficionado) and The Changeling’s themes of haunted houses, ghosts and seances seemed derivative at best. At worse it also apparently lacked any gore, blood or scream queen element to it either, a recipe for disaster it seemed to my horror-loving mind. So I asked the dependable video store assistant about the movie, a man whose opinion I invariably trusted. He told me that the film had been in the store for over a year with just a handful of rentals. It had done nothing on its cinematic release and gone pretty much straight to video…… and yet……and yet……he said that without fail, every single person had returned the movie and told him that it was quite simply the scariest and most terrifying film they had ever seen. He seemed particularly amused about one customer who had stated that they couldn’t sleep with the light off since seeing it. High praise indeed. I was intrigued. I was desperate for something to watch from the horror genre and then tell ‘her’ about it. I decided against renting it. I instead bought it outright on the spot.
It was only when I was on my way home that I started to doubt whether or not video store man was exaggerating and had just landed another sucker to buy one of his ‘never gonna sell products’ with a made up pack of lies about it.
There was nothing for it but to put aside my doubts, turn of the lights, draw the curtains, take the phone off the hook (Kids, look that term up in the history books) and put on the video………It is safe to say that the movie scared the living crap out of me………….
The plot is cunningly simple. The always excellent George C Scott plays Dr. John Russell a well-known classical music composer. The film begins with him and his family on a winter holiday in upstate New York where his wife and daughter are killed in a traffic accident. Following their deaths he moves across country to Seattle and starts to try to rebuild his life where rents a large dilapidated mansion and slowly begins to teach again and start re-writing his musical scores.
However, nightmares of the accident that killed his wife and daughter continue to haunt his dreams. Not only that, but unexplained noises start to emanate from within the house, but these noises are just the beginning. Convinced there is a supernatural presence in the house he enlists the help a local historian. What they uncover is more shocking than he could ever have imagined.
To say that The Changeling is an effective chiller would be something of a calamitous understatement, it is in fact incredible. Yet outside it’s loyal fan base, this movie is still often ignored as its contemporaries of the time such as The Amityville Horror, The Exorcist and The Omen have gained a huge following whilst all being immensely inferior to this movie. So I think it’s time we redressed the balance eh?
So why is this movie so good, and yet even today is relatively unknown outside its loyal fan-base? As I mentioned previously, the themes within it have been done a thousand times in horror stories – the haunted house, objects suddenly moving through their own accord, mysterious loud noises, an initially disbelieving owner slowly realising that the ghost is real, a medium holding a séance – all familiar themes and often badly made. What perhaps makes this movie superior is its dedication to slowly building up the audiences tensions through careful and sympathetic character development and then providing scenes of genuine terror where often the terror lies not with what we see ( because often we see nothing) but instead leaving our imagination to digest and experience for itself.
Perhaps one of the factors that sets The Changeling apart from films of a similar nature are the actors performances – they are simply stunning. Scott as Dr. Russell in particular gives us a warm, confident yet vulnerable individual who slowly changes from a figure of disbelief, moving through terror, to a point where he truly wants to help the spirit of the murdered boy. My favourite scene comes when the boy’s spirit is first trying to communicate with Russell – it’s a sneakily simple yet effective set-piece that simply involves Russell first hearing, then seeing a child’s rubber ball bouncing down the wooden stairs. After taking the ball and throwing it over a bridge into a river he returns to the house…… only for the now wet rubber ball to come slowly bouncing down the stairs again. There is no blood, no violence, yet the feeling of true terror that Scott portrays simply through his facial expression and reactions is truly amazing. I know, I know the scene sounds lame……after all, A RUBBER BALL!!!??? But my god it’s as chilling a scene that I have ever witnessed in a film, and believe me, that is not hyperbole.
A final element of this stunning film is the use of the house – as in any good haunted house movie it should become an additional cast character in itself. The masterful direction makes the perfect use of the big spaces to help focus attention on Russell’s grief and loneliness The camera of tens looms around the set to give the sensation of the ghost watching and listening to the new occupiers. The house is always a main character making sure that the chills are genuine, the attic room in particular is the personification of eeriness. the soundtrack too should not be forgotten as the movie is constantly accompanied by some sweeping musical arrangements from Ken Wannberg (the music box theme composed by Howard Blake), without ever taking away the audience’s attention from the film itself.
So there you have it – in the space of a few moments my mind moved from a much loved piece of music, through a much-loved girl I once knew, to a movie that I love. You may be wondering whether I won my bet…….. well the sad fact is that a week later she dumped me before I had the chance to show her it……true story.
So it was with delight when I read the following message from the good people at Aim Publicity some weeks ago……
Cited as a huge influence by renowned film-makers including Martin Scorsese and Alejandro Amenabar and lauded by horror aficionados and audiences alike, The Changeling is one of the most chilling horrors of all time and now it arrives in a brand new restored version for the first time on Blu-ray, featuring stunning newly commissioned artwork by Christopher Shy.
One of the last classic horror films to finally be released in high-definition, Peter Medak’s (The Krays) The Changeling arrives as a limited edition collector’s set including stunning packaging, a poster, a 40-page perfect bound booklet and a slew of newly created special features such as a commentaries, interviews and featurettes. The Changeling Limited Edition Blu-ray will be released on 13 August 2018 from Second Sight.
George C. Scott (The Hustler) plays the lead alongside a strong cast including his wife Trish Van Devere (Where’s Poppa) and Oscar winning actor Melvyn Douglas (Being There).
One of the most highly acclaimed horror films of all time The Changeling will chill you to the bone.
Thankfully over recent years The Changeling seems finally to be acquiring the ‘classic’ level of appreciation that it deserves and so it’s wonderful to see the release of this newly restored version, together with an impressive list of special features.
The audio commentary with director Peter Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels is a genuine delight, the two having met when Medak was hired after the original director was let go & now have forged a friendship that has lasted 37 years. The affection the two of them have both for each other and for the movie itself is delightfully clear to witness as they regal us with a plethora of fascinating background stories to the making of the film. Particularly poignant are their recollections of working with George C. Scott, both of them admitting to being nervous before working with an actor whose difficulty to work with had approached legendary status. However the reality was that Scott was in both men’s words “an angel to work with” who loved the role and regarded the finished product as some of the best work of his career.
The House on Cheesman Park: The Haunting True Story of The Changeling is a fascinating account of the events that inspired the script for The Changeling – for a time the working title of the film was ‘The House on Cheesman’ and is passionately and entertained told by author Phil Goodstein.
• 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’
• TV Spot
• New English subtitles for the hearing impaired
Limited Edition Exclusive 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
The Changeling Limited Edition Blu-ray will be released on 13 August 2018 from Second Sight. However you can win a copy of this by heading over to the competition page here at the 5D Website!