Not Me, the movie: The Other

Anyone still read Family Circus? Well, there’s a ghost kid in it named “Not Me,” who does all the bad things the kids don’t want to get caught doing. Who did it? “Not Me!” haw, haw. Well, 1972’s The Other, based on Thomas Tryon’s novel, is about a kid named Niles whose twin brother Holland died a few months ago. But he still sees him. Plays with him. And gets blamed for the bad stuff Holland does…
Directed by Robert Mulligan of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, the 1935 rural setting is rich and utterly believable. Bright colors, and a low camera put us in the world of an 8 year old boy growing up there. We see everything through Niles’s eyes. And the film’s chilling success is in depicting a young psychopath in the idyllic yesteryear of our beloved past. This is A Christmas Story with a Ralphie who’d grow up to be the faceless slasher from Clark’s other masterpiece, Black Christmas. He also seems to have the sight- able to predict storms, and his witch-wise grandma Ada teaches him to spirit-see through a crow. This plays out as the superstitious foolery of rural childhood, but Niles has a morbid streak that’s hard to ignore.
Bad things start to happen around town. A little snitch named Piggy- bespectacled like his namesake in Lord of the Flies– jumps into a haystack that has a pitchfork hidden in it. When Niles’s mother finds his treasured trinket- the ring that was supposed to be buried with his brother- and the desiccated finger it was on- she falls down the stairs after struggling with him. She’s paralyzed, mute and helpless. Only Grandma Ada around now… and she thinks Niles talking to Holland is just a game to assuage his grief. Old Lady Rose, who scolded Niles for trying to steal her preserves, is found dead in her home. And then relatives come with a baby girl, who gets all the attention…
The film is daring and relentless in showing us little Niles and his childhood exploits, and framing them in a simple coming of age memoir. Is he haunted by the ghost of his evil brother- who died trying to throw a cat down a well- or were they both little bastards? Is he using Holland as his “Not Me,” or is it a bizarre grieving mechanism? Holland seems to taunt Niles from beyond the grave, and perhaps he is so traumatized that he’s making his evil brother’s legacy live on. Or perhaps Niles was the one who fell down the well, and Holland’s playing a trick on us all. He sure loves tricks; after a trip to the traveling circus, and getting frightened by a particularly scary freak, he is mystified by the magician’s swords in the box trick. Especially when he sees the performer sneak out of the box below stage.
A favorite movie of mine from the ’50s was The Bad Seed, about an evil little girl who kills out of jealousy and greed; the perfect picture of a young psychopath. Due to the Code, she had to be punished, so the ending was changed so she dies at the end. It’s one of the biggest cinematic ripoffs, and it’s best to stop watching before it happens. The same occurred with the TV cut of The Other; a voiceover was added. Thankfully that cut seems to have disappeared, and we get a terrifying, open ending as Grandma Ada realizes what her beloved grandson has become. This is one of the best “evil child” movies and doesn’t cheap the ending by making Niles a dwarf prostitute. But it does leave us to wonder if he’s evil, crazy, haunted, or all three. And that makes for a wonderful horror film.

One thought on “Not Me, the movie: The Other

  1. The Other is one of the most effective horror movies of the Seventies, which is why I find it odd that it's not mentioned very often these days. It had a definite creep factor going for it!

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