At Long Last:
I was probably fourteen at the time and "dating" my first girlfriend. It was that classic love story. She was ultra religious and believed dinosaur bones were put on earth by the devil to confuse man. I was the secretly gay kid, trying to blend in and be "normal." Two peas in a pod. A tale as old as time. Obviously things worked out.
Facts Are Facts
Writer: Russell Hunter (story); William Gray & Diana Maddox (Screenplay)
Director: Peter Medak
Gayly: atmosphere, acting and story are dread-filled
Dreadful: the fact that more ghost stories aren't as perfect
Pairs With: The Conjuring
Availability: newly restored on Blu Ray and VOD
I only bring this little trivial bit of knowledge up because if I hadn't "dated" her, I would not have made friends with her mom. And her mom wouldn't have, one day, said, "I know you like scary movies. Do you want to watch a really scary one?" And just like that, that odd, religious family introduced me to what would end up being my absolute favorite ghost story: The Changeling.
The Changeling is about a composer named John Russell (George C. Scott), who, on a snowy vacation, loses both his wife and his daughter in a terrible accident. Grieving, but trying to also get his life back on track, he packs up his family's belongings and moves to Seattle. Looking for a secluded place where he could bang away at his piano all day, he gets in touch with the local historic society and meets Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere). She finds him the perfect house, a large Victorian-era mansion. It hasn't been lived in for twelve years, but is under the society's care.
As things do in ghost stories, the house has a past. And that past wants to be remembered. Weird banging sounds wake him up every morning. One night, John comes home to find the waters taps turned on in all the rooms and sees an image of a drowned boy in a bathtub. This sparks John's interest in the house's past, particularly since it seems to want to communicate with him. From there, the story grows and twists, as each new revelation brings a host of new questions. And the house gets more frantic and more pronounced in its ghostly manifestations.
I haven't seen The Changeling since I was originally shown it by my friend's mother. I had vague recollections of the film; images forever ingrained in my brain, like the boy in the tub and a nasty little business with an ancient wheelchair. I remember falling in love with it then and being completely creeped out at the oppressive dread that lasted the entire film. So, when Severin announced they were doing a restoration on Blu Ray, I obviously preordered it immediately. And I'm so glad I did.
The Changeling is just as thought-provoking, intense and dread-filled as I remembered. But, with a more mature and refined palate, I realized something. The Changeling is the blueprint a lot of (most?) modern ghost stories utilize still to this day, because it's so effective. Watching the tracking shots and the way the camera would peak around a corner or be placed in a disorienting location, I started to smile. Movies like The Conjuring owe a lot to The Changeling. And I believe James Wan probably used a lot of the tricks here in the Conjuring and made many homages to it in his work with ghosts. This is the epitome of a classic ghost story, but with some of the late 70s/early 80s touches in effects and story.
I still believe the seance is one of the best seances I've seen in film. The dread that builds from the psychic's scribbles as she tries to pick up words and thoughts from the ghost is expertly manipulated. I wouldn't be surprised if that was the reference point for Lin Shaye's work in Insidious. It's a masterful and subtle performance by Helen Burns. The directions the story takes also cement this as a classic, as the traditional ghost story and mystery narrative coalesces into something completely different.
Severin pulled out all the stops with this release. Some scenes have a healthy amount of noise, but the image is always crisp and immaculate. Considering the first time and last time I saw this movie was on VHS, the quality is just amazing. My only caveat is that my disk was defective; about 30-40 minutes from the end, I was affected by freezes and skips and, on one occasion, force quits. It made finishing the movie difficult. Severin has released a statement about some of the technical problems and is offering a replacement program. I've purchased a quite a number of films from them directly or from Diabolik DVD and they've always been incredibly responsive to issues.
I'm still leaving the top part in, so people know going in that this first run might have an issue, but don't let that dissuade you. This is an absolutely stunning release. Also included is an isolated soundtrack and given the quality of the music in The Changeling, it was a smart addition. I haven't had a chance to really dig into the good extras on the Blu Ray, but the stuff here is pretty excellent. You have the new Audio Commentary with the Director and a producer, moderated by Severin's own David Gregory. And then a bunch of smaller interviews, including with the music arranger and one cool piece involving Mick Garris. Fantastic stuff, all around, as is typical with a Severin release.
Readers, I'm so glad this is finally here. And I'm hugely satisfied that the movie not only holds up from when I first saw it, but this release has deepened my appreciation for it. This is a true classic of the ghost story subgenre. It's a brilliant film, with fantastic acting and some truly dread-filled moments. And it has never looked or sounded better.
I don't know what else to say except that The Changeling belongs in every horror fan's library.