Random Film of the Week(end), Too: The Night Digger (The Road Builder)

(Thanks, Night of the Trailers!) 

the night diggerI used to get The Night Digger and The Night Visitor confused when I was younger, but that’s since been rectified (and nope, I’ve been fortunate enough to NOT confuse any of them with The Night Porter). Both films are from 1971 and bother are psychological thrillers, with the former film being the more “horror” oriented one on a few fronts. However, neither is a straight up slasher flick and both have elements that make them superior to typical genre entries.

Here, Patricia Neal gives a powerful performance as Maura Prince, a woman living with and caring for her blind mother Edith (Pamela Brown), with both women falling prey to the charms of the handsome young Billy (Nicholas Clay) who rides up one day on his sleek motorbike and asks for a job. He’s not just good with his tools, folks… he’s also a violent sex criminal and murderer who has a handy way of disposing of his victims. In a bizarre twist (one of a few the film socks you with), the film turns into a very strange love story where you may find yourself rooting for that emotion to take hold and win over all, but there’s that air of inevitability and gloom thanks to the plot turning as it does and a beautiful and haunting Bernard Herrmann score that will raise a few hackles (if you haven’t gone and shaved them off like the kids do with their hair in certain spots, ewww)…

I call this film Grey Gardens Meets Psycho for a few reasons. That huge house, the two ladies trapped inside, each silently and vocally battling each other plus the strange young may with the stranger proclivities and habit for murder when aroused all add up for me here. In an art imitates life twist, Maura is a former stroke victim as was Neal in real life, and she’s so obligated to taking care of Edith (who took care of her during her long recovery) that she’s pretty much enslaved herself in their over-sized mansion with no prospects for work or any sort of normal relationship. Enter out killer and despite some hesitation, both women come to accept him into their lives for different reasons. Billy has a rather nasty fixation on young ladies of about his age and before long, he’s lowering the population count of the surrounding area and making sure those bodies will never be found…

And in the middle of all that Meet is Murder stuff, Miss Maura Prince happens to fall head over sensible heels for Billy (Eeek)… and it’s actually believable (Double Eeek!). Neal’s work here is poignant and surprising as well as a bit (dare I say) sexy manner as she goes for Billy and he responds in kind after some of his own hesitation. Once their relationship is consummated, you get the slight feeling that she may reform him of his evil ways if she can just keep him close to her. However, as the film progresses there’s also the fact looming that Maura may be on to Billy’s extracurricular activities (Triple Eeek!) I’ll leave it to you to figure out what’s what, though. There are some great supporting performances, the murder scenes are somewhat disturbing and every time you see Billy on that bike, those hackles you may or may not have will rattle when that great music does its stuff.

As for the kind of odd ending payoff you get after that one hundred and ten minutes are up? Well, let’s just say it’s sort of nontraditional and unexpected in a way, but not too insane that it suspends your disbelief. It’s definitely a film that will linger in your head long after it’s viewed and as noted in my review of The Night Visitor, makes for a fine enough one-two punch double feature it you happen to locate both flicks and want to make a night of them. Just don’t expect to have pleasant dreams when all is said and done…

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