At its core, The Changeling is a good, old-fashioned ghost story revolving around a long-abandoned mansion and the horrible things that happened there. Released in 1980 and considered by some critics to be one of the scarier entries in the genre, how well does it hold up 40+ years down the line?
Starring George C Scott (Patton, Dr Strangelove), this is the tale of composer John Russell who moves into a conveniently empty mansion in Seattle. It doesn’t take long for strange things to be afoot as a ghostly presence starts to play the kettle drums with his pipes, mess with his taps and even smash one of his windows.
John sets out to try and understand just what’s going on and what this ghost is trying to communicate to him, leading him down a dark path of lies, deception and murder. One criticism that could be levelled at John is that he’s perhaps a little too laid back and sensible about the whole thing, generally reacting to the ghost in the same way that most of us might when we find that a stray cat has taken up residence in a spare room.
That said, the film does play around nicely with the age-old trope of the ‘overwrought woman’ by having some characters imply that John’s ghostly goings-on are just the result of his being overworked, or still in mourning, and isn’t it possible it’s just all in his head? It’s nice to see that being applied to a male character for once!
Available as both a 4K UHD and a regular Blu-ray, this new 4k restoration is something of an oddity when it comes to picture quality. To say it’s heavy on the film grain would be a huge understatement akin to observing that the sky is blue, grass is green and water is wet. In some of the early scenes you might be forgiven for thinking that you’re watching some old analogue TV station where the channel isn’t quite tuned in, and everything is viewed with a layer of snow on top.
It’s a stark contrast to the film we see in the trailers from the time, where the picture is smoothed out like everyone is wearing five layers of makeup. It’s something you get used to quickly enough, though, and doesn’t detract from the story being told, but anyone looking for a crisp, clean restoration is going to be very disappointed. In terms of special features Second Sight doesn’t disappoint, though here’s where things get a little bit… weird?
In 2018, a less well-known company by the name of Severin released The Changeling on Blu-ray, with a new 4K restoration of the film, and if you look at the special features listed there, they’re almost identical to the ones being offered on this Second Sight release. Okay, so not an unheard of occurrence. Sometimes there’s only so many features to go around, even for new releases.
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Where it gets very interesting, though, is when you watch said special features, and they end with a “Copyright Severin Films 2018” message. Is this literally just the Severin Films release with a Second Sight label slapped on it? Looking at screenshots comparing the two, there doesn’t seem to be much difference at all in the picture. Hell, the Severin version even has the soundtrack CD as well.
There’s a commentary track with director Peter Medak and producer Joel B Michaels, which is interesting, though the two of them have a very laconic, laid back way of talking about things. Be prepared for them to take a while to get to the point of any anecdote they’re reciting.
There are a couple of other interviews with Peter Medak, including one near feature length interview from Mórbido Fest 2018 (available on the Severin UHD release from January 2023 but not the Blu-ray in 2018), and a short featurette talking about The House on Cheesman Park, which is the “true” story The Changeling is based on. In terms of differences between the two versions, the Second Sight has different box art, and this version bundles in a new book with essays about the film, and five art cards, but other than that it appears to be identical to the Severin release.
So what does all this mean? Well, it means if you’ve already bought this from Severin there’s no real reason to purchase this one unless you’re desperate for the booklet and some art cards. But if you don’t have either of the Severin versions? Then this is still a classic of horror that deserves to be watched and this release is well worth picking up.
The Changeling is out now on Limited Edition 4K UHD and Blu-ray Box set as well as Standard Edition from Second Sight Films.