The Other, 1972
I simply cannot read every “Connecticut book,” nor do I want to. However, I certainly plan on reading one or two of Thomas Tryon’s novels. The son of Arthur Lane Tryon, owner of Stackpole, Moore & Tryon in Hartford, Tryon grew up in Connecticut and went on to be a moderately successful actor. At some point, he began writing horror and mystery novels, including the best-selling The Other.
Tryon led a mysterious life himself, as a deeply closeted gay man. (Although, when he divorced a woman and started dating male porn actors, the secret wasn’t super secret anymore.) He eventually died of “stomach cancer” which was really HIV-AIDS, but he took his secret to his grave.) But while alive, he wrote the screenplay for The Other and that brings us to my review.
Yes, this is a “Connecticut movie” because Tryon’s book takes place on a farm in Connecticut. The movie was clearly shot in California, based on the vistas and vegetation. Nothing Connecticut-related is mentioned in the movie. But I’ll give the director and/or Tryon credit for sneaking in one five-second shot setting the proper scene:
America’s oldest continuously published newspaper! Being read by none other than Jack Tripper himself, John Ritter! (Ritter’s role in the film is very, very small. He had maybe four lines in total. Still, it’s always fun to see famous actors before they became famous.) The movie’s Russian grandmother is played by Uta Hagen who was apparently the world’s greatest acting teacher or something. Her being in the film was apparently a big deal at the time.
While The Other is a horror film, it eschews cheap scares and graphic violence in favor of subtle suggestion and an understated rustic atmosphere. It takes place almost entirely in bright Californian sunshine, which is a bit disorienting but somehow provides a stark and simple plainness that kind of worked for me.
This is a period film; taking place in the summer of 1935. A large extended family lives on a farm; grandmother, a great aunt, uncle, aunt, cousin, mother, and identical twins Holland and Niles Perry. Their father died in an accident in the apple cellar the previous year and their mother remains so sad that she rarely leaves her room. While the rest of the family goes about their daily lives, Niles grows closer to Grandma Ada, his Russian grandmother, who has introduced him to “The Great Game”, the Perry family’s secret gift of being able to project their mind into other beings. Or something like that.
Oh wait, that reminds me – there was another local reference. The grandmother was chatting with Niles about dinner and mentioned it would be shad. The boy whined and she laughed, “I like the roe better!” to which Niles replied, “Ew! That’s like polliwog eggs!” And then they both laughed. Connecticut’s state fish! A local delicacy! Nice working that in there Tryon!
Alright, so the dad’s dead, fine. John Ritter’s wife is 9 months pregnant but isn’t showing. Fine. The twins play around the farm getting into minor bits of trouble, as young boys are wont to do. One day, they’re caught in the apple cellar by their cousin Russell, who also sees that Niles is wearing the ring that was to be buried with his father. The cousin tattle tales on them, so Holland hides a pitchfork in the hay around where Russell like to play. Later, the cousin playfully jumps into the haystack and dies after impaling himself. Sucker.
Later, Niles purposely scares an elderly neighbor to death with a rat. (She had upset the twins earlier over some indiscretion.)
With everyone dying around the farm, the boys’ mother starts wondering why and finds the hidden ring of her deceased husband among Niles’ belongings. Moreover, she finds her dead husbands finger too, which Niles kept for some reason. Upset, the boy pushes his mom down some stairs, paralyzing her. All this mayhem goes unpunished because everything seems like an accident.
There’s a creepy scene at Coney Island with some “circus freaks” and a weird magician in an Asian get-up. Says Holland, “he ain’t even a Chinee! he’s got tape on his eyes!” Ahh, the innocent, fun-loving 1970’s. Niles plays “The Great Game” and sees through the box and figures out the disappearing trick, and… that comes into play in the climactic scene.
The tagline for this movie in 1972 was “please don’t reveal the secret.” I’m comfortable spoiling a half-century old movie here. (It’s also weird because the movie was based on a best-selling book, so surely a ton of people knew the secret. Note to Gen Z: People did actually read books in the 1960’s and 70’s.) When Grandma Ada sorts out that Niles is a sociopathic killer, we learn that Holland has been dead for months. We see him fall down a well in a flashback. People on this farm suffer a lot of falling incidents, I must say.
Niles has been keeping Holland “alive” in his imagination and has been blaming him for all the mayhem – including commanding Niles to open his father’s coffin, cut off his finger and take the ring.
Instead of putting a stop to Niles, Ada decides to simply keep watch over him. This became a problem later when Niles drowns his newborn cousin, born to the aunt who never looked remotely pregnant. Such an unnecessary death! A necessary death would be that of Niles. So when everyone’s looking for the dead baby and freaking out, Ada sets out to do just that.
Finding Niles in the apple cellar, she pours gasoline everywhere and burns the child and herself alive. Phew. A fitting ending.
Except! Except in the final scene we see Niles alive staring out of his window. Turns out that magic trick he figured out – with the trap door leading outside – served him well. But he’s pretty much killed everybody around, so I’m not sure what the rest of his childhood will provide him.
I’m curious if the book holds the secret better than the movie does. I will say that the twin boys who play Niles and Holland do a pretty good job for being untrained kids. The story evolves very, very slowly and the creepy level could have been turned up about nine notches (out of 10).
Even so, I didn’t hate the movie. I liked the twist and it is an earnest effort. Just needed more Jack Tripper.
CTMQ Rating: 3 out of 5 thumbs up
Connecticutness: 99 out of 169 Nutmegs
Filmed in Connecticut? No
Wealthy Caucasian with a Big House? Not wealthy, but big house