There is something inherently creepy about twins. There’s something about not being able to tell the difference between two beings, especially if one is good and one is evil, that is frightening, and horror writers have picked up on this fact. From the separated conjoined sisters in Brian Depalma’s Sisters to the woman-sharing brothers in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, twins have been a staple of scary movies. In 1972, Robert Mulligan (who directed To Kill a Mockingbird) brought Thomas Tryon’s The Other to the big screen, and brought the Perry twins into everyone’s nightmares.
Set in 1930’s Connecticut farm country, The Other is the tale of Niles and Holland Perry (Chris and Martin Udvarnoky), two twins who are having a typically mischief-filled summer while their catatonic mother (Television actress Diana Mauldaur) mourns the death of their father. Niles is the good one, often getting swept up in Holland’s shenanigans. Their grandmother, an odd but loving old woman named Ada (Uta Hagen from The Boys from Brazil), has taught the twins a “great game,” as she calls it, where they can psychically project their spirit into animals or other things and have amazing out-of-body experiences. Not long into the season, horrible accidents start happening on the farm. First, the boys’ cousin Russell (Clarence Crow) is killed when he jumps into a haystack that has a pitchfork hidden in it. Then the neighbor woman (Portia Nelson from “All My Children”) dies of a heart attack. Niles starts to suspect that the deaths are not accidental or natural and has reason to believe that Holland may be behind them. Niles is torn between loyalty to his brother and what he knows is right.
There are several reasons that The Other is a significant film. It delivers genuine chills and thrills while still garnering a PG rating. It features an early appearance by John Ritter (Jack Tripper from “Three’s Company) as the twins’ brother-in-law. It has a typically great score written by the one and only Jerry Goldsmith that was half cut out of the final film. But the real attraction to The Other is its brilliant story.
Adapted for the screen by Tryon from his bestselling novel of the same name, The Other is a clever psychological thriller that is scary while not being gory. It may seem a little soft for hard-core horror fans, but it doesn’t rely on blood and guts to terrify the audience. The scares are the kind of scares that will stay with the viewer for a much longer time. It’s the suspense, not the shock, that makes The Other scary.
As part of the story, The Other boasts a twist that would make M. Night Shyamalan proud. The problem with the twist in The Other is that it comes too soon in the film. The audience learns the secret about halfway through the movie, and it makes the rest of the film less effective. The climactic scenes are still nail-biters, but the reveal of the film’s surprise at the right time later in the film would knock the viewers out of their chairs. By revealing the big twist too early, the viewer gets the chance to figure out the rest of the plot.
The well-written script, smart storyline and creepy set of characters all contribute to a very eerie film. Although the twins in The Other will never be as iconic as, say, the twins in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, they still are very frightening, and The Other deserves a mention as one of the scariest movies of the 1970’s. It doesn’t even need to be edited for television.