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HBO presents
The Changeling (1980)

"This spirit...wanted me to find that room upstairs."
- John Russell (George C. Scott)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: September 28, 2000

Stars: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere
Other Stars: John Colicos, Jean Marsh, Melvyn Douglas
Director: Peter Medak

Manufacturer: Warner Advanced Media Operations
MPAA Rating: R for (mild violence, language, imagery)
Run Time: 01h:46m:11s
Release Date: September 12, 2000
UPC: 026359063022
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-A-B+ C-

DVD Review

I last saw The Changeling a very long time ago, about 8-10 years to be exact. I remember liking it, but I also remember that virtually no one knew the film or had seen it. Upon seeing it again, I'm still mystified as to why this film has no reputation for its careful crafting or brilliant scares. Hopefully, a new audience will see this superior horror film in its new life on DVD.

When classical composer John Russell (George C. Scott) loses his wife and daughter in a road accident, he finds himself living a disturbed, lonely existence. In a flight of fancy, he decides to rent out an old mansion in order to give himself a more scenic place to write music in. Shortly after moving in, however, he soon begins having strange experiences, from mysterious noises that wake him to visions of a small child. He eventually begins to suspect that some haunting presence live in the house with him, and as he digs deeper into what's going on, he uncovers a cryptic mystery about the previous owners of the home. Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere), a friend and worker for the local historical society, decides to help him, and they find themselves helping this mysterious spirit to unravel its own death.

Initially, the thing that sticks out about The Changeling is the skilled craftsmanship that uses minimal special effects and no horror film clichés in order to tell the story. By keeping things realistic and having believable characters, the story is far more chilling and eerie than it may first seem. This film actually achieved scaring me; a rarity, with all the horror films I've seen. I found myself gripped to the film in an unnerving way. The atmosphere and pace all add up to frighten you on a very base level. Thrown into the mix is the murder mystery subplot, as we watch Scott and Devere attempt to solve a 60-year-old crime, with only mysterious clues left behind by the spirit haunting Scott's house.

Arguably, The Changeling would probably not have been as effective without veteran actor George C. Scott heading up the cast. His amazing performances always seem to strike that perfect note—whoever he's trying to be—and he plays the part very well. His real-life wife, Trish Van Devere, acts beside him (something they did often). Her role showcases her talents as well, managing to, for once, introduce an open minded character into a horror film that doesn't always second guess the main character.

The movie is among the best ghost stories put to film, and better yet, those who normally shy away from horror films for the presence of heavy violence can easily watch The Changeling without fear of gore or extreme, unneeded violence. Though I thought some of the later moments were a little exaggerated, the film is more psychological, and the horror is much more subtle than chainsaws and axes. This should really stand out more in the career of both George C. Scott and director Peter Medak, whose career of unusual films have certainly gained enough praise.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: A fantastic, soft, anamorphic transfer has breathed a lot of new life into this movie. Despite some moments where its age shows, the vast majority of the film is amazingly clean and crisp. Colors look vibrant and active, yet the darker scenes in the film are faithfully reproduced with excellent black level and never become overly dark. Though the first few minutes of the film are rather grainy (from a weird negative changeover technique to make the opening credits), afterwards there are no signs of compression artifacts or pixelization. Considering the warm nature of the photography, which mostly uses realistic/natural lighting, the lack of any background shimmer or movement was very surprising. The general crispness of the transfer, mostly thanks to the anamorphic enhancement, is truly a sight to behold given the age and obscurity of the film. This should look great on a 16:9 set. Subtitles are presented in yellow, and are placed slightly below the image frame.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 2.0 Surround Pro-Logic sound track is very expressive and well used. Though the center channel dialogue seemed a bit flat at times, the majority of music and sound effects all make use of a stereo broadcast, giving a good depth to the film. Surrounds are used for a variety of special effects, usually sending a chill up your spine. Events where strange noises flow through the house or you hear the voice of the ghost are often punctuated by creative surround usage, totally creeping you out. A little more directional activity in the fronts would have been nice, but in general the mix really adds much of the scare factor to this film.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The only extra features on the disc are detailed bios and filmographies for the central cast, director Peter Medak, and the writers/producers. While this is a little light, it actually seems to suit this release quite well, perhaps matching the quiet, subtle demeanor of the film.

Extras Grade: C-

 

Final Comments

The Changeling is a superior horror film that's well acted and well directed. If story and character driven scares are more to your liking, watching this in a dark room with a good sound system—it should give you the proper chills. Highly recommended.

 


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