Horror is an incredibly cyclical beast; the current cycle is a mix between the perpetual zombie and haunted house films. One of the more pre-eminent historical cycles is the bad seed, or to give it a more common lexicon – scary kids. The 1960s and 70s were the zenith with titles Children of the Damned and the Omen capturing the public’s imagination. One of the lesser known, yet influential, titles from that era is The Other – the latest title to join the Eureka Classics collection. Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird) directs this adaptation of the popular novel of the same name by Tom Tryon.
While not entirely accurate to pin the film exclusively in the horror genre, The Other is far more interested in dramatic mass than the heightened violence of Horror. Set during the Great Depression, Mulligan’s film finds itself in a humble farmhouse where twins Niles and Holland (Chris and Martin Udvarnoky) live. The boys are as playful, rebellious and affectionate as any children their age, irrespective of era. In this idealistic, simple house a series of fatal accidents start happening with frightening regularity, whether by stray pitchfork or childlike obstinacy. A consistency which sees the innocence and sanity of the boys become increasingly suspect.
The Other suffers at the hands of history, not through dated acting or technical prowess but because it’s one of the key source texts for this type of film. Any such influential text suffers as a continued succession of writers and directors crib the best key ideas and concepts, a process through no fault of the people involved. Night of the Living Dead informed the coda of the zombie film, The Exorcist with demonic possession, but both have endured. At the opposite end of the spectrum are films like this and Spider Baby, Jack Hill’s film was ravenously consumed to the point where history has made it look quaint and rather silly. The Other does just enough to endure but history certainly hasn’t been the kindest. Consequently none of the developments, twists or atrocities is either unexpected or surprising; a saddening fate that may see the film lost on the less patient viewer.
The standing tone of the film falls somewhere near the romanticized community spirit of TV’s Little House on the prairie, a tonal decision that makes the moments traditionally found in your garden variety bad seed film all the more effecting. As previously mentioned, this isn’t achieved through nous of narrative but instead through atmosphere, performance and theme. The best genre work, be it fantasy, sci-fi or horror, sings when it reflects something universally tangible, and the grieving process depicted here will never fail to be relevant as a thematic heartbeat. Children in horror tend to be the perfect catalysts for communicating that something is scary, no one does it better, but in bad seed that balance is spun 180. This is thanks to the two young actors playing Niles and Holland in Chris and Martin Udvarnoky; they beautifully heighten the contrast between childlike innocence and mysterious malevolence. Niles’ relationship with the paternal Ada (Uta Hagen) complicates this further, a bond of absolute love with the supernatural ‘game’ they play together twisting something as basic as aerial photography into a means of wonder, discovery and dread.
Escalating like the best the genre has to offer, The Other works its way up to a climax that is both everything that is wrong with the film and its own antithesis. A scene that recycles ideas and imagery from an earlier visit to a carnival is thematically shocking in both what happens and the misunderstanding born from it – it may be heavily telegraphed but its pure execution is perfect finale material for a psychological motivated horror film. Mulligan’s lost horror hit may be bogged down by familiarity but it’s exceedingly difficult to snub a film that amazes despite every bump and molehill being visible from afar.
The package that Eureka has put together conforms entirely to stereotypes, but like the film there is a comfort in familiarity. On disc extras are minimal to the extreme, with only the original theatrical trailer to speak of. The 1080p transfer sees the film look better than ever while remembering that 1970s horror had a slight warmth and grain. Somewhat predictably though is the booklet, which is as appealing as the feature itself. Critic Aaron Hillis affectionate contextualization sits beside an interview with Mulligan that perhaps would have featured on another label’s disc, but the fact it is included is enough. A minimal package yet one that heartily compliments this lost bad seed classic.
- Beautiful 1080p high-definition transfer on the Blu-ray and a progressive DVD encode
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Original theatrical trailer
- 36-page booklet featuring new writing by critic and programmer Aaron Hillis, a 1972 interview with Robert Mulligan, and rare archival imagery
THE OTHER (DUAL FORMAT) IS AVAILABLE TOMORROW IN ALL GOOD SHOPS OR THROUGH EUREKA CLASSICS.