The Neighbor (1993): Knock Knock

Dave digs the patented Pierre David thriller formula, and he reckons this early outing ranks among the busy mogul’s best.

“They’re all too violent for no reason,” declared Rod Steiger during a break in filming producer Pierre David’s thriller, THE NEIGHBOR. “If the killing is necessary to reveal a truth about life, then I say OK. Oedipus has got to take out his eyes, and Hamlet has got to get killed in a duel. When it’s violence for violence’s sake, then no.” [1]

It was this that Steiger had to consider before heading north to Quebec for The Neighbor‘s five week shoot in fall ’92.

“[Dr. Myron Hatch] is a person whose acts are villainous. A sick person. I don’t know how you do a villain, but I can understand a person having the psychosis.” [1]

Made at the dawn of David’s notorious run of ‘The’ prefixed films (The Paperboy (1994), The Secretary (1995), The Dentist (1996), The Nurse (1997) et al), The Neighbor also marked the start of the ‘weirdo next door’ theme that the prolific Canuxploitation icon would return to numerous times in the years since. The Perfect Neighbor (2005) had a demented Barbara Niven stalking the guy in the house along the street; Next Door Nightmare (2021) centred on a psycho-biddy across the road; and 2022 namesake The Neighbor focused on a murderous neighbourhood watch participant.

Although you’d be hard pressed to change the channel on any of those addictive delights during a wintry evening on the sofa, The Neighbor ’93 – Rodney Gibbons’ debut feature – is a good few notches above the derivatives that followed, and you don’t have to look beyond Steiger to know why. His creepy character of Hatch is a soon-to-be-retired gynaecologist who lives alone in his aunt’s residence in the quaint, leafy suburb of Burlington, Vermont. The not-so-good doctor is harbouring a secret, though: when he was a young boy he witnessed his mother die during childbirth, and then subsequently suffocated the child that survived. Half a century later, his obsession over his late mother still runs strong – think a pensionable Norman Bates. So, when pregnant Mary Westhill (Linda Kozlowski) and her husband, John (Ron Lea), enquire about purchasing his childhood home, his dormant darker impulses are awakened when he notices that Mary is the doppelganger of his dearly departed ma.

There’s a moment quite on in The Neighbor when Hatch clocks Mary for the first time and Steiger performs a lingering double-take that nearly bests Jon Voight’s infamous leer in Anaconda (1997) in terms of sheer protracted hamminess. It’s a tone-setting warning shot that defines much of David’s ‘90s output. ‘Campevolent’ is what I’d christen it; a blast of histrionic wickedness as ludicrous as it is hackle-raising. It’s a feeling that The Neighbor relishes. Steiger is subtly psychotic, terrorising Mary with great intimidation – so much so that John and the couple’s other close contacts put her concerns down to the paranoia of pregnancy. Have they not realised that Hatch’s beanie and aviator specs are an endemic trait of murderous, celluloid vagabonds? Clearly not.

A daft potboiler for sure, but thanks to the pen of soon-to-be Hollywood royalty Kurt Wimmer (Law Abiding Citizen (2009), Salt (2010)), and Gibbons’ tight direction, The Neighbor is a relentlessly gripping and unequivocally entertaining little suspenser.

A textbook example of a good Pierre David movie, basically.

USA/Canada ● 1993 ● Thriller ● 93mins

Rod Steiger, Linda Kozlowski, Ron Lea, Jane Wheeler ● Dir. Rodney Gibbons ● Wri. Kurt Wimmer

[1] Unnecessary Violence in Films Irks Steiger, The Saskatoon Star Phoenix, 13th November 1992.

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