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The Changeling (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • The Changeling (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: August 7th, 2018.
    Director: Peter Medak
    Cast: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, Barry Morse
    Year: 1980
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    The Changeling - Movie Review:

    Directed by Peter Medak and based on the 'true story' of Russell Hunter, who co-wrote the film, 1980's The Changeling is widely regarded as one of the best American ghost story movies ever made. And with good reason, as it's a pretty spooky picture ripe with the type of atmosphere and intensity that's lacking in so many modern CGI-laden cinematic tales of the supernatural.

    The film introduces us to John Russell (George C. Scott), a pianist and composer from New York City who loses his wide and daughter in a tragic car accident while on vacation in an opening that, once seen, cannot be unseen. Understandably devastated, he decides to relocate to Seattle, Washington and take on a new job teaching at a local university. He winds up renting an aging Victorian style mansion that he's clued on to by Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere), a member of the local historical society. The place has seen better days but it's huge, it's private and as it's been abandoned for the last twelve years, the price is right.

    As Russell settles in, the type of strange things that tend to happen in ghost movies start to happen. He hears strange noises, loud bumps in the night. We, but not he, see a single key pressed down on his piano by an unseen force. A few days after his arrival, something comes flying out of a top window from inside the house. He takes this as an impetus to start poking around and uncovers a hidden door that leads to a room in the attic. As he starts exploring the room he comes across some clues as to the home's dark history, one that comes to light after he and Claire invite a psychic and her husband into the home to hold a séance. As the pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place, Russell finds himself immersed in a murder from the town's past that, for lack of a less cliché term to use here, goes all the way to the top.

    We'll leave it at that, as if you've never seen the film before you don't need to know anymore before you go in, and if you have seen it before, you don't need any more plot details.

    Let it suffice to say that The Changeling offers some excellent twists and turns to accompany its requisite scenes of spookshow style paranormal activity. Just as important as that, the film is insanely atmospheric. Hats off to the production team that put together the sets for this picture, as the old home that Russell rents proves to be an absolutely perfect spot to stage a story like this. It's all done very classically, in that the Victorian-era architecture meshes ever so nicely with the dust and the cobwebs and the eerie light that comes in from the window… classic haunted house material (rarely has a wheelchair been as frightening as it is in this movie!).

    On the flip side, however, the movie is no ghost story cliché even if it is clearly grounded in the traditions of the genre. There's an interesting political element to all of this that ramps up in the last third of the picture that sets this one apart from others of its ilk. This, combined with the origin of the ghost in the story, keeps things from feeling old hat. The script is well-written and it works alongside Medak's controlled and stylish (but not overly so) direction really nicely. The pacing is spot on, giving the audience enough in the first half to pique our interest without the movie showing its hand too early.

    George C. Scott is excellent in the lead. The supporting players, highlighted by an amiable Trish Van Devere, are all great but it's really Scott's show from start to finish. It's a surprisingly emotional performance from him, he leaves some of the scenery chewing that he could be known for to the side and creates a genuinely sympathetic character. It's a far cry from his work in pictures like Patton or Hardcore but just as strong.

    The Changeling - Blu-ray Review:

    Severin Films brings The Changeling to Blu-ray with “a new HD transfer created from a 4K scan of the inter-positive film element.” Framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and presented on a 50GB disc (the feature taking up over 33GBs of space), things shape up quite nicely here. Some scenes do look noticeably grainier than others but this would appear to be the way that the picture was shot, and it doesn't really affect clarity or detail, both of which are strong on this presentation. Skin tones look good, warm and natural without appearing too pink or too orange, and we get strong, deep black levels as well. There's nice texture and depth to the image - you can almost feel those cobwebs when Scott enters the attic for the first time - and color reproduction looks spot on, never boosted or toned down in any way. There's a very film-like appearance to all of this, there's no evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement or any sort of aggressive digital manipulation here - all of which is to say that the picture quality here is quite impressive.

    English audio is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo, with dubbed options available in Spanish, Italian and German Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks. Subtitles are provided in English only. The 5.1 track does some interesting things with the surrounds during the more active scenes and the score but keeps the dialogue pretty much entirely upfront, it doesn't really reinvent the wheel. The 2.0 mix sounds a bit more 'legit' in that it would stand to reason this is a more accurate representation of how the movie sounded theatrically. Both tracks sound fine, offering clean, clear and properly balanced dialogue and no issues with any hiss or distortion. The sound design in the film is impressive and it definitely benefits from the lossless presentation it's been given here.

    First up, as far as the extras go is an all new audio commentary featuring director Peter Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels moderated by Severin Films' own David Gregory. This is an active and engaging talk with Gregory keeping the two participants involved throughout. As the film plays out they cover the origin of the project, Russell Hunter's story and involvement in the writing of the picture, shooting on location in New York, Seattle and predominantly Vancouver, British Columbia and the sound and score used in the film. They also talk quite extensively about the cast and crew that they collaborated with on the project, including what it was like to work with a heavy-hitter like George C. Scott (there are some fun stories in here about him). It's thorough, detailed and interesting - fans should appreciate this one quite a bit.

    After that, it's time to dig into the featurettes, the first of which is The House On Cheesman Park: The Haunting True Story Of The Changeling. This eighteen-minute piece is hosted by author Phil Goodstein who penned the book The Ghosts Of Denver: Capital Hill which covers the 'real life' events the inspired The Changeling. It's an interesting talk with the eccentric writer who fills us in on the neighborhood's history, how the park was once a cemetery (that still turns up bodies when digging is done even today) and then how writer Russell Hunter claimed to start experiencing hauntings from what he believed to be a child killed in the building years before while residing in the Henry Treat Rogers mansion. If you're into ghost stories, take the time to sit through this - it's pretty interesting stuff!

    In The Music Of The Changeling we get an all new interview with music arranger Kenneth Wannberg that chimes in at nine-minutes in length. He speaks about his work on the film, the different compositions that are used in the picture and his thoughts on the project overall. Building The House Of Horror turns out to be an interview with art director Reuben Freed that runs just shy of eleven-minutes. Here we learn about the sets that give the film its distinct look and atmosphere and what was involved in getting all of that nailed down as perfectly as it is in the film.

    The Psychotronic Tourist: The Changeling is a sixteen-minute piece hosted by Kier-La Janisse, author of House Of Psychotic Women. It is essentially a tour of the locations that were used in the picture, contrasting and comparing how they looked in the film and how they appear in modern times. It's interesting stuff and done with a bit of a sense of humor.

    Master Of Horror Mick Garris On The Changeling is runs just under six-minutes and it features the horror director discussing his appreciation for the film and for what Medak and his cast and crew were able to accomplish with this atmospheric picture.

    The extras on the disc close out with the film's original theatrical trailer, a poster and still gallery, a television spot, menus and chapter selection.

    The Changeling - The Final Word:

    The Changeling holds up incredibly well, one of the best 'ghost story' films of its day and a crowning achievement in genre cinema. The film is perfectly paced and George C. Scott has never been better. Severin Films has rightly brought this picture to Blu-ray in an impressive package, giving the movie an excellent presentation and loading the disc with interesting and entertaining extra features. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized The Changeling Blu-ray review screen captures!

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