Hot on the heels of the superb Ganja & Hess re-release from The Eureka Classics Collection comes Robert Mulligan’s (To Kill a Mockingbird) elegantly lensed 1972 chiller The Other. Despite being less well known than the more shocking 70’s Gothic classics The Exorcist and The Omen, this is still a valuable film for it’s creepy and detailed characterisation, idyllic farmhouse location and elaborate long lens cinematography by Robert Surtees (Ben Hur, The Graduate.)
Amid a family whose misfortune is rife, the film centres on Niles (Chris Udvarnoky) a vulnerable boy with a bowl cut and a troublesome identical twin brother Holland (Martin Udvarnoky.) Niles and Holland have lost their father, who died in a barn accident and their mother has since become housebound and catatonic. Niles secretly harbours a ring that belonged to their father and we come to suspect that it possesses strange and dark qualities.
The family’s Russian grandmother, Ada (Uta Hagen), is Niles’ closest companion. There is something desperate and intense in her character – well portrayed by Hagen – that is deeply unsettling. The primary tension in the film comes from the various situations Holland goads Niles into, as well as their relationship with snotty cousin Russell, who comes to a sticky end in the barn when he leaps into a pitchfork lodged in the hay bales. It is a film brimming with bottled up anxiety.
There is an overall sense of strangeness throughout The Other, and Mulligan and Surtees follow the action with virtuoso use of pans and zoom lenses. As can be seen in many low budget films of this era (particularly cheap Italian horrors), this is a camera style than can come off as unbearably clunky; however, the skill level witnessed here means the continually complex shooting style seems natural and relentless. Like cinematographer Surtees’ drama The Graduate from five years prior, The Other is a film with an original uneasiness.
Perhaps because of its similarities to superlative drama The Graduate however, The Other does not make for an exemplary horror film. In spite of some late twists and grisly developments in the plot, the film lacks a forceful and all-encompassing horror concept like the shocking The Exorcist, the disaster-ridden The Omen or the dread filled The Wicker Man.
Perhaps a closer relation is Jennifer Kent’s 2014 film The Babadook: a horror film whose scares never quite live up to the exemplary aspects of craft and performance surrounding them. While it is entirely unjustified to decry a horror film for reaching for higher standards of drama and film art, it is that authentic sense of catastrophe that truly endures.