1 August 2018

SECOND SIGHT FILMS PRESENTS: THE CHANGELING. (1980) A TERRIFYING GHOST STORY REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS.




THE CHANGELING. (1980) DIRECTED BY PETER MEDAK. STARRING GEORGE C. SCOTT, TRISH VAN DEVERE, MELVYN DOUGLAS, HELEN BURNS, ERIC CHRISTMAS AND JEAN MARSH.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

'A child's ball bouncing down a flight of stairs was enough to scare the daylights out of me.'
Stephen King.

This magnificent horror-chiller is even scarier than THE HAUNTING, the film based on Shirley Jackson's book THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. And THE HAUNTING is feckin' terrifying and deliciously atmospheric as well, but THE CHANGELING out-does it, an amazing compliment to both films.

Both films are set in fabulous old houses where the spirits of previous occupants still reign supreme, uneasy, unsettled and dissatisfied. If you want to turn your hair grey overnight, why not treat yourself to this double bill of horror some night you've got the house to yourself and there's a power-cut and a good old thunder-and-lightning storm into the bargain?

And maybe a family member's just passed away and their body lies in state in the front room prior to being buried in the morning...? Okay now, I've gone too far and scared the living daylights out of myself, lol. Let's have a look at THE CHANGELING...

The wonderful George C. Scott (THE EXORCIST: PART 3, PATTON) plays John Russell here, a middle-aged composer from New York whose wife and child have recently died in an horrific car accident, which we ourselves are permitted to see at the start of the film.

As a matter of interest, the short-lived wife Joanna is played by well-loved actress Jean Marsh, who for years played the parlourmaid Rose in long-running English drama serial about posh people and their servants, UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS.

I thought she was brilliant as well though in Alfred Hitchcock's second-to-last film, FRENZY. She has a small but memorable role in this movie about a string of gruesome sex murders ('Is it true 'e rapes 'em first?') as the receptionist in Mrs. Blaney's marriage bureau. Her uncanny ability to describe a man's physical appearance down to the last shirt button gives the Metropolitan police some distinct food for thought.

Anyway, John Russell is devastated at the loss of Joanna and their daughter, Kathy. He moves out of the family home and goes to live in a new city, Seattle, where he's going to teach a music class at the University there while living in a house that hasn't been occupied for many years, a house belonging now to the city's Historical Society.

The house makes the Amityville residence look like the cheerful home of Barney the Purple Dinosaur. It's positively humongous, a million times too big for a man on his own, but maybe John Russell feels that its huge echoey rooms and winding staircases will give him room to breathe, room to grieve and just to be alone with his morbid and miserable thoughts. Not a very healthy idea, perhaps, but a surprising amount of bereaved people opt for this rather dubious method of self-help.

The house is haunted to the ends of Christendom and back, and in possibly the creepiest way. The soul of a murdered child lingers there, reaching out to John possibly because it can feel that John himself has recently lost a beloved child. John is certainly receptive to the uneasiness in the enormous old dwelling, calling in a psychic husband-and-wife team to see if they can make sense of the haunting.

The séance is terrifying. It's also the best and most believable one I've ever seen, simply because the female medium is infinitely believable herself and as far from some mad head-scarved, braceleted and dramatic-gestured charlatan as it's possible to get.

She quickly establishes who the child is and John's sleuthing, helped along by Claire Norman, the sweet-faced lady from the Historical Society, fills in any gaps. Claire Norman is played by George C. Scott's real-life wife, Trish Van Devere, who gets to be in two of the scariest scenes in the film: the one with the wheelchair suddenly appearing at the top of the stairs, and the scene in which she thinks she hears John's voice coming from the attic room and so she follows him up there. Unwisely, as it turns out. She's absolutely top-notch at appearing genuinely terrified.

