The Changeling director on making the movie that scares even Martin Scorsese and Guillermo del Toro
Director Peter Medak’s 1980 ghost story The Changeling may not be as well-known as, say, Halloween or The Shining, but this chilling tale is held in scarily high regard by a group of famous filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese — who in 2015 named it as one of the scariest movies of all time — and Guillermo del Toro.
“I was in London at the BAFTA Awards and Guillermo was screaming, ‘You’re my mentor! You’re my mentor!'” says the Hungarian-born Medak. “I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘Your movie The Changeling is just a masterpiece.’ It’s just nice to hear that from fellow directors whose work I love and respect.”
The Changeling stars George C. Scott as a composer named John Russell who, following the death of his wife and daughter, relocates to a huge and remote mansion in Seattle, where he finds himself being haunted by the ghost of a child who died there many years previously.
“The script frightened me the right way,” says Medak, whose other directing credits include 1972’s Peter O’Toole-starring The Ruling Class and 1994’s Romeo Is Bleeding. “I wanted to make it very psychological, so it didn’t have any cheap shocks in it. That was very important to me.”
Medak was partly inspired by Robert Wise’s atmospheric 1963 movie The Haunting, whose set Medak visited early in his career.
“It was shot in England and I wanted to get a job as a first an assistant director [on The Haunting], which I didn’t,” he says. “But I got to know Robert Wise, and I happened to be shooting next stage, next door on the same studio, MGM Studios in Boreham Wood in England. And so a couple of times I walked on the set and I watched Mr. Wise shoot and it was fairly unforgettable. I remember when I read that script, I was so petrified. When I was reading [the script for The Changeling] I just knew how to make a good and frightening, psychological, supernatural thriller out of it.”
The Changeling itself, which costarred Trish Van Devere and Melvyn Douglas, was mostly shot in Vancouver.
“The whole house was a set,” says Medak. “It was all built on three floors, and it enabled me to go from room, to room, to room, to room, which was great. I had a wonderful time. It was just very fun. It was a very easy shoot actually for me, and working with George was incredible. It didn’t make a lot of money, but it didn’t cost a lot either, you know. But I certainly was very happy with the film.”
On Aug. 7, Severin Films is releasing a 4K scan of The Changeling on Blu-ray in a Special Edition which includes commentary from Medak and producer Joel B. Michaels, and interviews with music arranger Kenneth Wannberg and art director Reuben Freed, among other bonus features.
“It makes me very happy,” says Medak of the release. “They’re trying to remake the movie, and it’s a very nice way to exit, to have a great copy of the film for future generations. I love the film very much and I want to do everything to prolong its life, as long as it can be. It’s very nice that it’s noted as one of the great ghost stories.”
Watch the trailer for Severin Films’ Blu-ray release of The Changeling, above.