Based on a novel by Thomas Tryon, The Other was an early entry in the creepy little kids sub-genre that dominated horror movies and novels in the 1970s. On a more personal note, I remember it scaring the hell out of me when I saw it on television as a kid, and its recent release on DVD represented my first chance to see the film in several decades.
The setting is rural Connecticut in 1935. Niles and Holland Perry (played by Chris and Martin Udvarnoky in their only film appearance) are living on the family farm with their mother and extended family. Diana Muldaur, veteran of two generations of Star Treks, plays the twins' mother. She remains traumatized from an event sometime in the past, leaving her emotionally distant and unable to fulfill her duties as mother, though for a bed-ridden depressive, her hair and makeup are oddly perfect.
With their mother emotionally absent, Niles has bonded with his Aunt Ada. The two are fond of playing The Game, which Ada believes to be an exercise in imagination, but Niles regards as something more. While playing The Game he seems to find himself in the body of a bird flying overhead, and he uses it to learn a trick being performed by a carnival magician.
Niles compulsively carries a small tin box containing a ring that should have been buried with his late father and a mysterious little item wrapped in cloth. Director Robert Mulligan obviously wanted the viewer to remember the box because it is constantly heard rattling around whenever Niles is onscreen.
Niles is apparently the only one of the pair born with a conscience, with Holland usually getting both of them in trouble. When bad things start to happen like the twins' tattletale cousin being "accidentally" impaled on a pitchfork, Hollands true nature becomes evident.
As one might expect, the creep-o-meter didn't go nearly as high as it did when I nine. The acting is consistent with the style of TV melodrama from the period, which is probably why I incorrectly assumed for many years that this was a made-for-TV movie. Typical of this is Mrs. Rowe, the old biddy from next door who runs afoul of the twins' mischief. She is played ridiculously over the top, reminding me of Una O'Conner's comic relief character in Bride of Frankenstein. This kind of silliness makes it harder to appreciate Mrs. Rowe's ultimate fate. The twins, particularly Niles, are played with often nauseating sweetness (when Niles asked his Aunt Ada for a butterfly kiss I nearly hurled). Most importantly, though, I can now see that the big twist late in the film is obviously telegraphed early on.
Still, this is a movie worth seeking out. The Other represents the more subtle horror of its time. Gore and exploding heads have their place, but this movie scares more with what it implies than what it actually shows.