The Night Digger – UK, 1971 – reviews

night digger

‘A lonely woman in a decaying mansion… A young stranger on a big, black bike.’

The Night Digger is a 1971 British psychological horror feature film directed by Alastair Reid from a screenplay by Roald Dahl (The Witches; Tales of the Unexpected), based on the 1967 novel Nest in a Fallen Tree by Joy Cowley. The movie stars Patricia Neal, Pamela Brown and Nicholas Clay.

Bernard Herrmann (Psycho; Twisted Nerve; Dressed to Kill) provided the edgy soundtrack score.

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Maura Prince (Patricia Neal) leads a lonely life in a dilapidated country mansion, sensing the world is passing her by as she cares for the demanding, invalid mother (Pamela Brown) who adopted her years ago.

Then a much younger stranger (Nicholas Clay) takes up residence as a handyman. He’s handsome, helpful. Wary Maura grows to love him… but it’s all too good to be true.


“The film builds to a suspenseful, if unsatisfying and rather confusing climax that might make more sense on repeated viewings. However, The Night Digger an acting tour-de-force for Neal and emerges as an underrated gem.” Lee Pfeiffer, Cinema Retro

“An odd, not-to-everyone’s-taste motion picture in many ways deserving of its exploitative advertising tagline “A tale of the strange and perverse.” And while it’s not a perfect film–a fact most evident in the somewhat rushed feel of the film’s third act–the sublime deliberateness of its earlier scenes, combined with the richness of its characterizations, gives the film the feel of an undiscovered, under-appreciated gem.” Ken Anderson, Dreams Are What Le Cinema Is For…

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“Horror fans looking for something beyond gory thrills will find 1971’s The Night Digger a true surprise. In a year that saw the horror genre reaching deeper into the limits of formerly forbidden subject material, this show gives us a strong drama with excellent acting and a convincing storyline.”Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant

“Certainly, the fact that the script was written by Roald Dahl should give an idea of the darkness behind the story. Nevertheless, I’m not quite sure the movie really works; there are some rather awkward moments, and its overall effect is one of sheer oddness.” Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

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“Even if richly atmospheric and finely acted, all the characters are unsympathetic and the undeveloped story is so unpleasant without an upside that I can’t see an audience for it. The pic hits rock bottom when it depicts the implausible romance between the psychopathic serial killer and the unhappy sexually frustrated spinster…” Dennis Schwartz, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews

“The problem is that director Alistair Reid doesn’t quite find a way of blending the mad killer business with the rural petty snobbery, failing to make much of the horrific or even the erotic potential of the storyline.” Kim Newman, Ten Years of Terror

Ten Years of Terror FAB Press book Harvey Fenton David Flint

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” …the script signally fails to renew the formulaic material and histrionic acting, especially by Brown, is used to make up for the story’s lack of inventiveness.” Phil Hardy (editor), The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror

“It begs for empathy for its tortured principals, but despite the clearly dedicated contributions of Patricia Neal, Roald Dahl, her scenarist-husband; Pamela Brown and a young newcomer, Nicholas Clay, the strain on credibility is a good deal more notable than the impact on the emotions.” A.H. Weiler, The New York Times, May 13, 1971

the night digger copy


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Cast and characters:

  • Patricia Neal … Maura Prince – The Day the Earth Stood Still
  • Pamela Brown … Mrs. Edith Prince, Mother – Bram Stoker’s Dracula
  • Nicholas Clay … Billy Jarvis – The Damned; Terror of Frankenstein; Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense 
  • Jean Anderson … Mrs. Millicent McMurtrey – Late Night Horror – 1968 TV series
  • Graham Crowden … Mr. Bolton – The Company of Wolves; Britannia Hospital
  • Yootha Joyce … Mrs. Palafox – Die! Die! My Darling!; Burke & Hare; Frankenstein: The True Story
  • Peter Sallis … Reverend Rupert Palafox –Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit; Full Circle; Frankenstein: The True Story; Taste the Blood of Dracula; Scream and Scream Again; The Curse of the Werewolf
  • Brigit Forsyth … District Nurse – Doctor Who: The Evil of the Daleks
  • Sebastian Breaks … Dr. Ronnie Robinson – Out of the Unknown
  • Diana Patrick … Mary Wingate
  • Jenny McCracken … Jenny – Farmwife
  • Bruce Myles … Bank Clerk
  • Zoe Alexander … Stroke Patient
  • Christopher Reynalds … Young Billy
  • Elaine Ives-Cameron … Gypsy
  • Sibylla Kay … Whore

Filming locations:

Twickenham Film Studios, St Margarets, Twickenham, Middlesex, England

Running time:

100 minutes 5 seconds (censored by the BBFC, no details available)


The film was also known as The Road Builder

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