Sometime classic chillers pass you by and you don’t for the life of you know why. This was the case with the 1980 ghost story The Changeling directed by Peter Medak the man behind such disparate projects as The Krays and Species II.
Always mentioned on lists of the greatest haunted horrors the film inspired film-makers from Martin Scorsese to Alejandro Amenabar and its arrival on Blu-ray for the first time ever courtesy of Second Sight in a brand new restored version was the perfect opportunity for me to sample this supernatural story at long last.
Opening with the tragic accidental death of John Russell’s (George C. Scott from Dr Strangelove) wife and young daughter the tortured composer takes a few months away from humanity before deciding to move to Seattle and start a new life lecturing on music at a local university.
In need of a home Claire Norman (The Hearse’s Trish Van Devere) from the local Historical Society finds the perfect place, an abandoned mansion with a music room that has been unoccupied for 12 years and John moves in straight away making the massive house his own.
Trying to rebuild his shattered existence and leave the past behind John soon realises his new habitat has other ideas. Experiencing strange noises, disturbing visions and much more he becomes convinced something supernatural is trying to communicate with him. Is it all in John’s unhinged mind or are spirits really coming through from the other side with a message and most important of all does he dare to find out?
Wonderfully well shot, expertly acted and superbly scored it is easy to see why The Changeling is held in such high esteem in horror circles. Central to all this is the gripping story which although scripted by William Gray and Diana Maddox was inspired by the story of strange phenomena and unbelievable discoveries in Henry Treat Rogers mansion in Colorado where playwright Russell Hunter lived in the 1960s.
Where the movie excels is in creating such a creepy atmosphere and keeping it going throughout from the scenes of John isolated and alone in his anguish to the ghostly camera that floats from room to room just as we start hearing things we have no words to explain.
The dilapidated dread filled mansion setting is a character all of its own, one that, as a character says “doesn’t want people” where items mysteriously move, doors open and close and you never know what is lurking in the shadows.
Medak understands perfectly that less is more, that the images we create in our heads to explain the bumps in the night as well as everything else horrifying that is happening to John are far more frightening than anything the director can put on screen.
Moments such as the séance and the subsequent discoveries John makes on the tape recording of the eerie event achieve far more with simple subtle scares and suggestion than by giving us some grand gregarious ghost. The most famous and chilling scene of the whole movie is also one of the simplest and involves a red ball and according to a quote from Stephen King it was “enough to scare the daylights out of me”.
Stretching out any actual spectral sightings as far as it can when we do witness the unexplainable coming up through the floor the scenes still stand up regardless of how old the film is.
Bursting to the brim with added extras from an Audio commentary with director Peter Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels to interviews with Music Arranger Kenneth Wannberg and the Art Director Reuben Freed as well as a piece on the true story behind the movie and much more it’s the perfect time to add this exceptional haunted horror to your collection.
The Changeling is one of the greatest ghost stories out there and that won’t change I can assure you.