The Changeling: Limited Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Second Sight
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (15th August 2018).
The Film

After his wife (Frenzy's Jean Marsh) and daughter Kathy (Michelle Martin)(Michelle Martin) are killed in a road accident, composer John Russell (Patton's George C. Scott) quits New York for Seattle to teach music at his alma mater. In need of a remote place where he can compose at all hours, John is shown the long-uninhabited Chessman House by local historical society representative Claire Norman (Scott's wife Trish Van Devere of The Last Run). It soon becomes apparent, however, that he is not alone. Doors open on their own, a barrage of clanging sounds wake him up at the same time every night, and his keepsake of Kathy's toy ball bounces down the stairs and reappears no matter how many times he tries to get rid of it. At first he believes that his daughter's ghost is trying to contact him; however, he is nudged from the beyond to discover a hidden attic room in which he discovers a music box – the tune of which he has been composing – and a child-sized wheelchair. John and Claire dig into the past of the house – which old-timer Miss Huxley (Sunday in the Country's Ruth Springford) informs them should never have been rented as it "doesn't want people" – and discovers the accidental death of a little girl; however, a séance conducted in the house reveals another presence desperate to contact John and able to visit violence upon anyone who attempts to interfere, among them venerated Senator Joseph Carmichael (The Old Dark House's Melvyn Douglas) who would prefer that the distant past remain buried.

The subtle and genuinely creepy polar opposite to the likes of Poltergeist, The Changeling succeeds not only as a technical exercise in suspense and scares but as one of the most moving takes on since-overused ghost story trope of a protagonist who has suffered tragic loss becoming vulnerable to the spirit world since Don't Look Now with which it shares recurring motives of water and shattered glass (although THE CHANGELING shares some similar imagery and plot devices with the relentlessly grim television adaptation of The Woman in Black, the more recent Hammer adaptation imposes loss upon its protagonist to lesser effect). Director Peter Medak (The Ruling Class) deftly manipulates a checklist of ghost story moments and manages to wring as many chills out of moments the audience can see coming (the camera tracking away from departing characters to objects which suddenly move on their own) to jumps in which the viewer is shown the character's reaction before the sight. The film's main set-pieces are the film's séance in which the spirit communicates with a medium (stage actress Helen Burns) through automatic writing, and John discovery of another participant in the séance while listening to a tape recording afterward. The mere sight of the child's cobweb-covered wheelchair has seared itself into the memories of many a viewer (particularly one low angle shot at the top of the stairs). The gruff Scott surprises with his nuanced portrayal of a shattered man who at first is driven to resolve the mystery simply because he "can't go through all this again" and then to expose the truth out of fear of whom the spirit might harm next. Even the film's villain is more of a proxy target of retribution and is genuinely pained when forced to face a truth he does not want to believe is true. Scott is well-supported by a roster of Canadian and British talent – a few exteriors were shot in Seattle but several exterior and interior locations were shot around Vancouver – including The Fugitive's Barry Morse as a dotty parapsychologist, Battlestar Galactica's John Colicos as a police captain sent by Carmichael to intimidate John, The Flying Nun's Mother Superior Madeleine Sherwood as Claire's mother, Frances Hyland (Happy Birthday to Me) as a woman whose daughter has a terrifying encounter with ghost miles from the house, and Eric Christmas (Harold and Maude) as the medium's husband. Van Devere would be showcased in her own battle with the supernatural the same year in The Hearse. The striking Chessman House was actually a distressed façade erected in front of a smaller house on the property while the interiors were a sprawling, continuous three-story set meticulously designed by Trevor Williams (Night of Dark Shadows) through which the camera of Johnny Coquillon (Witchfinder General) glides handheld like the physical embodiment of the restless ghost. Although Rick Wilkins is credited with composing the score, much of the score was actually ghost-written by credited arranger Kenneth Wannberg (The Philadelphia Experiment) while the music box tune was the work of Howard Blake (Flash Gordon).

Video

Released theatrically in the UK by Brent Walker Film Distributors and then on videotape by VTC, The Changeling first received a barebones American DVD from HBOwhich was nevertheless a nice upgrade in terms of an anamorphic transfer and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track. In Europe, rights owner Studio Canal licensed the title to several territories including the UK and Germany, and their DVD edition was identical with menus in multiple languages and multiple audio/subtitle options. While that disc featured an audio commentary by director Peter Medak, the anamorphic transfer was over-sharpened and green-tinged. Concurrently with Second Sight in the UK, US company Severin has announced limited edition and regular edition packages – the latter with a slipcover and CD soundtrack while a bundle with those, an enamel pin, and toy ball can be ordered directly from Severin's site. Both territories utilize the same 4K restoration and Second Sight's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer looks virtually identical to the Severin encode. In a side-by-side comparison, DVDBeaver notes that the Second Sight encode is slightly warmer and richer but the difference was not so radical to this reviewer to write off either edition. Both are thankfully stripped of the greenish tinge of the European DVD transfers, with the grainier image adding to the film's chilly ambience and calling attention both to the nuances of Trevor Williams' impressive sets as well as a few production hiccups like a camera shadow during one of the creepy handheld shots and one camera tilt down from the third floor ceiling of the staircase to eye level that seems bumpy despite the use of an ultra-wide angle lens. Highlights and reflections on varnished surfaces less noticeable before sometimes draw the eye from the focus of the shot.

