By Brian Saur
This film has been underrated by horror fans for a long time and I'm not 100% sure why. Perhaps availability might be one factor. The DVD was only first released 2006 and as with many catalog titles, you'd probably have to have been looking for it to know it even came out. The film was director by master director Robert Mulligan. He was the man behind such classics as TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, LOVE WITH THE PROPER STRANGER(still sadly MIA on DVD), INSIDE DAISY CLOVER, THE NICKEL RIDE and SUMMER OF '42. This story of twin brothers, one seemingly good and the other not so much, is an interesting departure from Mulligan's standard kind of drama. This one is the only horror-ish movie he ever made. It feels to me like a film that M. Knight Shyamalan saw before he made THE SIXTH SENSE. Or something that may have been at least a small point of reference for Christopher Nolan for his fantastic and oddly underrated classic THE PRESTIGE. Not that either of those films borrows directly from THE OTHER, but there is a certain artfulness in the storytelling of THE OTHER that is reminiscent of those later films. THE OTHER is truly fascinating though in that it is impressionistic and slightly obtuse and might have been a touch perplexing to the audiences who first saw it in 1972. It's almost an art film by way of horror. It's tricky not to relate it even slightly to THE OMEN, which was another evil kid movie that came out around the same time. THE OTHER is better though and more thought provoking than THE OMEN in my opinion. One thing that is obviously memorable in a time of face replacement effects is the fact that the twins(Niles and Holland) in the film were actually portrayed by twin actors(Chris Udvarnoky and Martin Udvarnoky). Seems pretty low-fi nowadays as I said, but I truly think it makes the performances more nuanced and interesting. Instead of finding a single actor to play the role and having them okay both parts, the film makers are forced to find twin actors that fit the part(s) and can act. In this case, the twins cast were unknowns as far as I'm aware and I'm often pleasantly surprised by unknown actors as I have no baggage attached to them from previous roles. These twins apparently never acted again in any other movies. Obviously it's impossible to expect most actors to not work on multiple films, but it makes for a unique experience when they make only one feature like this. Very impactful stuff.
The transfer on Twilight Time 'a new Blu-ray is bright, colorful and full of rich detail. Included as an extra is a lovely isolated score track featuring Jerry Goldsmith's lovely music for the film.
To remake? Or not to remake? This seems to be a question that has haunted both film fans and studios since almost the inception of cinema. It's a somewhat tried and true formula for Hollywood to re-do an already known property as they see it as a "known" thing with a (hopefully) built-in audience that they need to perhaps market a little less. This may or may not be true but it seems less relevant in a time when the public seems to have trouble remembering films from as few as five years previous, but the studios continue on re-making and fans often continue to protest. I get the fan point of view certainly, as they see the film being remade as "sacred" on one level or another and don't wish to have their memory of that wonderful thing besmirched by this new and potentially terrible thing. I don't find myself particularly phased by remakes anymore and, if anything, I always try to look at them as a propelling a possible boost in interest in the older movie. Anyway, THE BLOB is absolutely one of my favorite horror films from the 1980s. Why it's rarely mentioned in the "great remakes" category is beyond me, but it appears to have picked up a good deal more fan love over the years. It does all the things I feel like a good remake (especially a horror remake) should do. Thankfully there was a decent amount of time between the original film starring a then-unknown young actor named Steve McQueen. That BLOB came out 30 years prior and so despite it being pretty effective for the time it was made, it left room for things to get more intense at the very least. And more intense is where this remake goes for sure. It is this "taking it up a notch" that I really love about the movie. It sits squarely in the now nearly-dead era of practical special effects and that gives it a charm all its own. The effects really stand out and are quite well done and a few of them still even make me wondered how they were done. Other things it has going for it are a clever screenplay by the great Frank Darabont and an excellent cast including the gorgeous Shawnee Smith (also the enchanting Candy Clark) and a fully mulleted Kevin Dillon. I had such a crush on Shawnee Smith after I saw this movie. I was aware of her through SUMMER SCHOOL (which was a family favorite in my house as a kid), but THE BLOB showed a me a whole nother side to here. Apparently, I wasn't the only one as James Wan, Leigh Whannell and Darren Lynn Bousman have all outed themselves as having had crushes on her based on this movie and others she did in the 1980s. Though apparently she's not a huge fan of horror films or being scared, I was extremely pleased to see her show up as a regular in the SAW franchise throughout the 2000s. It always seemed to me that through this film she certainly demonstrated a beauty, charisma and star power that should have netted her greater notoriety and a more high-profile career.
