The Changeling (1980) – Film Review

The Changeling - Review

Director: Peter Medak
Writers: Russell Hunter, William Gray, Diana Maddox
Certificate: 15

by Sarah Morgan

Which film has creeped out both Martin Scorsese AND Stephen King, is supposedly based on a true story and was also set to be directed by Donald Cammell and Shipley’s own Oscar-winner, Tony Richardson, before both dropped out?

If you know the answer, go to the top of the class! It is, of course, The Changeling, a 1980 horror movie not to be confused with Clint Eastwood’s 2008 drama of the same name.

The screenplay was penned by Russell Hunter, a playwright who claimed the story was inspired by his experiences of living in the Henry Treat Rogers mansion in the Cheeseman Park area of Denver, Colorado, during the 1960s. While investigating a series of strange goings-on at the property, he supposedly found a 100-year-old journal about the life of a disabled boy who had been shut up there by his parents.

the changeling film review coverFurther research led him to devise the tale of music professor John Russell (George C Scott) who, following the tragic deaths of his wife and young daughter during a family holiday, decides to leave behind his old home in New York and start afresh in Seattle, where he rents a large property from the local historical society.

“Weird phenomena”

If Russell was a regular viewer of horror movies, he’d have heard alarm bells ringing early on – the place has mysteriously remained unoccupied for 12 years, and its custodians seem reluctant to explain why.

Eventually, after a variety of weird phenomena occurs, Russell holds a seance, during which he records the voice of a spirit calling itself Joseph Carmichael. It’s later revealed that Joseph was a sickly six-year-old murdered by his father in 1906 because he didn’t believe he would live long enough to inherit his grandfather’s vast wealth. He was replaced by someone who would – the changeling of the title – a now-powerful man who really can’t afford to have his true identity revealed.

Just a month before filming was due to begin, Peter Medak, the Hungarian director better known for making The Ruling Class, The Krays and episodes of The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Streets, took over. He created an eerie film that doesn’t rely on cheap shocks for its scares, preferring instead to slowly build atmosphere and tension to such a degree that a single note on a piano or a bouncing ball can provoke chills down the spine. Somehow the fact it plays out mostly in the daytime adds to the film’s unsettling nature.

The Changeling - Review


It’s one of several films made in the wake of The Exorcist to feature children at the centre of the story, although it’s Scott who takes the lead role, managing to make Russell and the plot completely believable – in less assured hands, it could quite easily have become far to overblown and melodramatic.

He receives able assistance from his real-life wife Trish Van Devere as Claire, who rents him the house, and the always wonderful Melvyn Douglas as the politician with something to hide; Douglas, although reaching the end of his life and career, was arguably at the peak of his powers, having recently won an Oscar for his performance in Being There as another man with political influence.

Look out too for a blink-and-you’ll miss it appearance by Jean Marsh as Russell’s ill-fated wife.

If, after watching, you’re desperate for more information about The Changeling and its inspiration, you’re in luck – the disc is packed with fascinating special features that cover both.

Special Effects6
Special Features:
• New 4K scan and restoration presented in HDR
• Audio commentary with director Peter Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels
• Interview with Peter Medak by filmmaker Adrián García Bogliano at Mórbido Fest 2018
• Exile on Curzon St. – Peter Medak on his early years in swinging London
• The House on Cheesman Park – The Haunting True Story of The Changeling
• Audio commentary with actors Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger and Paul A. Partain, and art director Robert A. Burns
• The Music of The Changeling – an interview with music arranger Kenneth Wannberg
• Building the House Of Horror – an interview with art director Reuben Freed
• The Psychotronic Tourist
• Master of horror Mick Garris on The Changeling

Limited Edition Contents:
• Rigid slipcase with new artwork by Christopher Shy
• 108-page book with new essays by Martyn Conterio, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Rich Johnson, Mikel J Koven, Meagan Navarro, Rachel Reeves, Shelagh Rowan-Legg andHeather Wixson plus archive interview with Peter Medak
• Original Soundtrack CD
• Five collectors' art cards
The Changeling is on Limited Edition 4K UHD / Blu-ray Box Set + Standard Editions via Second Sight

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