Monday, August 20, 2018

THE CHANGELING (1980) (Second Sight Blu-ray Review)


Label: Second Sight Films
Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 107 Minutes 
Rating: 15 Cert.
Audio: English PCM Stereo 2.0, DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080P HD Widescreen (1.85:1) 
Director: Peter Medak
Cast: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas

The Changeling (1980) has long been one of my favorite ghost stories, I saw it as a kid on VHS and it gave me the chills down deep, a Gothic slice of goose-pimpling fright starring George C. Scott (Hardcore) as classical music composer John Russell, a man who at the start of the film witnesses the tragic death of his wife and young daughter while on vacation in Upstate New York.

Following that awful happening the composer rents a sprawling Victorian mansion from realtor Claire Norman (Scott's real-life wife Trish Van Devere, The Hearse), and the two strike-up a very chaste relationship, they spend time together riding horses and speaking about the history of the mansion which has been vacant for many years prior to the composers arrival. Alone at the mansion John is working on his latest composition, but he finds the creaky mansion holds a few surprises, beginning with a recurring banging sound that thunders through the house at the same time every morning, and then the water faucets begin to mysteriously turn themselves on. The local plumber attributes it all to it being an old house, but there's certainly more happening here than just creaky old pipes. John eventually sees an apparition of a small boy drowning in the bathtub, it startles him but not enough to run screaming from the house the way it should have, I would have been long gone! Later while exploring the exterior of the house he discovers a shard of broken red glass that has fallen from a stained glass window in the attic, which leads to the discovery of a long-hidden secret doorway to an attic bedroom, there he finds a child's wheelchair, a journal and a music box, the latter of which bares an uncanny resemblance to the music composition he's been working on. 

You get the feeling that through his deep grief he feels that maybe it's his daughter that is reaching out to him from beyond the grave, which leads to him hosting a seance with a spiritual medium, the gripping seance reveals the presence of young boy who died in the home some eighty years earlier, and an audio recording made during the seance also captures the haunting child-like voice of the restless spirit. Afterward John take it upon himself to investigate the death and discovers an eighty year old family secret with connections to a powerful and aging senator (Melvyn Douglas, Ghost Story) whom has ties to the mansion.  

The Changeling is a slow-burn in the best sort of way, a story that deliberately unfolds revealing secrets and tragedies along the way, it pulls you in with the shocking first few moments and then pulls back a little, allowing you to breathe with the story, building in intensity along the way right up to a shocking inferno of an ending that is a stunner, it's the sort of classical ghost story we just don't get anymore, an essential slice of supernatural cinema that in my opinion is right up there with The Haunting (1963) and The Legend of Hell House (1973), and one of the best of the 80's supernatural films, in the good company of films like Ghost Story (1981) and The Lady in White (1988). 

It will surprise no one that George C. Scott (Exorcist III) is in fine form here, he downplays a lot of the startling ghostly events he encounters in and around the home, but he sells the deep grief of a man who has lost his wife and daughter in a tragedy. He never boils over the way he could do, but he's taught and tense throughout, and I never found myself questioning or doubting why he was so obsessed with solving the mystery of the film, it all ties back to his deep grief. 

A few of the heroes of the film include the slow moving cinematography of John Coquillon (Witchfinder General, Straw Dogs), who gives the lensing the feel of spirit wandering the home, framing every shot with precision with some skewed angles and POV shots that are very effective, playing with the deep shadows and natural light. We also get a haunting score from composer Rick Wilkins who keeps the goosebumps coming throughout, and then there's the incredible Victorian facade of the mansion created by art director Reuben Freed, plus the authentic looking stage sets used for the interiors, that creepy cobwebbed attic and the the winding staircase add a lot to this one. 

A few moments that have always stuck with me include the shocking car wreck at the start of the film as Scott's character stares on helplessly from inside a phone booth, and the iconic scene of the red bouncing ball, few films have done so much with such so little as this one scene, when I first saw it I was terrified at the sight of that damned red ball bouncing down the stairs! Also, the creepy kids wheelchair chasing Trish Van Devere's character through the house is hair-raising, the execution of this film is phenomenal from start to finish, it's reserved but chilling, and oh-so effective, still to this day! 