"Tell him about the worms."
Jeff Lieberman is a filmmaker I have a lot of respect and admiration for. He's only made a handful of features, but he has a very specific authorial stamp in terms of the genre films he's put out. His genre work also has some nice variety to it. From the electrically-charged killer worms on the loose in SQUIRM, the backwoods slasher antics of JUST BEFORE DAWN to the acid freakouts of BLUE SUNSHINE and the alien mind controll-y-ness of REMOTE CONTROL, he's crafted a neat little group of cult favorites. I've even yet to see his 2004 feature SATAN'S LITTLE HELPER, but I've only heard good things. One thing Lieberman always seems to mix into his movies is a fun, offbeat sense of humor without losing the thrills, scares and creeps of each particular story he undertakes. He's a low-budget director, so that makes me think of him as independent guy who makes movies his own terms for the most part and that's one of the things I admire about him.
SQUIRM was Lieberman's debut film and by some accounts it remains his most popular work to date. If you are looking for some cool examples of regional horror, then Lieberman's movies are great portraits of the areas they were filmed in. SQUIRM was filmed in Port Wentworth, Georgia in 24 days. It absolutely has that regional flavor that is often quite an enjoyable outcropping of this sort of shoestring budget cinema. Though Lieberman uses actors that aren't resoundingly experienced(and clearly some non-actors too), he directs and photographs them at a level that elevates this material above others of a similar ilk. I'm personally a huge fan of the "animals attack"/"nature strikes back" genre so this one already has a leg up in my book. It also features some early special effects work from the great Rick Baker and that can only make your movie better. He does a nice job making these worms make your skin crawl(and crawl inside your skin!). Those effects, and the assured directorial control of a cult auteur like Lieberman make it easy to see why this movie has hung on so long in the esteem of horror movie fans all over. Its well put-together, suspenseful, disgusting and funny throughout. Quality stuff.
Weird, sleazy, atmospheric 'horror hotel' story with more than a little bit of PSCYHO in it. Deserving of cult status. Might be my favorite Paul Bartel film. The atmosphere he creates here is fantastic and I wish he'd attempted more films along these lines for that reason. The lead girl (Ayn Ruymen) reminds me of a cross between Christina Ricci and Karen Allen. Cute and great in the role. Sadly she didn't do too many other films(mostly a lot of TV in the 70s and 80s).
From screenwriter Simon Barrett (YOU'RE NEXT, V/H/S) comes this low key creepy gem that genuinely scared the hell out of me the first time I saw it on DVD years ago. It helps the movie that it starts Henry Thomas in one of the main roles. Since I am a longtime fan of his from the ‘80s (especially in CLOAK & DAGGER and THE QUEST), it really helped bring me into the story and, since I was unused to seeing Thomas in a role like this, it probably made the film scarier.
Brian Saur is a podcaster and blogger from Los Angeles that specializes in cult and classic films. He is co-host of the Pure Cinema Podcast and also produces and hosts another show called Just the Discs, which focuses on Blu-rays. He has run the Rupert Pupkin Speaks website since its inception in 2009 and continues to highlight obscure cinematic gems there on a regular basis. Follow him on Twitter (@bobfreelander, @justthediscspod, @purecinemapod), Facebook, or Instagram for more film recommendations.