True crime fans, myself included, were looking forward to the new movie about serial killer Richard Ramirez, known as The Night Stalker. Rumors swirled that James Franco would play the title role, but instead Lou Diamond Phillips was cast to portray the older Ramirez. This movie isn’t just a rehashing of Ramirez’ early years and crimes before his arrest on the streets of Los Angeles. Some of that is covered, but it’s the fictional aspect of this tale that is compelling. People familiar with Ramirez may already know about his past, but if not, you can get acquainted with him here. He claimed he wasn’t 100% evil, but he was close enough.
A female attorney named Kit (Bellamy Young) has a client on death row in Texas who she believes is innocent of murder. She goes to California’s San Quentin State Prison with only four days to spend with notorious killer Richard Ramirez. Her goal is to get the Night Stalker to confess to the crimes, thereby exonerating the Texas man. A woman and her son were killed at the hotel where Ramirez was working at the time, giving credence to Kit’s theory that Ramirez was responsible. Assuming she’s right, would she be able to pull it off? He has always been tight lipped about his history.
Kit meets with Richard, who does a fine job of being charismatic and inappropriate at the same time. He’s now 53 years old, and has been on death row for 23 years. The serial killer has cancer, information a guard divulges to the surprised lawyer.
The fictional Kit is almost as troubled as the man she is interested in studying. In fact, it appears she desires him as much as she fears him, and at one point admits her obsession to him. So, how did she become bedeviled by the Satanic killer?
Kit grew up in Glassell Park at the time when Ramirez was hunting. As a young teenager, she developed an unhealthy obsession with the rapist/murderer once described by a victim as good looking. She kept a scrapbook of the killer’s exploits, and talked about him to the point of being isolated from friends. If that weren’t disturbing enough, she almost yearns to be one of his victims. She tries to attract his attention by dressing in a way that may allure him, and walking the streets alone at night when he’s on the loose.
Teenage Kit is raped by her mother’s boyfriend on the couch. She turns to the television during the assault to see news footage of her fascination, the Night Stalker, being captured. As with Ramirez, sex and violence also merged for Kit. She stabs her attacker in retribution. He leaves, and neither mentions the rape or stabbing to anyone. She ends up working at fetish clubs to pay for law school. As an adult, it appears she still practices, if not enjoys, bondage, as in one scene she finds herself with restraint marks around her wrist, after being bound by a belt. (I thought for sure Ramirez would comment on the indentations from the belt at their next meeting, but I don’t think he saw them).
Her crush on Ramirez led her to have interest in a certain type of man, from the young man she takes home to her room as a teenager, to the man she sleeps with during her trip to California. As an adult she still takes risks, making herself vulnerable by leaving her hotel room door open.
Ramirez died in 2013 of complications from b-cell lymphoma. In the movie Kit is with him when he dies, but while he is conscious, she tells him about her rape and how she envied him for being able to kill so easily while she stopped short of taking her rapist’s life. Forgetting that this isn’t a love story, I shouldn’t have been surprised when the killer responded the way he did. Did Ramirez confess to killing the mother and son, or will the Texas inmate take the fall?
Some of Ramirez’ real words are interspersed throughout the scripted dialogue. The rest of his lines are just good writing, with great delivery by Philips. Try to listen to his exchanges with Kit and not get uncomfortable.
This movie is based on Philip Carlo’s book The Night Stalker. It seems Kit may be a mix of some of Ramirez’ real life groupies. Some women spoke to the author about their sadistic love interest, their relationship dreams more than a bit skewed. Some wanted the killer to sneak into their bedroom windows, and others were jealous of a kiss one victim received after his brutal attack. He may have been attractive, but he was equally vicious.
My opinion on serial killer movies is that they’re either really bad or average. This one is an exception. I loved it, and bought a digital copy from Amazon. Lou Diamond Phillips killed it (pun intended) as Ramirez. It was a smart and entertaining movie, and if you’re a true crime fan, don’t miss this one. The Night Stalker can also be found on the Lifetime app.