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The Changeling (1980)

Severin Films
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/7/2018

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/2/2018

The late 70s were an interesting time for cinema. The earlier part of the decade had seen a transition from the innocence of the 60s to movies with a more gritty and dark tone. As the 70s went on, the style of films began to change in style as well. The slow, stoic approach which has been the norm for decades, started to morph into much slicker productions, thanks to films like Star Wars and Alien. As one would imagine, most movies chose one side of the other. But, some films like The Changeling attempted to straddle a line and please many members of the audience.

As The Changeling opens, John Russell (George C. Scott) witnesses his wife and daughter die in an accident on an icy road. He then moves to Seattle in order to get a fresh start. A friend recommends that he consult the local historical society to find a place to live, and John soon finds himself moving into an old mansion. It's not long before John begins hearing a strange banging noise in the house. He soon discovers a hidden room which once belonged to a child. Several psychic visions lead John to believe that something sinister occurred in the mansion, and the supernatural presence wants John's assistance. With the help of his new friend, Claire (Trish Van Devere), John begins to research the history of the house and soon learns that an old crime has modern implications.

If you haven't seen The Changeling, you need to be warned that the first act is quite slow. Following the shock of the opening, we are treated to several scenes which are not only slow-paced, but poorly edited, as they contains shots which are not necessary to the story. Many modern audiences (ie: young people) are going to be tempted to turn it off. George C. Scott was a great actor and he could be very forceful in certain roles. However, in the beginning, he plays John as too passive and casual and he seems more like a spectator to the movie that he's in, than an actual participant.

However, once the haunting begins, things do start to speed up somewhat, and you'll see why The Changeling has become a cult classic. The ghostly moments are very subtle in the beginning, with sounds and a few moving objects. It's the seance scene which really gets things moving. There have been plenty of movies with seances, but The Changeling was the first time I remember seeing automatic writing. (This occurs when the ghost takes over the medium's body and they write messages from the spirit.) This scene doesn't contain any overtly supernatural occurrences, but the monotone nature of the medium's voice and the increasingly frantic writing make for a scene which lets the viewer know that this movie may not be as tame as it seems. From there, as John and Claire's research takes them deeper into a historical mystery, the supernatural moments increase, leading to a fiery finale.

I saw The Changeling when it was originally released and I remember it being pretty effective, especially the wheelchair scene which was spoiled by the TV spots. Watching it again today, I can see how it clearly influenced a generation of filmmakers. The automatic writing in the seance scene must have made an impression on James Wan and Leigh Whannell, as it was echoed in Insidious. The old-fashioned wheelchair has turned up in every community haunted house and things like Silent Hill. So, the film's legacy is certainly deserved, as it has its place in the world of haunted house movies. The Changeling is never scary, but some moments are certainly creepy, especially those which involve the child's voice. (There is a moment in the third act, where a character describes the ghost, which starts off as being incredibly creepy, but it's ruined by a very standard visual.) Part old-fashioned ghost story, part trend-setting supernatural mystery, The Changeling is certainly a throwback, but it's one which brought us to where we are today.

The Changeling how common it is to rent an old mansion on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Severin Films. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a trace amount of grain and scant defects from the source materials. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good and the picture is rarely soft. As with some older films, we do get a bit of a flat look here at times. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.8 Mbps. It's not unusual for older films like this to contain new surround sound tracks like this, but it's uncommon for the track to actually demonstrate surround effects. We get noticeable rear-speaker effects at several points during the movie, and they add to the ambience. The track does a fine job of presenting the film's score, and there is no hissing or popping here.

The Changeling Blu-ray Disc contains several extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Peter Medak and Producer Joel B. Michaels, who are joined by David Gregory of Severin Films. "The House on Cheesman Park" (18 minutes) is a mini-documentary which tells of a haunted house in Denver, Colorado. Featuring author & historian Dr. Phil Goodstein, the piece features many archival photographs. "The Music of The Changeling" (9 minutes) delivers an interview with Music Arranger Kenneth Wanberg, who plays some pieces on the keyboard. "Building the House of Horror" (11 minutes) allows Art Director Reuben Freed a chance to talk about the film's sets. "Master of Horror: Mick Garris on The Changeling" (6 minutes) allows the filmmaker a chance to praise the film and Medak. "The Psychotronic Tourist: The Changeling" (16 minutes) provides a real-life look at some of the locations from the film. The extras are rounded out by a "Still Gallery", a TRAILER, and a TV SPOT.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long