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Wednesday, October 09, 2019

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2019-Day 9: THE OTHER (1972)

Let's talk about THE OTHER.

I'm not certain of exactly how old I was when I first encountered THE OTHER, but it was definitely during a network TV airing sometime around when I was eleven or twelve. It was the perfect age in which to discover it because I was right on the cusp of adolescence, the point where one leaves behind the carefree games and frivolities of one's formative years and prepares to step into the changes wrought by adolescence that subsequently usher us into the experiences and concerns of adulthood, and its story addresses the oft-romanticized seemingly-endless summer of childhood through a dark and disturbing lens.

Set during the summer in the rustic Connecticut of 1935, the story tells of 11-year-old Holland (Chris Udvarnoky) and Niles Perry (Martin Udvarnoky), identical twin brothers who live on a farm with their family, and the events are depicted from Holland's point of view. To outward appearances, all of the tropes of a childhood yarn taking place in that era are in place for a wistful evocation of the sort of innocence forever lost in the wake of World War II, but the twins' world is marked by tragedies that have left the family with much to deal with while the boys carry on as though little or nothing had happened. Earlier in the year, their father died in an accident in the farm's apple cellar, a location that is declared off-limits afterward, and their mother (Diana Muldaur) is left in a state of deep depression that renders her in a dis-associative state, hardly ever leaving her room. Taking care of business around the farm are a few hired hands and a number of relatives, key among whom is the boys' loving Russian immigrant grandmother, Ada (Uta Hagen). Ada teaches the boys "the Great Game," a form of consciousness projection, as members of their family sometimes possesses a gift of minor psychic powers, an ability that allows them to inhabit the bodies of other living creatures, like birds and such, and see and experience the world through their eyes.  Of the twins, it should be noted that Niles is sweet and gentle, while Holland has a bearing marked by a mischievous and vindictive streak.

Ada (Uta Hagen) coaches Niles (Chris Udvarnoky) in "the Great Game."

Over the course of the summer, a number of shocking deaths occur on and around the farm, and Niles realizes that they all are the work of his brother. Ada also figures out what's going on, and as of that point the story takes a hard left into the especially disturbing flavor of darkness involving children as a major twist is revealed...

Holland (Martin Udvarnoky) preforms a magic trick. Penn and Teller he ain't...

Like a Norman Rockwell painting gone horribly wrong, THE OTHER crafts a portrait of idyllic early-20th century America as seen through the filter of supernatural murder, and as such it is quite effective. It's not gory but its shocking moments are made that much more shattering due to that aspect. The viciousness and cruelty of the acts is more than enough, and seeing it all as a kid was very much a visceral punch to the head and guts. You may have noticed that I have not described any of the main events in any real detail, and that's because doing so would rob the first-timer of the full impact of the piece's utterly horrific moments. (Those of you who have seen it are no doubt thinking of the very worst moment, and you are likely agreeing with me that it's best left for the audience to witness for itself.)

THE OTHER is leisurely-paced, gore-free, and very low-key in how it presents itself, but believe me when I tell you that its shocks are intense and unforgettable. One of the very best in the "scary kids" sub-genre, this one is definitely worth your time.

Poster from the original theatrical release. 

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