Release Date(s)1980 (October 25, 2022)
Studio(s)Chessman Park Productions/Associated Film Distribution (Severin Films)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A-
Although many people from latter generations are likely to see 1980’s The Changeling as a quaint, TV movie of the week-type haunted house movie, particularly after decades of found footage, J-horror, comedic, and postmodern ghost-related films that have aggressively gone in other directions with the material, they may also find themselves missing out on something special. The Changeling is a simple and straightforward film, but it excels in two key categories: atmosphere and performances, two aspects that push it beyond its horror confines.
George C. Scott stars as John Russell, a music composer who has recently lost his wife and child in a terrible accident. Attempting to move on with his life and continue his work, he moves into a historic Victorian-era mansion, which has been vacant for quite a number of years. While there, he begins to experience supernatural phenomenon, such as loud banging noises every morning and unsettling visions of a young boy. Emboldened to discover the home’s past, he looks to Claire (Trish Van Devere), a woman from the historical society who originally rented him the house, for help as they search for the truth about the house’s mysterious and sordid family history and silence whatever ghostly presence that continues to dwell within it.
My reaction to The Changeling when I saw it for the first time was an honest but incorrect one. I enjoyed it and found it to be fairly compelling, but I wasn’t entirely sure that George C. Scott was the right actor for the leading role. Now having seen it a couple of times since then, I was obviously incorrect as he’s perfect for it. It’s an emotionally-gripping role that requires less use of irony or anger and more of a sentimentality to carry us through it. Who would have thought that seeing Scott lying in bed grieving over the loss of his wife and daughter would be so devastating? It’s such an authentic moment that many of us have experienced that it completely seals our interest in the story and makes us actually care about what’s going to happen next.
There’s also the iconic horror moments throughout the film, beginning with the red ball that bounces down the staircase and continuing with Claire’s amazing reaction to something she sees on the second floor of the house. But the house is a character all unto itself and its spacious settings not only increase the depth of the shadows and what might be lurking in them, but it also further illustrates the emptiness in John’s life—in other words, storytelling through set design and lighting.
Having read some of the reviews that the film received at the time, it’s hard to believe that The Changeling wasn’t received in a slightly more positive manner than it was. Critics seemed to miss the fact that it’s not a typical ghost story. It’s an old-fashioned film, there’s no question about that, but it takes its time. It has plenty of spookiness to it, but it’s haunted in more of an emotional way, which can often be more effective than traditional jump scares, monsters, and ghostly figures, depending upon the execution. In this case, it works beautifully.
The Changeling was shot by director of photography John Coquillon on 35 mm film using Panavision Panaflex cameras and spherical lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Severin Films brings the film to Ultra HD for the first time with a new 4K scan of the internegative element, graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 is the only option). As this is a transfer from an element that’s right next door to a print (the original camera negative is apparently missing in action), it definitely carries a heavier yield of grain than many restoration efforts of similar films from the same era. There are sections where the grain is heavy and noisy (mostly during titles or transitions), and others where it’s tighter and much more refined. In both cases, the presentation appears organic to its source with excellent compression and bit rates frequently hovering between 70 and 80 Mbps, sometimes even higher. The HDR grade gets the most out of the color palette, but is relatively reserved. Hues are lived-in and more natural, allowing for authentic swatches of red, green, and blue, as well enhanced detail in the shadows with inky deep blacks. Very minor speckling pops up from time to time, but this is an otherwise stable and clean presentation that does the film’s various tones of dark and light justice, surpassing the previous Blu-ray (no slouch itself).
Audio is included in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. The previous Blu-ray’s 5.1 option arrived with missing dialogue and sound effects. That’s now been addressed and the track makes for a fine surround alternative to the original stereo audio. It’s not an overly aggressive track, but it certainly opens up the more atmospheric moments and spreads them out. The stereo track is also improved as it’s been cleaned up, removing much of the hiss and crackle found on the previous release. Dynamics aren’t abundant, but there’s some decent separation, particularly during ghostly whispers or those aforementioned early morning booming noises. On both tracks, dialogue is clear and discernible.
