Director: Robert Mulligan
Screenplay: Tom Tryon
Cast: Chris Udvarnoky (as Niles Perry); Martin Udvarnoky (as Holland Perry); Uta Hagen (as Ada); Diana Muldaur (as Alexandra); Norma Connolly (as Aunt Vee)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #39
The Other is an immense surprise, a supernatural drama film set in the 1930s that is incredibly subtle but also belies its darker content carefully between a childhood drama and snippets of the horror underneath. Following a young boy Niles (Chris Udvarnoky) it predominantly evokes other films about children growing up, where the realms of fantasy and supernatural pierce through into their everyday lives. It's a genre encompassing many other genres into its form that, after The Other, it clearly appeals to me greatly when I reflect on this type of cinema, emotionally connected to the stories a lot more than regular dramas because of how flexible their realities are. The absurd, the fantastic and the terrifying can exist in them and this willingness to evoke these to represent their adolescent protagonists' emotions is compelling in being able to be literal in the metaphors.
Parts of The Other are like this, Robert Mulligan (also the director of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) for a comparison from this to the rest of his career) bringing a very classical, harmonious reality on screen of old Americana, mostly set in a small town community on the cusp of countryside which evokes Southern Gothic but also sweet and delicate nostalgia, a drama already in itself where Nile's mother Alexandra (Diana Muldaur) is emotionally crippled by the death of her husband and his bond is closer to his grandmother Ada (Uta Hagen in a film stealing role). The film has plenty of moments where this type of genre stands out, particularly when Niles sneaks into a circus tent for a travelling "freak show", the protagonist's maturity and realisation of the world around them through their curiosity meeting by the literal fantastique or that outside their limited worldview of their home.
The Other however juggles an exceptionally adult undercurrent of horror. Ada has taught her grandson to play a "game", psychic abilities inherited from her ancestors in Russia which can be used for joyful fulfilment, to see from the eyes of a flying bird or see how a magician, in the fakest Chinese magician costume possible, completely a trick but it also can lead to Niles becoming disconnected from the world around him. His twin brother Holland (played by real life twin Martin Udvarnoky) as well is a figure of questionable intentions, staying out of sight and revealed to be more misanthropic and potentially the cause of a series of horrible series of events that take place. Mulligan's style here as a director is quiet, with great restraint, but he is quick alongside screenwriter Tom Tryon, the source material's original author, to show the harsh realities when death constantly appears around Niles. Very disturbing material out of horror is found hidden in the idyllic world shown, built to support the characterisation and plot in an impeccable way where Niles is both in his own cloud yet fully aware of the undercurrents, the innocence of his life but one with macabre contents within it, such as having not only his later father's ring but also one of his fingers, severed and grey, in a piece of blue cloth.
The drama, which is important for this particular story to work, is exceptional. Characters vary between the more exaggerated, such as an older female neighbour whose mannerisms are in the histrionics even when calm, to the absolutely sincere such as Ada, her own scenes vital for the emotional currents for the protagonist and all of them effecting, more so as her realisation about Niles's behaviour over the narrative turns into fear and guilt. The Udvarnoky twins also do well considering how child performances can be notoriously bad or squirm inducing for their wooden saccharine nature; however with films able to deal with childhood and fantastical content there's a better chance of the right children or young teenagers being cast thankfully, who can at least stand out positively even if it's the only role they ever have. Particularly as Chris Udvarnoky has to deal with scenes that would be as difficult for adults to role play in any form let alone a young boy=, such as Niles playing the game to see through the eyes of a corpse and experience being buried in a casket, he commits himself as well as he could have in the role.
Even if the plot reveals are incredibly obvious from the start depending on the viewer, the emotional effect is of greater important in The Other. It evokes how horror and supernatural films especially in the seventies could be so bold and original, shaming many films of new in how more sincere, inventive and (even) more powerful dramatically than dramas they could be. That it ends with a chilling conclusion absolutely puts it in the horror genre, a calibre higher than many.