Appellate Judge Tom Becker's evil twin is eating cookie dough and running with scissors.
Our review of The Other, published October 2nd, 2006, is also available.
When does the game stop and the terror begin?
Recently, I reviewed the finally-on-Blu-ray spooky classic The Uninvited. Watching it during the run-up to Halloween got me thinking (and writing) about other "insidious" chillers, the lower-key horror movies that creep up on you and don't depend on all-out shock and gore effects to make their points. The usual suspects came up—The Haunting, Rosemary's Baby, Carnival of Souls, and so on. One film I'd forgotten about that should certainly be in this company is The Other, Robert Mulligan's 1972 adaptation of Tom Tryon's best seller. Curiously under-the-radar, reputation-wise, The Other offers a high quotient of goose pimples, chills, and outright, devastating horror.
It's 1935, and identical twins Niles and Holland Perry (Chris and Martin Udvarnoky) pass their summer days playing games. Some of these are typical 11-year-old boy games, but others are far darker.
The darker games are usually the work of the more daring and mischievous Holland, the older twin (by 20 minutes). Niles is more of a follower, and he worries about Holland's darker games, particularly when they cause harm to others, usually people Holland is angry at.
Niles also plays games with his grandmother, Ada (Uta Hagen, The Boys from Brazil), who was born in Russia. The special game Niles plays with Ada has him imagining he's someone or something else—a bird, for instance; so deeply invested is he in this game that he can feel what the other creature is feeling, see what it's seeing, and so on.
But close as he is to Ada, Niles is truly a part of Holland, spending most of his time with his twin, and deferring to the older boy. But as the games of Niles and Holland turn serious, ugly things begin happening to the Perry family.
Because The Other is a film of twists and surprises, I'm going to leave the plot description vague, but here's a surprise I will share: even if you figure out some of its many twists ahead of time, The Other is still a shocking, disturbing film. I'd seen the film before, and I'd read the book, but watching it again for this review was no less a horrifying experience. Mulligan actually telegraphs a number of the surprises, but rather than diluting the impact, it enhances it. Mulligan apparently paid attention to Alfred Hitchcock's views on mastering cinematic tension. We've seen the evil that the characters have not, we know about "the bomb under the table," so that simple conversations and child-like games take on a greater urgency; we know where this is headed, we know that something as benign as a kids' magic show is going to lead to something horrible—why can't these people figure it out? And, as things fall into place, the sense of dread becomes overwhelming.
Tom Tryon's adaptation of his own book is wonderfully faithful to its source; as an actor, Tryon clearly had a sense of cinema when he wrote The Other.
Mulligan and cinematographer Robert Surtees give us a picture-postcard beautiful vision of New England in the 1930s, complete with a rambling home that houses that multiple generations of the Perry family. In addition to the twins and Ada, there's the boys' mother, Alexandra (Diana Muldaur, The Swimmer), their pregnant sister (Jenny Sullivan) and her husband (John Ritter, Three's Company), an aunt, uncle, and cousin, and the household help. The twins' father has recently died in an accident, and their mother, depressed, rarely leaves her room.
While it looks large on the outside, the house seems curiously cramped within; rooms are small and confining, claustrophobic even, as though they've been sub-divided. The house also has a large, two-level cellar and a barn, both of which are shadowy playgrounds for the twins.
So much of The Other takes place in daylight in this picturesque setting; this might be one of the most brightly lit horror films ever made. It makes the goings on that much creepier. Mulligan saves the darkness for the almost unbearably tense final act, which plays out a level of pure horror that a thousand slashers couldn't top.
Mulligan wisely keeps the film rooted in reality, even as the viewer is left to question if there aren't supernatural forces at play. The performances are excellent and natural, keeping the film grounded, particularly the work of Hagen and Muldaur, whose sad, beautiful face makes her seem the embodiment of a fragile, tragic, Depression-era woman in deep mourning.
By shooting the film as a family drama rather than a traditional horror movie, Mulligan offers up a secondary villain: Grief. Grief permeates The Other, dictating the actions of the characters and directing the ensuing horrors. The Perry family is awash in grief, and yet they carry on with a resolve that might seem noble or stalwart but is ultimately folly, as though ignoring Grief and proceeding with pretense will make it go away. Nothing is safe from Grief, and nothing and no one is safe in The Other—even the types of potential victims that are taboo in many horror films don't get a break here.
Twilight Time rolls out The Other on Blu-ray with a typically fine transfer; in fact, it's among their best-looking releases. Some of Mulligan's best-remembered works were period pieces—To Kill a Mockingbird, Inside Daisy Clover, and Summer of '42—and Surtees's soft, nostalgic photography perfectly captures the sense of time. Twilight Time perfectly transfers Surtees's images to home media, and the film looks absolutely gorgeous, rich in detail and color, with a fine, filmic grain throughout. The DTS Mono track captures the film's many subtle aural moments well and offers a fine representation of Jerry Goldsmith's haunting score. This being Twilight Time, the disc is not supplement-heavy: there's an isolated score track, a trailer, and another fine essay by Julie Kirgo that tries hard not to give away too much of the film.
That The Other isn't routinely mentioned in the same breath as films like The Haunting and Rosemary's Baby is something of a mystery to me. This is a classic chiller that eschews buckets of stage blood, earning its cred with a genuine and terrible build of suspense. Grim and disturbing, this is a film that stays with you long after the credits have finished rolling. Highly recommended.
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