The 2009 film, Nightstalker, opens with a drifter named Richard Ramirez (Adolph Cortez) lying on his back in what appears to be an alley. He’s obviously been beaten. He appears to be only half-conscious. As he lays there in that filthy alley, we’re treated to several negative-filtered flashbacks of Ramirez shooting people. This is followed by a series of blurry shot that were apparently filmed by someone driving down a street in Los Angeles. Discordant music plays on the soundtrack. If you listen carefully, you can hear someone mumbling in the background but good luck figuring out what they’re actually saying. This is a low-budge film and sound quality was not a concern.
Of course, none of this should come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the unique aesthetic of director Ulli Lommel. As I wrote in my review of Son of Sam, Lommel started his career as an association of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s before he eventually came to America, got involved in the New York art scene, and made a handful of decent films. Unfortunately, after he divorced the heiress who was responsible for funding the majority of his early films, Lommel spent the rest of his career making zero-budget, direct-to-video films about serial killers, like Richard “Night Stalker” Ramirez. Lommel always claimed that there was a political subtext to his serial killer films and I don’t doubt that he was being honest. You have to be sincerely committed to make a film as inept as Nightstalker. At the same time, it’s not easy to figure out just what exactly it was that Lommel thought he was trying to say.
Nightstalker is undoubtedly one of the worst of Lommel’s serial killer films. Usually, I try to make sure that all of my reviews include at least 500 words but it’s really difficult to think of much to say about Nightstalker. The film is frequently out-of-focus. The sound quality is atrocious. The actor who plays the Nightstalker comes across more like a male model than a homeless serial killer who was known for having bad teeth and disagreeable odor. Because there’s already been multiple films and documentaries made about Richard Ramirez, the Lommel version fails to add anything new to the story. Instead, the film is a collection of scenes of Ramirez aimlessly wandering around Los Angeles, sucking on a lollipop and occasionally flashing back to his abusive El Paso childhood. The film moves slowly and Ramirez’s inner monologue is vacuous. The real Ramirez’s thoughts were probably pretty vacuous as well so give Lommel some credit for not trying make the the guy more interesting than he actually was.
Watching the film, you do get the feeling that Lommel was sincrely trying to say something about being on the fringes of society in America. Lommel’s true crime films often implied that American serial killers were the direct result of American culture and its obsession with violence and wealth. As I said, I think Lommel did think that he was making an artistic and political statement with these films, in much the same way that Lucio Fulci insisted that The New York Ripper was actually a critique of capitalism. (Oh, if only Lommel had possessed just an ounce of Fulci’s talent….) Son of Sam, for instance, actually does have a few moments where Lommel’s hallucinatory approach is somewhat effective. But Nightstalker shows the limits of Lommel’s zero budget, semi-improvised approach. It’s a chore to sit through and it’s a shame that, due to the continuing infamy of the mercifully late Richard Ramirez (Netflix aired a documentary about him earlier this year that had him trending on twitter), this is probably one of Lommel’s most-viewed films. Hell, I watched it. But I think this is going to be my last Lommel true crime film for a while.
Halloween, after all, is meant to be a joyous time.