In which Angelina Jolie kicks against the system when the LAPD try to convince her an impostor is her missing child.
No, wait, that's another CHANGELING.
This one is far better. This is Peter Medak's exemplary haunted house flick from 1980.
John is travelling with his wife and child on vacation one winter, and has cause to pull over into a snowy ditch so he can use the phone booth on the other side of the road. As he does do, he watches helplessly as his wife and daughter are killed in a freak traffic accident.
Cue the opening titles sequence, following which we catch up with John a short while later. He's relocated to Seattle to work on a new piece of music he's composing, and of course reflect on his recent loss. A local estate agent, Claire (Trish Van Devere). gives John a guided tour of a palatial Victorian property which is up for rent - simply stating that it has sat empty for the last twelve years. It seems perfectly suited to John's needs for isolation, and he signs on the dotted line.
It's not long after John has been left alone to settle into his grandiose setting, that the oddness begins. First, he begins hearing unexplained thudding noises on a morning. This could perhaps be dismissed as a structural issue; witnessing the fleeting image of a drowned boy in your bathtub one evening is a different kettle of fish altogether.
Suitably shook up, John explores the house further and discovers a hidden room at the roof of the house, in which he finds a child's disused wheelchair. Intrigue getting the better of him, John contacts Claire and voices his concerns over the house, querying its history.
Following a spot of amateur ghost-hunting, John and Claire decide to call in a medium and hold a seance in the house. This leads to John hearing the voice of a child, and ultimately the unearthing of a convoluted plot involving murder, inheritance fraud, a US Senator (Melvyn Douglas) and deception. Not to mention, of course, a vengeful ghost too!
It's a basic synopsis, I know. But THE CHANGELING is a bona fide classic ghost film, one which I highly suspect our readers are already familiar with. And if you're not, the less you know about it, the better. Suffice it to say, it builds slowly but steadily by way of subtle chills and sinister atmosphere, compelling with effortless ease as Scott delivers the most palpably vulnerable performance of his career.
From Rick Wilkins' suitably haunting score to the exemplary production and set design (the house interiors were studio-built; even the exterior was fashioned upon), all facets fall nicely into place here. The screenplay, by Russell Hunter, William Gray and Diana Maddox, examines grief with delicacy and grace, while keeping the hauntings just ambiguous enough to scare us as much as they do John.
Hungarian-born Medak handles directing chores with incredibly well-balanced skill (he took over from Donald Cammell). This was his first big break - he went on to make the likes of THE KRAYS and LET HIM HAVE IT - and its credit to him that he understands the material so well. Not only is his sense of pacing spot-on - crucial towards the intelligent screenplay's success - but he soaks in the ambience of the setting and situation with dexterity while never detracting from the very human drama unfurling on screen. Of course, the wonderful performances help with this latter point. Scott is simply brilliant in his role here, resilient, lost and mournful in equal parts. His off-screen wife Van Devere is just as convincing, and gets to up her game during the film's gripping latter half. Douglas is both sinister, and curiously haunted by a dark past.
The main thing people will tell you about THE CHANGELING though is that it's scary. They'll tell you how the simple things like seeing a child's ball bounce down a flight of stairs will give you the willies, and such. And they're right. THE CHANGELING is a quietly creepy film which only rarely resorts to cheap jump scares for its thrills. It retains its power to burrow beneath the skin even today, almost 40 years since its theatrical release.
Second Sight give THE CHANGELING its long-overdue debut on UK blu-ray. We were sent a screener disc to review.
The film comes uncut (106 minutes and 49 seconds in length) and is presented here as an MPEG4-AVC file with full 1080p HD resolution. The original 1.85:1 ratio is adhered to in this new 4K scan and restoration, and naturally the picture is enhanced for 16x9 televisions.
Images are clear and vibrant, a thin layer of natural grain lending them a satisfying filmic feel. There's a sense of depth felt in each composition which is very true to the cinematic experience, while colours and flesh tones remain authentic throughout. Blacks are sturdy thanks to a complete absence of compression noise. The picture isn't the sharpest, but kudos to Second Sight for resisting the urge to employ any unwelcome enhancing methods.
