There's no doubt about it...Judge Bill Gibron is convinced that this long-lost masterpiece is one of the '70s great genre efforts.
Innocence is only skin deep
Some forgotten films deserve their fate. Not every cast-aside experiment in cinema deserves to be revered and resurrected. Sometimes, as Jud Crandall said in Pet Sematary, dead is better. Nothing is more embarrassing than settling in for a so-called lost gem and witnessing a movie that should have stayed as embalmed as its entertainment value. Truth be told, most lapsed treasures easily earn their MIA classification. Aside from a scant cult constituency, audiences just didn't show enough support for the title the first time around, and complaining about artistic misunderstanding fails to factor in this concept. Sure a film can be way ahead of its time or speak to generations as yet unborn, but at the moment of its release, someone thought the storyline would sell to the average filmgoer. Complaining after the fact is like some sort of fractured filmic backseat driving. There is one example of a forgotten gem, however, that truly earns its decades-corrected classification. It's been said that the '70s reinvented the motion picture mannerism, giving the sloppy studio system leftovers of the decade before adding a new coat of post-modern meaning. In addition, horror efforts like The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Last House on the Left brought terror out of the kiddie matinee and back into the adult mainstream. There is another title that needs to be listed along with these so-called classics. Not only is The Other a fabulous mediation on family and fear, but it stands with its fellow innovators as a masterpiece that marked a new era in the macabre.
Facts of the Case
For the Perry family, the last few years have been trying indeed. Father is dead, the victim of an untimely accident, and Mother (Diana Muldaur, McCloud) has gone crazy, unable to bear the grief of losing the love of her life. Twins Niles and Holland spend their days playing in and around the family homestead, spying on the neighbors and inventing odd games involving supposed psychic abilities. Only their maternal grandmother, the spirited Russian immigrant Ada (Uta Hagen, The Boys from Brazil) can reach the reclusive children. She supports their flights of fancy and even attempts to tap into their amazing mental skills. Still, something is just not right with the Perrys. There is an unspoken secret which seems to haunt everyone in the house, and when members of the surrounding community start turning up dead, all eyes focus on the identical siblings. Some feel they are evil. A few find their bond unnatural. Yet when it comes to the acts of violence setting this rural community on edge, each one blames The Other. The truth is…no one may be innocent…and everyone just might be guilty.
It is safe to say that, among the movies made in that defining cinematic decade of the '70s, The Other is one of the best—a near-flawless example of tone and storytelling melded with wonderfully effective material and meaning. In the hands of Academy Award nominee Robert Mulligan (responsible for To Kill a Mockingbird and Summer of '42, among many others) and adapted by actor-turned-writer Thomas Tyron from his own best-selling novel, this paranormal period piece about psychologically unsound twins takes elements of The Bad Seed and twists them into an amazing American Gothic. It utilizes the recognizable realities of an old-fashioned family in the middle of a picturesque, pastoral setting and then scans the surfaces for the ugly underneath. Eventually, we start to see the horrors hiding behind the antique old-world gentility, Like all great genre efforts, The Other uses a recognizable foundation—in this case, a child's reaction to death and other domestic strife—to forge a significant supernatural pathway. Tyron wants us to see the unsettled state of youth and how it can easily, and eerily, turn over to the dark side. Through an expert maintenance of atmosphere and action, along with a directorial flair that never telegraphs the tricks or overemphasizes certain elements, we wind up with a significant motion picture masterpiece, a missing link in the growing maturation of the overall genre.
This is not a rock 'em, sock 'em shocker however, even without its delicious third act denouement. No, like the slowly decaying portrait of Dorian Gray, Mulligan and Tyron use the idyllic backdrop of the Perry estate—all Victorian flounce and spreading countryside—and slowly begin to peel back the paint. Soon, evil is uncloaked in the secrets being stored inside—all the dead bodies, all the shattered souls, all the unspoken horrors. One of the most successful elements of The Other is its perfectly paced storytelling. Mulligan never rushes his reveal, never hurries his delicate horrors. Instead, he moves us through this summer of suffering and has us in the palm of his knotty narrative right from the start. We are intrigued by the presence of a mother pining away in her self-imposed exile, of the fruit cellar where father died, the grouchy neighbor hinting at the devilment contained inside the twins, and the odd symbiotic siblings who seem carved out of one complete identity. Setting each one of these inherently interesting pieces inside his jaded jigsaw, Mulligan makes us care about the characters and the circumstances first. Then, once he has us hooked, he is more than capable of turning the suspense screws. A literal reflection of the personal fears onscreen, The Other is so magnificently moody that future filmmakers should study it for lessons in how to create, and control, angst and dread.