Audio

Audio options include an LPCM 2.0 encode of the original Dolby Stereo mix in which underlying hiss is evident in the many long silences, as well as a cleaner DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in which voices sometimes seem recessed by positions of the actors in the frame while giving depth to the film's surround whispers and offscreen noises (although nowhere near what one would expect of a similar film actually mixed in 5.1). While the 5.1 track was missing a few bits of dialogue from the center channel on the Severin edition, those bits appear to be all intact on the Second Sight checkdisc. The US release also featured German, Spanish, and Italian mono dubs like the Studio Canal DVDs, but those dubs are not present here. Optional English HoH subtitles are included.

Extras

The Medak commentary recorded for the DVDs has been dropped in favor of a new track featuring Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels (Black Moon Rising). Michaels reveals that the pitch came to him as a three hour tape recording in first person by composer Russell Hunter who claimed that it was a true story. He bought the rights for a million dollars and hired two writers to adapt it – Canadian William Grey (Humongous) and British Diana Maddox (The Amateur) – only to replace them and rewrite it when their adaptation moved away from the spirit of the Hunter source. He also mentions that Donald Cammell (Performance) and Tony Richardson (Tom Jones) were approached before Medak. Medak wanted to do the project because it scared him as much as the script for The Haunting – on which he is uncredited but was presumably second assistant director as he was on some Hammer films like The Phantom of the Opera from that period – but nearly did not take it because he felt that the intended location was all wrong until Michaels promised to raise more funds to build sets (including the aforementioned façade). They discuss Scott's performance, highlight the work of the supporting cast members, the subtle scares, and the sound design while lamenting the decision to let Lord Grade's new Associated Film Distributors handle American distribution rather than MGM.

"The House on Cheesman Park: The Haunting True Story of The Changeling" (17:31) is a featurette in which Phil Goldstein (author of "The Ghosts of Denver: Capitol Hill") sheds light on the local legends and "true story" behind the film, starting with Cheesman Park's beginnings as a scenic city cemetery soon overloaded by a high infant mortality rate and the poor health of prospectors, paupers funerals in which bodies were dumped into nearby vacant lots (and excavated during public works projects in the seventies), the shortcut taken by the undertaker hired to move the roughly twenty-thousand bodies when the area was to be developed into a public park at the turn of the century, and the bodies that remained when the city gave loved ones ninety days to claim the remains themselves. Goldstein then discusses Russell Hunter who moved into a house across from the park and claimed to have been haunted by a ghost leading to his discovery of a secret attic room and the belongings of a child, Hunter's investigation, as well as Goldstein's own research into the families that inhabited the house before Hunter. "The Music of The Changeling" (8:59) is an interview with music arranger Wannberg who discusses the theme he composed, his dissatisfaction with the music box tune that was composed before his involvement, temp tracking the film, and his reactions to the initial mix done in Canada. The featurette does not touch upon Wilkins' contributions or that of Blake. "Building The House of Horror" (10:56) is an interview with art director Reuben Freed (Killer Party) who came to work at the CBC as an art director and met Williams on the Canada-lensed TV movie Who'll Save Our Children?. He discusses the building of the film's sets and Williams' artistry, as well as scenic painter James T. Woods (Blade Runner) who was responsible for the distressed look of the exterior façade. In "Master of Horror: Mick Garris on The Changeling" (5:31), Garris (Sleepwalkers) expresses his admiration not only for The Changeling but also the rest of Medak's oeuvre – contrasting the formalism of the ghost story with the likes of The Ruling Class (or even Species II) – and recalling his desire to recruit Medak as one of the Masters of Horror for which he directed The Washingtonians. In "The Psychotronic Tourist: The Changeling" (16:02), critic Kier-La Janisse hosts a visit to the film's locations with Fangoria's Michael Gingold and We Are Still Here's Ted Geoghegan visiting Lincoln Center in New York, Seattle International Film Festival programmer Clinton McClung at the Seattle locations including the cemetery, and effects artist/director Ryan Nicholson (Collar) in Vancouver (including a visit to the modern house on the redeveloped land where the mansion façade once stood). The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (2:18) and a TV spot (0:29), the latter showing AFD's miserable marketing of the film ("Don't go in the attic!"). A stills gallery included on the Severin editions is not present here; however, presumably some of that imagery appears in the limited edition's 40-page perfect-bound liner notes booklet with new essay by Kevin Lyons, original production notes and archive on-set interview which was not included here for review along with the soundtrack CD, reversible sleeve with new artwork by Christopher Shy and original poster artworks and double-sided poster featuring new artwork by Christopher Shy and original poster artwork.

Overall

The scariest ghost story of the eighties, The Changeling, comes to Blu-ray from a 4K restoration courtesy of Second Sight's limited edition package.

 


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