Blu-Ray Review – The Changeling

The Changeling was considered to be one of the last classic horror movies to not get a Blu-Ray release until now. Its reputation is probably a bit overblown. It was directed by Peter Medak. George C. Scott plays a composer, John Russell (though he’s not really the right type for the role, which doesn’t help), whose wife and daughter have just died in a car crash. After the tragic accident, he decides to leaves the city to retire and moves into an old mansion. But of course things go bump in the night in his new home.

Russell teams up with Clair Norman (Trish van Devere) to try to solve the mystery of the house. Their research leads them to an older man, Senator Carmichael, played by Melvyn Douglas. Of course, it all ends in a shocking conclusion. The house is as spooky as you would expect.

I’ve never been a massive haunted house film fan, setting aside The Shining and Hausu, which are something very different. The biggest problem here is Scott. He’s a great actor, and capable of paying a man who is completely destroyed—Hardcore is an amazing performance, for example. As much as The Changeling works at all, it’s down to Scott, but there’s just a misfit somewhere between him and his role. Here Douglas is playing sort of a more evil version of his role in Being There, which is good enough. But if you’d like to see Scott in a great horror film, the underrated Legion (a.k.a. The Exorcist III) is much better, with one of the most unnerving scenes ever.

There are some great images, including a wheelchair on fire. It’s a favourite of many, including Stephen King and Martin Scorcese, but it just didn’t gel for me as well as I had hoped it would. The big reveal occurs when it becomes known that the Senator previously owned the house, which he inherited because his father killed his disabled son and replaced him with Carmichael, who was an orphan. It’s an interesting choice because it’s something that happened so often by the upper class in history.

The film is loosely based on a “true” ghost story. Medak was the third choice for director, replacing Donald Cammell, best known as the co-director of Performance. This could have been a comeback picture for Cammell, but he lost out. You can definitely see a massive parallel to a much better film, Don’t Look Now, but without any of the experimental weirdness of Nicolas Roeg. Cammell would have certainly been an interesting choice, given his working relationship with Roeg on Don’t Look Now.

The disc includes a commentary by Peter Medek and producer Joel B. Michaels, moderated by David Gregory. Gregory is a bit of a legend for his early work in making very high-end documentaries for DVD releases, especially for cult and horror films mainly for Anchor Bay. He now runs Severin Films. There’s also a featurette on the “true story,” interviews with the music arranger and art director, and a featurette called The Psychotronic Tourist about a fan visiting the film locations. Mick Garris also pops up with an interview about his love of the film and getting Medek involved with the Masters of Horror series (Medek has recently said he is struggling to get work because TV producers consider him too old), and trailer, TV spot. The first edition includes a poster, a 40-page booklet and the score—but the version without these extras will be along in a few months.

★★★

Ian Schultz

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