Nightstalker joins a host of other independently made films of recent years telling the true stories of serials killers. These have included the likes of Ed Gein (2000), Dahmer (2002), Ted Bundy (2002), Gacy (2003), Evilenko (2004), The Hillside Strangler (2004), The Zodiac (2005), Karla (2006), Lonely Hearts (2006), Zodiac (2007), The Alphabet Killer (2008), B.T.K. (2008) and Drifter: Henry Lee Lucas (2009), with this mini-genre enjoying its greatest critical success with the award-winning Monster (2003).
I was disappointed in Nightstalker. What is most disappointing is that it is not a film about The Night Stalker at all; it is more a film about a Latino woman cop trying to prove herself on the male-dominated force. Nightstalker is certainly accurate to some aspects of the character of Richard Ramirez his targeting of Latino women, his eating in the victims homes, the way he painted Satanic symbols and made victims say they loved Satan. Where Nightstalker disappoints considerably is that it presents an entirely fictional telling of the police investigation and how Richard Ramirez was captured. In truth, Ramirez was apprehended after a member of the public recognized Ramirezs mugshot and was caught by locals who helped overcome him while fleeing through East L.A. Latino neighbourhoods. The film puts all the drama on Roselyn Sanchezs beat cop who finds one of the victims bodies and is then appropriated onto the task force. The film improbably then has her inexperienced rookie make most of the deductions rather than the seasoned detectives whom the film regards as incompetent and ignorant. (It is quite possible that the real-life detectives from the Night Stalker Task Force would have good grounds for libel against the filmmakers, as there is no evidence in actuality for the way they are portrayed here, nor anything that suggests they treated female co-workers with impropriety).
With even greater improbability, the film then contrives scenes where heroine Roselyn Sanchez disobeys orders to release the sketch of the killer to the press which, with increasing slasher movie plotting, has her and the reporter then targeted by the Night Stalker, culminating in cliché scenes where her partner is killed and she personally apprehends the killer, not to mention where the killer gets up again after being shot. None of this happened in actuality. The sketch was released to the press by the police without any known departmental insubordination; Richard Ramirez did not harass or kill any cops or reporters; and he was never shot but instead brought to trial and is still alive awaiting execution today. The sad truth is that, aside from the reasonably accurately portrayed scenes with Bret Roberts attacking victims, Nightstalker has precious little to do with the exploits of Richard Ramirez. It regards its own version of the events as more interesting than adherence to details of the case. Had Nightstalker done the honest thing and not billed itself as a true account of the story of Richard Ramirez and simply told the story it does, one suspects that there would be little to it as a film that would have been considered worth releasing commercially.
To stand in for the depiction of Richard Ramirezs cocaine usage, director Chris Fisher uses frenetic sped-up rotating head effects, accompanied by loud music on the soundtrack. By about the fifth time that we see Bret Roberts driving through the streets like something out of a Prodigy video, the effect reaches the point of overkill. As a director, Chris Fisher is amateurish. He is not particularly good with the business of generating drama or handling actors, while the film looks it has been cheaply shot on video. Occasionally, Nightstalker does work despite itself. For all the repetitive pretension of the sped-up head tricks, Chris Fisher does convey a convincing sense of dementia and wildness during some of the Night Stalker scenes. There is a particularly brutal scene where Bret Roberts terrorizes and rapes one woman in front of her daughter.
The film is also aided by a strong and intelligent performance from Roselyn Sanchez, an actress worthy of greater breaks. (From 2005 on, she became a regular in tvs Without a Trace (2002-9)]. The scenes of her dealing with the patronising attitude and sexual harassment from the fellow detectives are convincingly presented. Nightstalker is also executive produced by Latino actor Danny Trejo, who appears in many of Robert Rodriguezs films and is the only recognizable face in the film. Trejo has a broad role, although it is at least one where he appears to be playing a good guy rather than a heavy for about the first time in his career.
Director Chris Fisher subsequently went one other true-life crime film, also set in L.A., with Rampage: The Hillside Strangler (2006) and then went onto make S. Darko (2009) and the psycho film Meeting Evil (2012). Fisher had also previously written the horror film Taboo (2002) and has more recently moved into producing television, including genre series such as Warehouse 13 (2009-14) and Person of Interest (2011-6).