The discovery of the attic room is tense and brilliant. What is this dusty, claustrophobic little room at the top of the old house, and why has someone gone to such lengths to keep it hidden? And why would John and Claire be mad enough to go up there, when it seems to be the source of all the evil and unrest in the house? I wouldn't go up there if you paid me in chocolate-coated money.

The horrific banging that wakes John from his slumbers at six in the morning is straight out of THE HAUNTING. And it's not just the house 'settling,' goddammit! Some people are so determined not to allow that a house is haunted that they'd say that a ghost coming into their room in the dead of night to strangle them with a bicycle chain was just 'the house settling.' Well, let them come and stay here in the 'CHANGELING' house and see how fast they change their minds, lol.

Melyvn Douglas, who once acted in James Whale's THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) alongside Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton and Gloria Old Lady From TITANIC Stuart, is excellent here as the ancient billionaire Senator with a dark, dirty secret in his past. Just how much he remembers of it, however, or how much he's actually to blame for it himself is yet to be established.

THE CHANGELING will be available to buy on Blu-Ray from SECOND SIGHT FILMS on the 13th of August, 2018. The special features include some chilling background into the true-life story that inspired the film. 

As a matter of fact, the film was co-written by a chap called Russell Hunter, who claims to have experienced these horrible manifestations himself while living in the Henry Treat Rogers mansion in Cheesman Park in Denver, Colorado. The film was actually going to be called 'THE HOUSE IN CHEESMAN PARK' for a while there. I prefer 'THE CHANGELING,' though.

When I heard that there was a spine-tingling true-life story at the back of all this, I nearly died of fright. Someone writing a spooky script is one thing, but we can't have hauntings like this happening in real life, lol.

The extra feature entitled THE PSYCHOTRONIC TOURIST and presented by Kier-La Janisse takes the viewer on a neat little tour of all the locations used in THE CHANGELING. The multi-talented Kier-la Janisse is actually the founder of the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies, for whose seminars on the various aspects of horror I've done some very positive reviews this year. That gives me my very own little connection to THE CHANGELING, lol.

Some of the staple features of supernatural haunted house films are all present and correct in the film. The wheelchair without an occupant that moves of its own volition. The music box that plays by itself. The child's ball that bounces down the stairs by itself, propelled by an unseen hand. The door that opens by itself, and the piano key that self-depresses. I can do that too, lol. I mean, what am I doing when I'm crying at night into a box of chocolates about my wasted life except self-depressing? If that's not self-depressing, I don't know what is, haha.

I'm hoping to catch up with some of these horror props at some stage in the future to chat with them about their time on the set of 'THE CHANGELING.' The wheelchair I know for a fact is still working, mostly in period horror as befits his appearance, although there's talk of the bouncing ball and the music box having spent years in and out of rehab for various drink-and-drug-related problems acquired while making the movie. 'It was just such a downer to film,' the ball was quoted as saying once, if I'm not mistaken. Well, I'm sure it was- sniffs disapprovingly- but that's no reason to go off the rails.

To conclude, I must warn you that even the trailer for the film and something called the TV SPOT, included as well in the special features, are both flippin' terrifying. Don't go in the attic, is the general gist of what they're saying. It's good advice, I think you should take it...


SPECIAL FEATURES:
• Brand new 4K scan and restoration
• Limited Edition packaging featuring outer rigid slipcase, Amaray case, poster, 40 page booklet and OST CD
• Audio commentary with director Peter Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels moderated by Severin Films’ David Gregory
• ‘The House on Cheesman Park’: The Haunting True Story of The Changeling
• ‘The Music of The Changeling’: Interview with Music Arranger Kenneth Wannberg
• ‘Building The House of Horror’: Interview with Art Director Reuben Freed
• ‘The Psychotronic Tourist’: The Changeling
• ‘Master of Horror Mick Garris on The Changeling’
• Trailer
• TV Spot
• New English subtitles for the hearing impaired
Limited Edition Exclusive Contents:
• Original Soundtrack CD


AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

 You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com








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