(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June. She’s trying to get it all done by the end of July 11th! Will she make it!? Keep visiting the site to find out!)
The next film on my DVR was The Night Stalker. Though I recorded the film off of Lifetime on June 12th, the film actually made its premiere 8 days earlier when it played at the Seattle International Film Festival.
The Night Stalker tells a story about the real-life serial killer Richard Ramirez. Ramirez was a drifter and a self-declared Satanist who, in the 1980s, went on a murder spree in Los Angeles and San Francisco. He was eventually captured, not by the police but by a group of citizens who saw his picture in a newspaper. Ramirez spent the rest of his life of California’s death row, where he died in 2013. Despite spending the majority of his life condemned to death, Ramirez was never executed. Instead, he died of lymphoma.
Of the thousands of serial killers who have haunted America’s nightmares over the past few decades, Ramirez was infamous for both the savagery of his crimes and the fact that he never showed any remorse. The famous footage of him smirking in the courtroom and shouting, “Hail Satan!” has shown up in a countless number of “World’s Most Evil” cable documentaries. Ramirez is also infamous for being better-looking than the average serial killer. From the minute he was arrested to the day of his eventual death, Ramirez had admirers and groupies.
It’s a disturbing story and, for the most part, The Night Stalker does it justice, using Ramirez to tell an intense story about a man without a soul. This is a seriously dark and disturbing little movies, with the scenes of Ramirez’s abusive childhood and subsequent crimes achieving a nightmarish intensity in a way that you would rarely expect to see on Lifetime.
The film itself deals with a lawyer named Kit (played by Bellamy Young) who interviews Ramirez (Lou Diamond Phillips) during the final days of his life. Kit is hoping that she can get Ramirez to confess to committing a murder in Texas and help to get a condemned man off of death row. However, Kit has another reason for wanting to talk to Ramirez. She was a teenager (played, in flashbacks by Chelle Sherrill) during Ramirez’s crime spree. (The young Ramirez is played by Benjamin Barrett.) While Ramirez was murdering the people in her neighborhood, Kit was dealing with her abusive stepfather and her passive mother. As a result of her childhood, Kit is impulsive and often self-destructive and she hopes that by understanding Ramirez, she can maybe somehow understand how own childhood.
(In many ways, Kit stands in for many of the women who, for various reasons, became obsessed with Ramirez after his arrest and imprisonment.)
As for Ramirez — well, he’s a manipulative asshole. That’s actually the best that you can say about him. The film portrays the details of Ramirez’s own abusive childhood but, to its credit, the film never tries to turn Ramirez into a sympathetic character. The performances of Lou Diamond Phillips and Benjamin Barrett both come together to create a chilling portrait of a man who is literally empty on the inside.
It’s not a perfect film, by any means. The scenes set in Texas feature a few notably dodgy accents and, occasionally, the film comes close to turning into a Silence of the Lambs rip-off. But, for the part, this is a thoroughly disturbing and, at times, frightening portrait of life at its worse. The Night Stalker is a deeply creepy portrait of an all too real evil. Watch it but be aware that it may lead to nightmares.