An anomaly among early ‘70s horror films, The Other (1972) was directed by and starring actors with little genre experience. Certain aspects of the film don't quite work but in many other ways the film is genuinely unsettling and original. Its premise in some aspects anticipates The Omen (1976), also produced by 20th Century-Fox and featuring a score by Jerry Goldsmith, though The Other was only moderately successful and is largely forgotten today. It's also one of those movies best experienced cold, so if you're inclined to see it you may want to stop reading here.
Twilight Time's new Blu-ray offers Goldsmith's music on an isolated track, a trailer is included and there are the usual enlightening liner notes by Julie Kirgo.
The Other adapts the debut bestselling novel by Tom Tryon, heretofore an actor best known as the lead in Otto Preminger's The Cardinal (1963) and who had starred with Gloria Talbott in the cult film I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958). Tryon gave up acting after The Other's success to become a full-time novelist until his death in 1991. He executive produced the film and wrote the screenplay, though he was dissatisfied with the movie that resulted.
The story is set in 1935, in a small rural community where one summer identical twin boys Niles and Holland Perry (Chris and Martin Udvarnoky) play on the family farm. The amoral Holland particularly frequently gets into trouble. In the opening scenes, played without dialogue, the boys sneak into the barn belonging to their widow neighbor, Mrs. Rowe (Portia Nelson), breaking several jars of her preserves.
The boys' father is dead, having fallen through a trap door leading to the family's apple cellar, which is now the boys' hideout. Their mother (Diana Muldaur) is a recluse, apparently owing to the death of her husband. However, Niles especially is close to his grandmother Ada (Uta Hagen), a gentle Russian immigrant who has taught both boys "The Game," apparently psychic powers (though possibly merely imagined) that allow Niles to project himself outside his body. In a well-edited scene demonstrating this, Niles is able to experience the flight of a crow, through its eyes. It's also subtly suggested the boys have limited powers to move objects.
Holland seems to be using his powers to lash out at those who displease him. He engineers the death of an obnoxious cousin by positioning a pitchfork in some hay that the cousin unwittingly leaps upon, and later he frightens Mrs. Rowe into a fatal heart attack. Niles, meanwhile, mysteriously carries around a family heirloom supposedly buried with his father, along with something wrapped in blue wax paper. (He keeps these in a constantly rattling tin of tobacco.)
The story hinges on a major plot twist midway through that I won't reveal here. Despite cinematographic and music-scoring foreshadowing, it took me completely by surprise and is both extremely clever and abruptly moves the narrative in a completely different, interesting direction. (There's also no doubt it was a major influence on the writing style of M. Night Shyamalan.)
Tryon had hoped to direct The Other as well as write its screenplay and co-produce it, but that job instead went to a more established director, Robert Mulligan. Best known for To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and Summer of '42 (1971), Mulligan had no experience making horror films though his underrated The Stalking Moon (1969) is a uniquely tense and unnerving Western, unlike anything in that genre.
Strangely, The Other resembles Mulligan's other rural/small town period dramas - 1991's The Man in the Moon is another example - as much as it does a horror film, and it's also stubbornly bloodless, too tastefully avoiding the effects of its graphic violence. (This pays off in one scene but not others.) Photographed by Robert Surtees, the film generates soft-focus nostalgia for its period and lazy rural life generally, which some reviewers felt worked against its success as a horror movie. Mulligan was probably trying to deliberately contrast the idyllic, pastoral setting with the disturbing, ultimately grim psychological aspects*, but it's a fair criticism.
A bigger problem is the no-star casting, which while adequate for the most part never quite lives up to its full-potential. Top-billed Hagen, the respected, once-blacklisted stage actress (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), is okay until one realizes that Tryon had wanted Ingrid Bergman to play the part. Though hardly a box-office heavyweight in 1972, Bergman would surely have brought the film more attention, and possibly she could have more delicately expressed that character's severely conflicted emotions.
Mulligan successfully elicited great performances from the three child actors in To Kill a Mockingbird, but in The Other the two boys are merely okay. Like Danny Torrance in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, the story unfolds partly from their psychically-gifted but emotionally troubled perspective, but where Danny Lloyd in Kubrick's film was able to authentically express real, child-like reactions to the disturbing issues presented him, in the Udvarnoky boys one can always see the acting.
The rest of the cast was culled mostly from the ranks of TV. Muldaur, Victor French (as the family's Walter Long-like gardener), John Ritter (as the boys' older brother-in-law), and Lou Frizzell (as their Uncle George) were busy guest performers on series television. All are fine with Frizzell particularly good in one scene, but throughout The Other I kept thinking that it ought to be remade with director and cast more in tune with the material, and with an approach less literal and more explicitly violent at the same time.
Nevertheless, the film is frequently quite disturbing in unpredictable ways, and possibly some of the genre inexperience actually enhances its unpredictability. When, for instance, the boys visit a local carnival, they sneak into an authentically period freak show populated by real "freaks," including "modern-day Elephant Man" Bob Melvin, dwarf Angelo Rossitto, and a (fake) deformed fetus in formaldehyde. Tryon's screenplay also ingeniously weaves elements of the Linbergh kidnapping case into the narrative, again foreshadowing plot developments throughout the narrative.
Video & Audio
The Other is presented in a solidly 1080p, 1.85:1 clean HD transfer. The image practically looks brand-new. The English 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio presented some problems for this reviewer: probably inherent to the original mono mix, I found it hard to catch a lot of the dialogue during the first couple of reels, eventually resorting to the optional SDH subtitles so I wouldn't miss a line. As with other Twilight Time titles licensed from Fox, this is limited to 3,000 units, so interested parties better get their copy now.
Included are a pretty good trailer and an appreciative essay by Julie Kirgo. Goldsmith's score was substantially truncated by director Mulligan but it doesn't appear that the deleted material appears on the isolated score track, though perhaps it does; I didn't listen to it in its entirety.
Though flawed, The Other is extremely impressive in many respects and genuinely unsettling throughout. It deserves to be more widely seen and, in the right hands, probably remade as well. Highly Recommended.
* So grim, in fact, that for its prime-time network premiere the ending was slightly changed to something a bit less downbeat.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.