Throughout 1984 and ’85, a Satan-invoking serial slayer terrorized California with an onslaught of late-night home invasions that included rapes, murders, savage beatings, and grotesque mutilations, often visited upon whole families who had been asleep.
Some survivors say the assailant made them “swear to Satan” and/or identified himself as the “Night Stalker.” In March 1985, the killer left behind a baseball cap bearing the logo of the hard rock band AC/DC, upping the occult scare factor by introducing heavy metal music, a genre under high-profile fire at the time.
In August 1985, a suspect was spotted fleeing a crime scene wherein he told a survivor he was the Night Stalker. Police identified the man as longtime criminal Richard Ramirez and flooded the media with his name and image.
A week later, East Los Angeles convenience-store customers pointed out Ramirez among them, and he noticed his face all over the nearby newspapers and magazines. The killer attempted to flee, but a crowd overpowered him and held him down until police arrived.
The details of the Richard Ramirez case — from the unthinkably gruesome homicides to the scary music aspect to the climactic chase ending with barrio justice — would seem natural fodder for cinematic interpretations.
Richard Jordan (Dune, The Hunt for Red October) and A Martinez (Longmire, L.A. Law) costar as LAPD detectives Frank Salerno and Gil Carrillo in a terse, well-made TV movie taken largely from actual police files. As Richard Ramirez, character actor Gregory Cruz delivers the chills.
Night Stalker (2002)
Night Stalker is a full-blown, if not quite straight-up, horror-movie take on the Ramirez case. Bret Roberts stars as the killer, and we see his heinous deeds play out from his point-of-view. We see a lot of Satan, too (played by Joseph McKeelher), directing the crimes via kinetic hallucinations. Rosalyn Sanchez costars as a fictional police detective who battles the killer by using her devout Catholicism. It’s a trip.
Throughout the 2000s, notorious schlock filmmaker Uli Lommell (The Boogey Man, Zombie Nation) spewed forth a rapid succession of cheap, direct-to-DVD flicks inspired by true crimes. Nightstalker is Lommell’s Richard Ramirez effort. It’s largely shot with a shaky, handheld camera and bears only passing resemblance to the facts of the Ramirez case, such as when the killer specializes in shooting naked women while they shower. The chintzy devil worship is campily amusing, though.
The Night Stalker (2016)
In 2011, news broke that James Franco had signed on to play Richard Ramirez in a major Hollywood docudrama. While that production never materialized, the Ramirez saga did finally get a quality film treatment via The Night Stalker, a Lifetime movie in which Lou Diamond Phillips (above) proves gripping, horrifying, and uncomfortably human as the murderer.
Main photo: The Night Stalker, Lifetime