Audio/Video: The Changeling (1980) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Second Sight Films in 1080p HD, framed in the original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, sourced from a new 4K scan of the interpositive. The film simply looks great, grain is present, looking a bit chunkier in a few scenes than others but overall nicely resolved with natural looking earth tone colors, there's some minimal print damage evident throughout but nothing to worry about. The black levels are nice and deep with skin tones looking natural, this is a very nice upgrade offering more depth and clarity that this one has ever had on home video. Audio comes by way of PCM stereo or DTS-HD MA surround, everything sounds clean and well-balanced, dialogue is crisp and the haunting score comes through with some nice resonance. The surround option does offer some interesting use of the rear channels, it's a creepy ghost story and the surround track complements the film, but I still preferred the stereo mix, optional English subtitles are provided.  

Special Features begin with a brand new 2018 audio commentary with director Peter Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels moderated by David Gregory of Severin Films, it's a laid back but informative conversation about the film, with plenty of talk about George C. Scott and how Medak was intimidated by him, having heard he could be difficult, but never really having any issues with him whatsoever. They also get into films like The Others, Session 9 and What Lies Beneath which they say lifted scenes straight out of this film, and how directors like Scorsese and Spielberg own their own prints of the film, recalling a private screening of the film the director has with Scorsese. They also discuss Medak came into the film late in the production when initial director Donald Cammell (White of the Eye) left the project due to differences in approach with the producer. 

Digging into the other disc extras we have ‘The House on Cheesman Park’ with historian Dr. Phil Goodstein, a colorful hippy-looking character who recounts the true-life origins of the story depicted in the film, which took place in Denver. It's a creepy story and very much the same story as told in the film, but with the addition of the story of how the city transformed a cemetery into a public park which lead to some supernatural shenanigans. 

We also get an interview with the music arranger Kenneth Wannberg who plays some of the main theme on piano for us, then going into his work with John Williams and working on The Changeling. Art Director Reuben Freed walks us through the process of creating the exterior facade used in the film, I was shocked to learn that the mansion was only a facade, it's an amazing piece of work that adds so much character and atmosphere to the film. He discusses his career, being from South Africa and how his dreams of becoming a documentary filmmaker ended-up with him becoming an art director. 

TV anthology Masters of Horror creator Mick Garris shows up for a brief appreciation of the director and his work, touching on Medak's turn on the Masters of Horror TV anthology show with 'The Washingtonians' episode, which is one of my favorites of the series, a delightfully demented look back at the untold story of one of our founding fathers I highly suggest you check out.

We also get a location visit with author Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women) who speaks about several of the locations including The Orpheum Theater, Sea-Tac Airport, The Historical Society, and then we have Fangoria editor Michael Gingold and director Ted Geoghegan (We Are Still Here) visiting the Lincoln Center location in NYC, film programmer Clinton McClung visits the Lakeview Cemetery, The Rainer Tower, University of Washington and The Granville Bridge, the Senator's Mansion in Seattle, and Ryan Nicholson (director of Collar) visits the location of the mansion. The well-stocked disc is buttoned-up with a trailer and TV spot for the film. 

For this review we were only sent a "check disc" so we don't have the deluxe packaging, soundtrack CD or booklet to check out, but if you order the limited edition retail version you get it all, this is quite a package for fans of the film, Second Sight went all out for this one. 

Special Features:

- Audio commentary with director Peter Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels moderated by Severin
Films’ David Gregory
- ‘The House on Cheesman Park’: The Haunting True Story of The Changeling (18 min) HD 
- ‘The Music of The Changeling’: Interview with Music Arranger Kenneth Wannberg (9 min) HD 
- ‘Building The House of Horror’: Interview with Art Director Reuben Freed (11 min) HD 
- ‘The Psychotronic Tourist’: The Changeling (16 min) HD 
- ‘Master of Horror Mick Garris on The Changeling’ (6 min) 
- Trailer (2 min) HD 
- TV Spot (1 min) 

Limited Edition Exclusive Contents:

- Original Soundtrack CD
- 40 page perfect bound booklet with new essay by Kevin Lyons, production notes and on-set interview with George C. Scott
- Double-sided poster and reversible Amaray sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by artist Christopher Shy and original poster art

The Changeling (1980) is simply one of the finest ghost stories of all-time, a chilling tale of supernatural mystery with an amazing cast, phenomenal art direction and lensing, plus a haunting score that send this one through the roof. This region-free release from Second Sight is easily one of the best releases of the year, ghost stories don't get much better than this one - a must-own.