Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews - By Fans For Fans



Directed by Peter Medak.
Starring George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, Jean Marsh, John Colicos, Barry Morse.
Horror, Canada, 106 mins, cert 15.

Released in the UK on Limited Edition 4K UHD by Second Sight Films on June 5th 2023.


John Russell (George C. Scott) is a composer whose wife and young daughter are tragically killed in a motoring accident. To cope with his grief, John throws himself into his work and moves into a huge mansion owned by the local historical society where he can work on his music and teach his students in relative solitude. But John’s attempts to return to a normal life are interrupted by his new house seemingly coming alive, with banging and crashing coming from nowhere every morning, his piano playing music all by itself, and his dead daughter’s favourite bouncing ball rolling down the stairs at random moments. Upon investigation, John discovers that his new home was the scene of a tragic crime years before, and spirits from the past are looking to the new occupant of the house to put things right so they can rest in peace.


THE CHANGELING is a film often cited as one of the best examples of how to make a haunted house movie, and for the first hour or so this is probably true as director Peter Medak uses very little to create a lot of atmosphere. Much like its contemporary sister piece THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE CHANGELING – also based on ‘true’ events – is a slow-burner, with bumps, bangs and creaking doors making up most of the scares during the setup, culminating in the terrifying moment that John Russell sees his child’s toy ball come bouncing down the stairs, despite having locked it away in his desk beforehand. However, things take a slightly different turn after this when John suffers a ghostly vision that reveals to him the details of what happened in his house years before and the film then turns into something of a procedural as John must put the clues together before coming to the realisation that somebody linked to the past event is still alive. Only after this realisation the atmosphere that Medak seemed to set up so meticulously during that first hour disappears.


Part of this is the nature of the story and the idea that Russell must piece together clues to help solve a mystery that no one outside of any previous occupants of the house is aware of. Still, some of this also comes down to the character of John Russell himself. Whether it is the way he is written or whether it is George C. Scott himself, John never really comes across as an emotional character despite the tragedy that happens to him during the first few minutes of the film. You feel sorry for him because he seems like a nice guy and a loving husband and father, but once he moves into the house, he treats the events that happen as very matter-of-fact, rarely raising his voice or seeming troubled by the sight of his dead daughter’s toys appearing even after he has thrown them in the river. It’s a bit of a contrast to James Brolin and Margot Kidder appearing to go mad after what happens to them in THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and while the calmer atmosphere is effective during certain scenes, such as the aforementioned bouncing ball moment, once you get the gist of where the film is going the sense of threat or immediate danger lessens.


But that doesn’t stop THE CHANGELING from being a memorable supernatural chiller, just not the complete trip into otherworldliness that made other landmark ghost movies like THE HAUNTING, POLTERGEIST and the ubiquitous THE AMITYVILLE HORROR so effective. It is a very classy-looking production and, thanks to Peter Medak’s filming techniques, doesn’t have to rely on special effects – of which there are very few – to get a reaction out of its audience. The deliberate pacing of the first half of the film may put off modern audiences used to quick-fire jump scares but this film was made in a different time and looks back to the classics for its inspiration, as well as the real-life events that inspired the story, and over forty years later it does still hold a certain power.

The 4K UHD upgrade is a bit of a mixed bag, especially if you already own the previous Blu-ray release, which was already pretty impressive. There is quite a heavy amount of grain in certain scenes – mainly during the main titles and opening scene of the car accident – but once we are underway and at the house the image retains a crisp and clear presentation with lots of detail, even in the darker shots. THE CHANGELING is quite a dreary film to look at in terms of its colour palette so when there are flashes of colour, such as car headlights or a bright item of clothing, it does tend to pop out a little more. Audio-wise, THE CHANGELING is a movie that benefits from having a decent 5.1 surround sound setup as there are many scenes of low hums, shrieks and cries followed by loud bangs, all designed to make you jump of course, and the separation of background noise from the dialogue is good enough to make it more effective if you have speakers in the right places.


However, is that enough to make you want to double-dip if you already own the previous Blu-ray release? Perhaps not, unless you have a 4K UHD setup and want to use it to its fullest as the overall picture quality is improved by the dark and light contrasts that UHD brings, but not so much that anyone not looking for it would notice as THE CHANGELING is not a fancy effects movie. Also, the extras are the same as the previous release - those being an audio commentary with director Peter Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels, a featurette about the ‘true’ story the movie is based on, interviews with filmmaker fan Mick Garris, music arranger Kenneth Wannberg, art director Reuben Freed, a soundtrack CD and trailers/TV spots – with two new interviews with director Peter Medak and a collector’s booklet featuring new essays on the movie by various critics being the new additions, so it really depends on how much you love this movie as to whether you think the upgrade is worth it.

Overall, though, THE CHANGELING is a very good movie that can still get under your skin all these decades later. If you have never seen it before, it is worth adding to your collection of classic horror movies, mainly due to its unnerving atmosphere but also because when it does want to make you jump it can. However, THE CONJURING it is not and once the initial scares are over it does lose a little of what was promised early on, making the second half of the movie a little less chilling.


Chris Ward.


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Film, DVD, Blu-Ray & Streaming Reviews
By Fans For Fans