Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Other (1972)

          Considering that it’s an entry in the long and dubious genre of creepy-kid horror movies, The Other has an awfully posh pedigree. The film’s director is Robert Mulligan, of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, and the star is Uta Hagen, the revered acting teacher whose book, Respect for Acting, is a sacred text for thespians. Fittingly, The Other favors backstory and character development over straight-out scares, though the narrative is actually quite lurid.
          In Connecticut circa 1935, twin boys Niles and Holland Perry (played by real-life twins Chris Udvarnoky and Martin Udvarnoky, respectively) engage in boyhood mischief with an edge. Niles is psychic and Holland is sadistic, so they seem strange from the moment they’re introduced cavorting in bowl cuts and short pants. Their relatives are just as peculiar: The boys’ mother (Diana Muldaur) is a basket case who rarely leaves her bedroom, and their grandmother, Ada (Hagen), is a superstitious immigrant who teaches Niles how to sharpen his special abilities.
          As the story progresses, Holland’s violent side grows more dangerous, leading to a series of deaths, and Ada slowly realizes that Niles is complicit in his brother’s activities; this leads to a huge plot twist in the middle of the movie that shouldn’t be spoiled. There’s nothing egregiously wrong with the story, by actor-turned-writer Tom Tryon (who adapted the script from his own novel), but many questions can be raised about the way Mulligan tells the story.
          First off, The Other is painfully slow, and the picture drags through long and uninteresting idylls whenever Niles and Holland get embroiled in deep conversations. The Udvarnovky twins are fine, as child actors go, but Mulligan simply can’t make their surface-level exchanges compelling enough to keep the momentum going between jolts. Mulligan also seems preoccupied with creating nostalgic atmosphere, lavishing attention on details of clothing, décor, and furnishing. While it’s admirable whenever a filmmaker treats a horror story with as much care as a “real” movie, the priority is supposed to be generating tension, not showcasing production design.
          Still, the acting by the grownups is generally strong. Hagen is a bit florid, using stagey flamboyance as she speaks with a thick accent and suffers operatic emotional upheavals, and Muldaur is believably pained but underused. Victor French is similarly wasted in his role as the Perry family’s unlucky handyman, and John Ritter shows up in a minor role. The Other has its fans, and none can dispute that the film was made with care, but for many viewers, the picture will be far too slow and unsatisfying to justify digging for its hidden pleasures.

The Other: FUNKY

1 comment:

Will Errickson said...

So tepid I always figured it was a TV movie. Tryon's original novel was quite good, if I recall. The Udvarnoky twins only made this film, and Chris died a few years ago.