English audio comes in choices of stereo and 5.1 surround mixes. Both are credible, clean options. The latter doesn't add too much to proceedings. Optional English subtitles are provided for the Hard-of-Hearing: these are well-written and easily readable at all times.
The disc opens to an animated main menu page. Pop-up menus include a scene selection option allowing access to the film via 16 chapters.
Who would like some bonus material? Oh, okay then ...David Gregory of Severin Films moderates an excellent new audio commentary track, which he opens by telling us was recorded on October 18th 2017 - what would've been George C Scott's 90th birthday. He's joined here by Medak and producer Joel B Michaels. The three of them bounce off each other well, Medak and Michaels helping each other with their memories of time on set, while Gregory does a fine job of stepping back and letting them talk, chipping in to prompt them when necessary and thus keeping things fluent throughout. Medak was naturally scared of working with an actor with such a fearsome reputation (fears which ended up being unfounded); the script finally sold the director on taking on the job; how the exterior and interiors of the house were created; we get some information on the supposedly true story on which the film is based upon (more on that below); the task of independently financing a horror film around 1980; straight-talking Scott was delighted with the finished article; Van Devere was a joy to work with; the importance the cinematography plays in the film; the research undertaken prior to making the film; how Michaels strived to cast "the creme de la creme of Canadian actors" of the time; the fact that the film was poorly distributed in the US; and much, much more. Illuminating stuff.
"The House on Cheesman Park" is a fascinating new 17-minute documentary from co-producers Severin Films and the Denver Film Society. Hosted by author and historian Dr Phil Goodstein, this allows us a closer look at the 19th century house on which the movie's based. Despite some annoying editing techniques, this emerges as an involving expose on Cheesman Park's dark background and the fate that eventually befell writer-composer Russell Hunter when he moved into the central house in the 1960s - thus inspiring Medak's film. A wealth of archive photographs keep this visually interesting.
The 9-minute "The Music of The Changeling" finds music arranger Kenneth Wannberg at ease in his home, tinkering out samples of the film's ambient score on his piano. This leads to an onscreen interview with the prolific artist, as he talks us through his memories of working on the likes of STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.
Art director Reuben Freed is on hand for the enjoyable "Building the House of Horror". Over the course of 11 minutes, the laidback Freed speaks of how he originally wanted to be a documentarian and became a set designer purely to gain experience. He fell in love with the craft, which led to a long and successful career - including, of course, Freed's sterling work on THE CHANGELING.
Severin Films also proffer "The Psychotronic Tourist", a 16-minute endeavour in which "House of Psychotic Women" author Kier-La Janisse serves up a great mix of background trivia and location visits (with a few guest hosts along the way - Fangoria's Michael Gingold, WE ARE STILL HERE director Ted Geoghegan, GUTTERBALLS director Ryan Nicholson, and Seattle International Film Festival programmer Clinton McClung). Janisse sits in a children's ball pool, which makes for a very colourful introduction. All in all, this is one of the most entertaining features in this formidable set.
"Mick Garris on The Changeling" does what it says on the tin, the director giving his own appraisal on the film, its lead actor and its themes.
"An experience beyond total fear" promises the earnest male voiceover in the film's original theatrical trailer. It's a well-edited 2-minute affair which ably conveys both the intriguing plot and insidious sense of menace which builds throughout the main feature. The trailer is scratchy and grainy, and all the better for being so.
All of the above extras are 16x9 presentations. We also get the film's original US TV spot which, of course, is a pillar-boxed 1.33:1 affair. This 29 second proposition is weathered to the point of being barely watchable, truth be told. Still, it's nice to see it included regardless.
Although unavailable to review, this amazing release also comes with lovely custom packaging, a colour poster, a 40-page booklet and a CD containing the original soundtrack.
A true classic of the genre receives a long-overdue special edition release which is absolutely loaded with enjoyable, insightful extras. Just buy it.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Second Sight|