Tuesday, October 30, 2018

THE CHANGELING (1980) Blu-ray review

The Changeling (1980) d. Peter Medak (Canada) (107 min)

This stellar haunted house tale usually takes a back seat to the big-budget envisioning of Stephen King’s The Shining, released the same year. But in many ways, Hungarian director Medak’s smaller film, loaded with creepy atmosphere and tightly fashioned suspense sequences, surpasses any axe-swinging histrionics that Stanley Kubrick and Co. dish out.

As grieving composer John Russell, recovering from the deaths of his wife and daughter (a harrowing pre-credits sequence), George C. Scott anchors the picture with a compelling strength and vulnerability. Roused by a murdered child’s spirit in the Seattle mansion where he has retreated, Russell’s utter conviction with which he seeks to uncover the mystery is riveting. There’s also the neat subplot of Melyvn Douglas’ duplicitous politician, whose backstory proves more and more integral to the house’s healing.

William Gray (Prom Night, Humongous) and Diana Maddox have crafted a marvelous script (based on musician Russell Hunter’s story), one that functions not only as a pure ghost story but equally well as a character study charting Russell’s journey back from the abyss of tragedy and loss. Medak, not always a master of subtlety (The Ruling Class, Species II, Zorro the Gay Blade), is absolutely the man for the job, creating and sustaining incredible tension throughout as well as delivering astonishing moments of release. (That séance scene.)

The film made a huge smash at the Genie Awards (Canada’s version of the Oscars), winning Best Picture, Actor (Scott), Actress (Trish Van Devere), Screenplay, Cinematography, Production Design, and two awards for Sound, yet has mysteriously still not achieved the same mythic status as other classic haunted house stories.

Severin Films does a terrific job bringing this oft-overlooked entry to a new audience via its recent Blu-ray release, packed to bursting with delectable side dishes to what is already an immensely satisfying main course. “The House on Cheesman Park: The Haunting True Story of The Changeling” will prove a bit of a revelation (for anyone who has not read Don Sumner’s essay in Hidden Horror) in that, yes, Medak’s movie is supposedly based on real-life events. Denver Film Society’s featurette details the late 1890s conversion of Mt. Prospect Cemetery to the glorious central Cheesman Park (with 2000-5000 bodies still in place at the park’s opening!) and the strange goings-on at Henry Treat Rogers Mansion, located on the edge of the park. (Hunter’s stay at the mansion supposedly inspired his story.)

Cinephile extraordinary David Gregory shares the microphone with Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels (recorded on what would have been George C. Scott’s 90th birthday, October 18, 2017) for an incredibly informative and convivial commentary track, one filled with warm memories for the entire cast and crew, in spite of several challenges, including the fact that the enormous house/set was constructed on a sound stage at Panorama Studios. The famously temperamental star was apparently on his best behavior, except for one occasion where an errant stagehand upended Scott’s in-progress chess game (played against himself), sending him into a rage that lasted the rest of the day.

There are also interviews with music arranger Kenneth Wannberg, art director Reuben Freed, and Mick Garris, who hired Medak to direct the Masters of Horror episode “The Washingtonians,” and capped by “The Psychotronic Tourist: The Changeling,” which takes us on a whirlwind 15-minute tour (hosted by author and genre enthusiast Kier-La Janisse, with Michael Gingold, Ryan Nicholson, Clinton McClung, and Ted Geoghegan doing the actual footwork) of the film’s locations peppered with oodles of background information, some fresh, some familiar from the other extras, and all enjoyably presented in polished and professional manner. A stills/poster gallery and TV/theatrical trailers round out the package.

The Changeling is available now on Blu-ray from Severin Films and can be ordered HERE:



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