Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Unsung!: The Other

by JB
Three novels are published in a four-year span; all three concern evil children. All three novels are runaway best sellers. All three novels are made into movies. Two of those movies are runaway blockbusters. The other movie is The Other.

One would think that The Other (1972) would have a more than fair shot at success, coming as it did from a bestselling novel and being bookended by two similar books and movies, 1968’s Rosemary’s Baby and 1974’s The Exorcist.

I have such happy memories of the CBS Thursday and Friday Night Movies*. This simple decision made by the Columbia Broadcasting Company — to not even try to put on original programming those two nights and instead (like bad English teachers nationwide) JUST SHOW A DAMN MOVIE — introduced little me to so many classic films. The CBS Thursday Night Movie ran from 1965 until 1975; the CBS Friday Night Movie ran from 1966 until 1974. That is roughly 1000 movies! I first saw The Graduate on the CBS Thursday Night Movie. I first saw the Planet of the Apes films on the CBS Friday Night Movie.

The CBS Thursday Night movie also introduced me to The Other. At the time I had never seen anything so weird and scary. I dreamt about the movie for weeks. As I was falling asleep at night, I would hear the creepy twins from the movie talking to me. The movie refused to leave — it was this little thing I carried around in my head that felt as if it had been made just to scare me. It amazes me sometimes the odd, quirky, personal bonds children can form with certain movies.

THE PLOT IN BRIEF: Niles and Holland Perry (Chris and Martin Udvarnoky, in their only film) are quirky, mischievous 9-year old twins. They have formed a special bond with their grandmother Ada (Uta Hagan), who teaches them to play what she calls “the great game:” the three are able to project their consciousnesses outside of their own bodies. The twin’s mother has become a recluse, refusing to ever leave her bedroom after the mysterious death of her husband. After their cousin Russell also dies mysteriously, suspicion comes to rest on the twins. Has their mischievous nature taken a deadly turn?
The film was directed by Robert Mulligan, who himself is largely unsung. Oh, let us now sing the praises of Robert Mulligan. His filmography contains some great films and one all-time classic: Fear Strikes Out; To Kill A Mockingbird; Up the Down Staircase; Summer of 42; Same Time, Next Year; and The Man in the Moon. The Other is his only horror film – but he directs it with the same realism and naturalism he lends dramas.

This naturalistic perspective to the fiendish goings-on bolsters the material and allows Mulligan to surprise viewers with an ending that they never see coming – they think they have been watching a beautifully-filmed drama. Some critics have pointed out that this is one of the best looking horror films of all time; the film’s bucolic farmyard setting and late summer time frame make it a cinematographer’s delight. Oddly enough, other critics fault the film for being too good looking. The Other also features a terrific score by veteran movie composer Jerry Goldsmith.

WARNING: Some are put off by the snail’s pace of this film. I like the snail’s pace; I think the snail’s pace is part of the fun. It is a very creepy snail.

Another reason to see the film is Uta Hagan’s standout performance as the grandmother. Hagan’s career was severely curtailed by the Hollywood blacklist, and she later became a famous acting teacher in New York. She even authored two books about acting. Acting students should seek these volumes out; this rare film performance demonstrates that when it came to acting, Hagan practiced what she preached.

The Other has an almost indefinable creepy quality that few films share. Other films in this exclusive club include Robert Wise’s The Haunting, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s The Blair Witch Project, and James Watkins’s The Woman in Black. These are films that stay with you for days or weeks, whether you want them to or not.

I have now successfully (near-successfully? Semi-successfully) written about The Other without spoilers. If you have seen the film or plan to see it, do not ever give away the ending. It is better to give away the beginning! “Okay – a grandmother, two evil twins, and a suspicious auntie walk into a barn…” You will never guess the punchline.

The Other is available on DVD from the usual suspects.

* I got my CBS Thursday/Friday Night Movie information from the indispensable book Watching TV: Six Decades of American Television by Harry Castleman and Wally J. Podrazik. Besides detailing the entire history of the television medium, this book also features every prime time scheduling grid for every season and every network, from 1944 to 2010. Handy! This is the perfect gift for the F-head on your list who is difficult to buy for.


  1. I've never heard of this one but it sounds intriguing. I'll have to keep this title in mind for Scary Movie month 2013. Hopefully by then I'll have forgotten there is a twist ending.

  2. Huh. I'm a bit ashamed that I've never heard of this but it's going up on the Netflix queue right now.

  3. I am totally intrigued to see this - I'm a sucker for a good movie that can be ruined by a single spoiler, and I love the poster blatantly asking people not to fuck it up for everyone else (made me think of the classic Simpsons scene where Homer walks out of The Empire Strikes Back past a lineup waiting to go in saying, "Who would have thought Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker's father?").