The Changeling

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This is it. This is the best ghost story I've seen filmed in color. GHOST STORY (1982) has nothing on Peter Medak's THE CHANGELING. THE OTHERS runs a very close second. George C. Scott once again proves why he's one of the world's finest actors. His performance in this film is what holds the intricate plot together. It is also, unfortunately, yet another terrific horror film that is being remade � by the original director no less! (Also on the roster are, unbelievably: SUSPIRIA, BLACK CHRISTMAS, CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, DON'T LOOK NOW, just to name a few).

After losing his wife and daughter in an auto accident that looks like anything but, John Russell, a New York City composer and music teacher, moves into an immense house in Washington State that would make anyone with blood in their veins shit their pants. The corridors seem to go on forever. After frequently being awakened to the sound of rhythmic banging noises every morning, Russell begins to discover slight clues that eventually lead him to a deliberately concealed room which obviously housed a child at one time. There are artifacts that appear innocuous at first but upon closer examination they reveal the remnants of an awful secret.

What follows are a series of truly scary sequences, including a s�ance, the apparition of a small boy residing in a well beneath a young girl's floor, a child's wheelchair, and perhaps the scariest rubber ball ever filmed. To divulge any more of the carefully and slowly constructed plot would ruin a truly creepy film experience. Medak uses the set of this house to maximum effect as the camera drifts or zooms from one room to another. The effect of non-diegetic music (the film's score) overlapping diegetic music (the old music box spewing forth the exact tune that Russell contests he originally wrote) is goosebump-inducing.

By today's standards, this film seems slow, pedantic, and boring, but give it a chance. I'm personally not a fan of the quick digital editing that has been hitting audiences over the heads since computers gave Hollywood movieolas and Steenbacks the pink slip. This film takes its time.

Available in multiple home video formats over the years, THE CHANGELING is on NTSC DVD in a very nice presentation from HBO Home Video. The surround sound offers a nice mix, and the video transfer is the best available until high definition DVD comes along (and even by then, it'll probably be released three more times). Nicely, there is a Region 2 disc available (UPC: 8713423596266 from the Netherlands by Kinowelt which boasts an audio commentary from Peter Medak. Worth getting if you can play this disc.

I remember when THE CHANGELING was released. I was 11 and my parents, sister and I went to see a re-issue of a Disney film at the Middlesex Mall cinema in South Plainfield, NJ. The poster for THE CHANGELING was featured in the display case under the words "coming soon". THE CHANGELING is one of those rare instances wherein the movie poster art perfectly conveys the mood of the film. Poster artwork is a dying art.

I don't know who Rick Wilkins is, but he wrote the score to THE CHANGELING. To say that this score is brilliant is a terrible understatement. I know nothing about reviewing film music, but this score is just gorgeous: sad, creepy, scary, and utterly listenable. The score was released on CD by Percepto Records from the master tapes several years back, but unfortunately it is currently out of print. The CD contains a wonderful booklet highlighting the history of the creation of this phenomenal score.

If you do make it through the film, you'll be rewarded with a truly chilling motion picture experience which harkens back to the days when filmmaker chilled the audience to the bone with simplicity. Amazingly, Peter Medak is reported to have only made this film because he wanted to break into the American film market!

If only other lesser filmmakers had this simple intent!

Reviewed by Jonathan Stryker