Connecticut in the 1930s, and in the countryside live twin brothers, Niles (Chris Udvarnoky) and Holland (Martin Udvarnoky), one mischievous and the other easily led by his sibling. Today it is the height of summer where they are playing in the barn in spite of being told not to, and their neighbour falls victim to their antics when she notices Niles has knocked over her jar of pickle and broken it. The old lady drags him out of the barn and is about to punish him when she catches sight of the rats feasting on the contents, and runs into her house screaming, letting the boys off the hook; it is time for their main meal anyway, though Niles alone is persuaded to sit down at the kitchen table...
Tom Tryon was an actor, he never made the front rank of movie stars but he was fairly well known though unhappy with his lot until he discovered a talent for writing. Once he had read Ira Levin's horror novel Rosemary's Baby, Tryon decided he could do that too and penned a chiller of his own, The Other, which did well enough for him to strike out in another career as author. When it came to adapting the book for the cinema, he jumped at the chance, believing he could add directing as another string to his bow, but an established filmmaker Robert Mulligan had his eye on the project, so once Tryon had scripted it, Mulligan took the reins, something the writer regretted ever after.
Tryon wasn't happy with how much of his work was left out of the final cut, but nevertheless there were fans of the movie, be they already appreciating the source or new to the story, and thus as is the way with such things it may not have been a blockbuster but it did become a cult item. Mulligan undoubtedly captured the lyrical quality of the prose with its sun-dappled meadows and warm breezes moving the grass and leaves, Tryon's work being more akin to Ray Bradbury's horrors than Ira Levin's, but he also gave a presence to the strain of unpleasantness running under the apparently idyllic surface. Although it looks like a nostalgic tale of childhood gone by, it was more like a warning of how childhood cruelty can be dangerous if left unchecked.
That cruelty committed by children, as Holland is a somewhat nasty little blighter, and as it progresses we watch him scare the old lady neighbour to death with a dead rat he has found, among other misdemeanours that has us wondering if he truly grasps the importance of what he is doing. Indeed, there is much off kilter about the family surrounding the twins as they are supposed to be looking forward to a baby on the way, but the recently widowed mother of the boys (Diana Muldaur) is labouring under a great mental strain - one glance at the well and she breaks down in tears, plot foreshadowing aficionados. The kids seem unaware of what is wrong, but we begin to question their innocence from minute one, not least because the first act is barely over and their pal has died in mysterious circumstances.
Could one of the twins have placed that pitchfork in the hay with its spikes up when the boy jumped into it, unaware of the peril he was in? Niles and Holland's grandmother (much-respected stage actress Uta Hagen in what was her movie debut at age 53) indulges them and their own little world without twigging that doing so may be propagating a mindset that will lead to tragedy, if it hasn't already, and if it's easy to guess what that is, then it is at least revealed with some way to go, leaving the bigger question of which is the genuinely evil brother and which is the one who is more innocent for us to ponder. It builds to one of the darkest movie endings of its era, though again Mulligan was careful to film it so tastefully the full revulsion of what is going on may have been downplayed, yet if it hadn't been then the story would have been unbearable, just as Tryon's writing emphasised his literary qualities over the grimmer aspects of his narrative. Some find this too slow to truly engage with, yet adjust to its mood and pace and if it wasn't a classic, it was absorbing. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.