❉ Peter Medak’s ghost story arrives on a nicely presented Blu-ray with a generous amount of extras. Does it still hold up over three decades later?
“The film has a chilly atmosphere that serves its supernatural overtones well. From the wintry locations to the vast, almost cavernous mansion where the wind whistles against the windows. It recalls the BBC ghost stories that were so prevalent in the 1970s.”
Peter Medak’s 1980 ghost story arrives on a nicely presented Blu-ray with its reputation as one of American cinemas superior ghost stories. Among its admirers are Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, who screened it for the cast and crew of his production Poltergeist, a film with which it also shares a pivotal plot point. Does it still hold up over three decades later? Mostly, although newcomers may wonder what the fuss is about, finding it a tad over familiar as it has influenced a huge number of cinematic ghost stories in its wake, many of which have lifted and copied scenes, themes and beats from here, watering down its once fresh take on the supernatural.
George C. Scott leads proceedings as recently bereaved husband and father John Russell. Resuming his music composing he relocates to a large mansion, whereupon he soon becomes disturbed by loud banging every morning. This leads on to uncovering the houses many secrets, which involve hidden rooms, family scandals from the distant past and figures from beyond who seem very interested in reaching out to John.
Medak’s cinematic career was always very interesting, as was his televisual one which included helming episodes of The Wire, Carnivale, Breaking Bad and Hannibal among others. The Changeling was a step towards the mainstream, away from his earlier offbeat, culty offerings such as The Ruling Class and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg and the film found an appreciative audience on its release. Not everything that was spooky and chilling over three decades ago has the same effect in the present day however. Thanks to the current glut of supernatural cinema that involves ever-increasing ear-splitting jump scares involving over designed ghostly figures The Changeling may come across as a bit quaint with its bouncing ball and aged wheelchair.
It works best as a mystery but there are a number of sequences that still impress: The standout here being a séance involving automatic writing that drips elegantly with atmosphere. Director Alejandro Amenabar cribbed heavily from this sequence in particular for his own 2001 supernatural opus The Others, a fact that has not been missed by Medak, much to his own displeasure as evidenced in a number of recent interviews on the subject of the influence of The Changeling.
The film has a chilly atmosphere that serves its supernatural overtones well. From the wintry locations to the vast, almost cavernous mansion where the wind whistles against the windows. It recalls the BBC ghost stories that were so prevalent in the 1970s. Medak compliments this atmosphere with neat editing bringing the past into the present and vice versa at the films thunderous climax. George C Scott gives his usual no nonsense performance but it is one that seems lacking in emotion, the grief over his family seems to disappear by the end of the first act and there is a noticeable lack of fear as the films events gain in intensity.
Second Sight have really stepped up their game in the past couple of years with their home releases, particularly in their horror catalogue. The Changeling benefits from this attention with a generous amount of extras, including a commentary from Medak and a number of featurettes, the most interesting of which I found to be The House on Cheeseman Park; a look at the location and ghoulish events that inspired the story of the film. The restored 4K scan nicely enhances its cold visual style. As a package there is much to recommend here but the film serves as a nice reminder of its place in horror cinema, as a ghost story/mystery of considerable merit that viewers would do well to be reminded of.
SPECIAL FEATURES INCLUDE:
• Brand new 4K scan and restoration
• 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
• ‘The Music of The Changeling’: Interview with Music Arranger Kenneth Wannberg
• ‘Building The House of Horror’: Interview with Art Director Reuben Freed
• ‘The Psychotronic Tourist’: The Changeling
• TV Spot
• New English subtitles for the hearing impaired
❉ ‘The Changeling’ is out now on Blu-ray from Second Sight Films. Cat.No.: 2NDBR4090 RRP: £19.99. Cert: 15 Running Time: 107 mins approx.
❉ Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Now living in Glasgow as a struggling screenwriter he still buys too many comics and blu-rays. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was 4.