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The Changeling title banner

By JASON COMERFORD

They really don’t make ‘em like The Changeling any more, and what a shame it is. Peter Medak’s 1980 ghost story is still one of the best of its kind: intelligently written, perceptively performed, and polished to a sheen by top-shelf talent both before and behind the camera. Largely gore-free but still deliciously unsettling, The Changeling still has bite after all these years; no less a luminary than Martin Scorsese placed it on his 2009 list “11 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time.”

Director Medak initially began production with composer Howard Blake, who contributed a critical theme for a music box, which recurs in the final film (in a streamlined version) as an eerie leitmotif. However, the project took a convoluted path towards completion which resulted in Blake’s material being adapted and added to by music arranger & conductor Ken Wannberg. Since the film’s production was based in Canada, composer Rick Wilkins was hired to satisfy contractual stipulations that ensured financial relief; Wannberg ghostwrote much of the final score along with Wilkins.

Indeed, music figures prominently in The Changeling: George C. Scott’s lead character is a concert composer whose wife and child die in an auto accident. Relocating to an aging Victorian-era mansion in Seattle to start life anew, Scott soon finds the mansion may be haunted by the spirit of a young boy. Despite the spreading-around of musical duties, the final score of The Changeling is one of horror music’s finest, a splendidly spooky blend of high-toned classicism and nervous terror. A highlight of the film and score is a nerve-rattling séance where the ghost finally announces his presence; as related by Randall D. Larson in his notes for Percepto’s 2007 release of the music, Wannberg and Wilkins worked together to create a harmonious whole:

“Ken had written a few leitmotifs, short little phrases that the producers liked, and he thought I should just spin off these things, in order to keep the whole score sounding alike,” Wilkins recalled. “I took his direction and just wrote the cues as I saw them, according to the dramatic intent of whatever was on the screen.” Wilkins composed the memorable seven-minute seance scene in its entirety, providing ambient accompaniment to the dialog heard as Joseph communicates to Russell through the Medium. “It’s a rather sparse sounding cue when you take away the dialog and effects. It was just my version of scary ghost writing, using whatever motifs had already been compiled by Ken.” The stingers and atmospheric patterns, such as when the camera pulls back up the stairs or the image cuts to the inside of Joseph’s cobwebbed bedroom, were by Wannberg, while the music derived from the music box theme was based on a simplified arrangement of Blake’s original material.

Percepto’s limited-edition release of The Changeling was later reissued as a double-disc set with extra cues (including a more subdued alternate version of the séance cue), and is easily found from the usual online outlets.

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for this installment.


 



The Moment in Question:

Click [here] to listen to a sample
of “Seance / Talk to Us!” composed
by Rick Wilkins, Ken Wannberg, and
Howard Blake.


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Installment Prize:

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What do you think?

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for this installment.



Awesome Websites!

Soundtrack available at SAE



Next Installment:

Angelo Badalmenti and Jonathan Elias
poke around the dark side of 1950s
suburbia. Parents

about the author

READER COMMENTS:

Howlin' Wolf  
Updates on prize information for this season's 13 Chills and the first week's drawing coming after the Wednesday, October 9 installment.
     
David W.  
I can't say that I've seen this one. My Horror collection needs to grow some more!
   
Peloquin  
Honestly I don't think I have seen this movie, if I do I forgot. Now to the score, I have heard bits, so thank you for sharing a sample. It is time I get a chance to see this, you gave it a great strong review.
   
David Kessler  
This is a creepy movie back from the days when movies were scary non cgi and often had great acting in it. Percepto released a limited 2 disc score of this that I am a proud owner of...
     
Jonathan   Great pick. I was looking for that 2-CD-Set for years, and I finally picked it up when it came back in print about a year ago. I can only recommend it to anybody to pick up this wonderful music while it is available. It's quite a musical story with all those composers involved... 
     
Ivan   First of all - I was intrigue with OST cover, when I saw it at SAE. After that I read about that release and want to see movie itself. That can I say? I like it. It's not simple horror - with principle "run, cry & die." I can describe it as psychological horror. And music (IMO) played main role in contribution of this dark mood. We have memorable theme, and I may say most important - music maintains an atmosphere of movie. It's not use simple reception - something terrible happens and we have horror motifs. Here we have very clever decisions, where music need to be and how it's must scary us. This music is more intellectual & intelligence. That's why I love this movie and it's score. 
     
Scott  
Having never seen the movie I can't comment much on it...it sounds like something that I should definitely check out at some point though. As for the score, I recently was able to pick up the 2 disc deluxe edition on ebay for a reasonable price, and is actually in my car right now to be listened to. I have heard the music before, but it has been a long time...I do remember it being very good though. Hearing it years ago put it on my radar, it just a long time for me to actually get it.

Thanks again for the great 13 Chills! Always a fun time, and it exposes you to scores you may not be familiar with, or rekindles your interest in a certain score you haven't heard in a while!!  
     
Rusty   Spooky score to a creepy movie. It reminds me of the uneasiness feeling when watching other horror movies from that era such as, Burnt Offerings, The Exorcist, and The Omen to name a few. The 2 CD Deluxe Edition is in my collection and it's definitely worth adding to yours, if you don't already have it. 
     
Pooter   So great to have 13 Chills back again! And wonderful to see The Changeling get a mention. It's one of my favourite scores of all time, never mind horror.

It's also the disc I spent the most money on. Before the Percepto re-issue it was hard to find and sold out. I ended up gladly paying £60 to buy it from a Spanish Collector. When the re-issue came out, I sold that edition and somehow got my money back for it, and bought the Deluxe Edition!

Anecdotes aside though, its a truly magnificent horror score, with some achingly beautiful moments and some genuinely frightening ones too. Great choice! 
     
Jeff   Another movie on my "to do" list. But the sample on this page along with the SAE samples are inspiring me to move it to the top of the list. I might even just go ahead and buy the soundtrack before I get a chance to watch it. Like someone else mentioned earlier, I am reminded of The Omen and The Exorcist. Good, creepy stuff!! 
     
Sandor   Superb music! You got to have it, I think. It's really great. If you love music like The Fury by John Williams or a kind of Bernard Herrmann feel and even The Omen by Goldsmith, you won't be disappointed! The typical scoring-sound of the orchestra of the end '70th and beginning '80th makes it a pleasure to listen to.

I haven't listened it for quite a while (I regret now), but it belongs to the best scores I heard for a horror movie. Just excellent and magnificent.

Wannberg was a collaborator with John Williams as his music editor since the late 1960s until 2005 for "Munich." As a composer he was clearly very inspired by Williams, in fact, Wannberg used Williams' music as a temp track for The Changeling. I think it was The Fury.