Much was made of the casting for this fine film, especially in the three major leading roles. As twins Holland and Niles, the brothers Chris and Marty Udvarnoky deliver devastating performances, perfectly serving the storyline's multiple meanings and hidden concepts. They never once give away the ruse or expose the terrifying ploy to their disturbing duality. Instead, each one comes across exactly as they should—hideous troublemaker (Holland) and clever coward (Niles). In a medium accustomed to bravura turns by over-the-top child stars, the Udvarnokys are absolutely flawless. They make every action by the twins twinge with multifaceted connotations, and the result is a riveting narrative drive. Taking us over into the land of Method overacting however is the late, great Uta Hagen. More known for her teaching than her on-screen efforts, her Ada is the emotional core of this otherwise calm, considered film. She is all the pent-up anger, misdirected trust, uncompromising love, and unhealthy suspicions that the rest of the Perry clan avoids. During a pivotal scene where a long-dead secret is finally revealed, Hagen weeps so openly and honestly, allowing her emotions to freely flow from all parts of her person that we almost get lost in her despair. Sure, it plays as exaggerated and hysterical in isolation, but as part of this fabulous film, the showboating fits right in.
That's because, at its heart, The Other is a film that uses calm and ease to manage corruption and evil. Its story is a symbol of both sides of the human personality, in ways both obvious (the twins) and less iconic (the mother's madness, Ada's affection). While it does trade on substance that is both stereotypical (the bad-seed brother) and surreal (the "game" that the boys and Ada play), this masterful horror film never once loses its amazing, frightening focus. We feel the cold hand of destiny enveloping the Perrys in its vice-like (and filled) grip. We sense the damaging truths lying just beneath the frilly lace and country quaintness. Victims make themselves known from the moment we lay eyes on them—they pretend to see beneath the surface and must pay the ultimate price for doing so. Yet the villainy here is varied—in the eyes of a child, the lost look of a fractured mother, the acquiescing affection of an elderly grandmother. Some or all play a part in the death surrounding The Other's often ordinary elements. When we get to the telling twists—made a little less effective because of time and familiarity, not anything inherent in the movie—we feel somewhat vindicated for our suspicions. Then The Other takes another, more mean-spirited step and, suddenly, all bets are off. The final shot fulfills all the promise only hinted at during the rest of the film, and makes us reconsider everything that came before.
When shown in that new, nasty light, The Other becomes a classic. Up until then, it was a well-meaning, expertly-directed genre effort, featuring fine performances and sure-footed scripting. However, when we see the conclusion of all that came before, when the reveal resets almost everything about the story, we sense true genius at work. If you're one of those used to the blood-and-guts glorification of modern horror, who think the original version of The Haunting pales in comparison to the CGI mess of the Jan DeBont remake, The Other is not for you. This is a movie that gets by on refinement, not revulsion. Sure, there are moments quite powerful in their unsettling shock value (like the answer to Nile's eerie question, "Holland, where is the baby?"), and more than one victim truly deserves to die. However, what this sensational motion picture masterpiece has that other films of the era fail to find is the perfect balance between the believable and the baneful. Somewhere, amid all the carefree days in the field, the tobacco can containing a severed finger (among other "treasures"), and an apple cellar overflowing with flammable fluff, the truth behind the Perrys' peculiar situation is hidden. Holland has always known about it. Niles is just discovering its dark secrets. Together, they intend to unleash its unholy power. We, the audience, are lucky enough to have front-row seats to the resulting motion-picture macabre.
As a classic, The Other deserves a first-class treatment from any company providing its home theater equivalent. On the one hand, Fox steps up and delivers a devastatingly good technical package. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is just sensational, perfectly capturing Mulligan's amazing camerawork with clarity and class. This is a near-reference quality presentation, an aesthetically arresting combination of light and dark, shadow and sunshine that helps to contribute to The Other's omnipresent apprehension. On the sound side, the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 is excellent, capturing Jerry Goldsmith's evocative score in a faux two-channel presentation (the movie was mono, originally) that maintains the mood exquisitely. Sadly, the lack of any substantive extras is this DVD's main drawback. What The Other requires is context, added interest, and supplemental substance. Many have not heard of this film, and a commentary track from Mulligan (who's still around) and/or the long-retired Udvarnokys (now that would be a treat) could help sell this sensational title to a demographic out of touch with horror's more human side. Since it plays on plotting reminiscent of the works of M. Night Shyamalan, maybe an outside appreciation featurette would have worked—anything to give this otherwise seminal cinematic experience the helpful high profile it deserves.
There will be those who call the classification of The Other as one of the '70s most stunning movie macabre masterworks a joke of epic proportions. After years awash in genre efforts that confront humanity with humor, the basics with blood, it's not hard to see why. We have allowed the cinematic category to run with its obvious excesses, believing that, the more body parts, the better. While no one is arguing with the idea that visceral makes for a more vital terror experience, the truth is that suggestion and subtlety can also work wonders—if you let them. Indeed, what The Other requires of you is the same approach that something like The Sixth Sense or Dellamorte Dellamore demands. It's not about to beat you over the head with its ideas, and you have to meet it halfway before the full effectiveness of its muted mannerisms actually work. However, once The Other gets beneath your skin, no amount of subconscious scratching can remove it. For its time, it stands as an effort of overriding grace and gravitas, a unique take on a traditional folklore like theme. If you toss aside your jaded, cynical sense of "now" and allow Mulligan and his amazing cast to creep you out, you'll never forget the effect. At one time, very few knew of this mislaid milestone. Now is the time for The Other to be rediscovered—and revered.
Not guilty! Never guilty! Welcome back, Niles and Holland. You have definitely been missed. Fox, on the other hand, is held over for action on the charge of shortchanging the DVD fan base for this film via a lack of extras.
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