(or, Bad Ronald meets The Sixth Sense meets Steven Soderbergh’s King of the Hill)
In this schlocky, early-seventies horror film, set on a rural farm in America’s heartland during the Depression, pre-teen twins Holland and Niles run amok, doing the usual things young boys do to amuse themselves on a farm. They’re mostly unsupervised, despite having a large extended family. Their father is dead, and their mother won’t hardly ever leave her room; their older sister and her husband, Rider, (played by a young, pre-Three’s Company John Ritter), are mostly pre-occupied with their forthcoming baby; they also have an uncle who – well, who knows what he actually does, as his role is severely underwritten, as are most of the secondary roles in this film. This pretty much leaves their Russian grandmother, Ada (a scenery-chewing Uta Hagen), to dote on Niles.
But what about Holland, you may ask? Doesn’t she dote on Holland, as well? After all, she is a very nice grandmother; she even teaches Niles “The Great Game”: how to project his soul into animals and people alike, which he does – first a raven, and then a stage magician (so he can discover how the magician made himself disappear from a box.) Now that would’ve made an interesting movie, if he’d apprenticed to the magician, who recognized this boy’s unique talent. And together they could’ve gone on the road, mystifying audiences everywhere. But I digress . . .
That’s not the movie we get. Instead, baaaaaaaaad things start to happen down on the farm. Nile’s and Holland’s young cousin(?), Piggy, jumps from a hayloft onto a nice sharp pitchfork; the boys’ mother gets pushed down the stairs and loses her ability to act – I mean, uh, talk – any more; and their semi-grumpy neighbor lady has a suspicious heart attack. Also, before it’s all over, two characters get pickled – in very difference senses of the word. Who could be responsible for all this?
Before I was even five minutes into this film, I’d already figured out what the big twist in this film was. Here’s some clues:
1) Only Niles talked to Holland.
2) No one else addressed Holland.
3) No one even looked at Holland (In fact, Holland is never even seen in the same shot with anyone other than Niles).
Gee, could it be . . . ? What if . . . ? Yep, that’s right. Holland’s actually dead! And everything else that happened in this film just confirmed that I was right. Their mother gets all weepy when Holland’s name is brought up. She can’t even go sit by the well without getting upset. Hmmmm, do you think something bad happened there???
We eventually learn that the evil little bastard was trying to throw a cat down the well when he fell down it himself (serves him right!). Niles was so upset by Holland’s death that Grandma Ada had him pretend Holland was still alive. And so, all the murders and evil deeds that were supposedly done by Holland, were actually the work of Niles. Thanks, grandma!
*******END OF SPOILER**********
Maybe if there were some characters that we actually cared about, the so-called surprise on which this movie rests wouldn’t have been so transparent. But as it is, Hagen overacts; Diana Muldaur, as the boys’ mother, is given little motivation; John Ritter is bland (where are Janet and Chrissy when you need them?); and the various aunts, uncles and others barely register.
Otherwise, The Other is basically a series of scenes that don’t build up to a fitting climax. The terror does not mount, and the tension doesn’t increase. Instead, the story plods on, lackadaisically, until the final twist plays itself out.I gave this movie a rating of 1 star.