The Changeling on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case with a 1080p Blu-ray copy of the film and a CD soundtrack of the film’s score. Also included is a small insert card featuring the film’s Japanese poster on one side and a track listing for the CD soundtrack on the reverse, and an insert featuring the original theatrical artwork. There’s also an embossed and spot gloss slipcover available directly from Severin Films. The following extras are included:
DISC ONE (UHD)
- Audio Commentary with Peter Medak, Joel B. Michaels, and David Gregory
- Theatrical Trailer (UHD Upscale/HDR – 2:17)
DISC TWO (BD)
- Audio Commentary with Peter Medak, Joel B. Michaels, and David Gregory
- 2018 Interview with Peter Medak by Filmmaker Adrian Garcia Bogliano (HD – 74:01)
- Exile on Curzon St.: Peter Medak on His Early Years in Swinging London (HD – 19:46)
- The House on Cheesman Park: The Haunting True Story of The Changeling (HD – 17:30)
- The Music of The Changeling (HD – 8:58)
- Building the House of Horror with Art Director Reuben Freed (HD – 10:54)
- The Psychotronic Tourist: The Changeling (HD – 16:06)
- Mick Garris on The Changeling (HD – 5:30)
- Still Gallery (HD – 103 in all – 8:52)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:17)
- TV Spot (SD – :26)
- Easter Egg (HD – :23)
DISC THREE (CD)
- Main Titles (2:35)
- Arrival at the House (1:51)
- Piano Source #1 (1:12)
- Piano Source #2 (:14)
- First Chill (1:35)
- The Door Opens (:22)
- Music Box Theme (Piano Arr.) (2:09)
- Country Ride (1:08)
- Bathtub Reflections (3:07)
- Finding the Secret Door (3:36)
- Up Into the Attic (2:50)
- Music Box Theme (1:49)
- The Wheelchair (:27)
- Microfilm/Cemetery (1:31)
- Ball Over the Bridge/It’s Back! (3:19)
- Seance/Talk to Us! (7:17)
- Murder Flashback (3:42)
- Wheelchair/Carmichael Tower (1:02)
- Carmichael Reflects (:35)
- House on the Lake (1:57)
- Breaking Into the House (:56)
- Face on the Bedroom Door (2:03)
- The Chain Appears (3:50)
- All the Doors Shut (1:14)
- Mirror, Mirror (1:15)
- Russell Goes to See Carmichael (2:03)
- The Attic Calls Claire (3:56)
- Finale/Resolution (5:57)
- Music Box/End Credits (3:09)
This release carries over all of the extras from Severin’s previous Blu-ray release, adding a couple of more for good measure. New to this release is an extended interview from 2018 with director Peter Medak by filmmaker Adrian Garcia Bogliano at Moribdo Fest in Mexico, in which Medak enthusiastically discusses his entire life and career. Exile on Curzon St. features a new interview with Medak speaking about early aspects of his career as an up and coming filmmaker in a new city (London), how it affected him, working for Hammer Productions, his fellow filmmaker friends of the era, and how the city changed over time.
The audio commentary with Peter Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels, moderated by Severin Films’ David Gregory, is fairly lively and provides plenty of information about the production, with Medak speaking highly of his cast and crew. The House on Cheesman Park features an interview with author and historian Dr. Phil Goodstein, who’s a bit kooky, but filled with information about the house that the original author of The Changeling claims to have stayed in. The Music of The Changeling is an interview with the film’s music arranger Kenneth Wannberg, who discusses his work on the film, as well as some of his other films. Building the House of Horror is an interview with art director Reuben Freed, who speaks about his career and the work that went into designing and building the film’s house. Mick Garris on The Changeling is a short piece with the horror director, author, documentarian, and podcaster about his feelings on the film. The Psychotronic Tourist: The Changeling offers a tour of the filming locations with author Kier-La Janisse, head of Fangoria Michael Gingold, director Ted Geoghegan, make-up effects artist and director Ryan Nicholson, and film programmer Clinton McClung. The animated still gallery contains 103 stills of behind-the-scenes photos, promotional photos, lobby cards, posters, newspaper clippings, home video artwork, and soundtrack artwork. The Easter egg can be found by pressing up while at the top of the Bonus menu, which will reveal the spinning red ball from the film, and clicking it will take you a brief introduction to the film by Peter Medak.
Also included is a CD soundtrack containing 29 tracks from the film’s score. The previous release offered the same option, but had some issues with dropouts and skipping, both of which have been addressed here. Still missing from previous European DVD releases of the film is an older audio commentary with Peter Medak from 2002.
Alongside films like The Haunting and The Legend of Hell House, The Changeling has long-been considered by fans to be one of the greatest haunted house movies ever made. It really delivers on many different levels and it’s great to not only have it in high definition, but now 4K Ultra HD. If you’ve never heard of or seen this film and you’re a horror fan, I urge you to pick this one up. It’s a fantastic release of a wonderful film. Highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons