The Night Stalker (2016): Lou Diamond Phillips Sells Evil (Review)

Lou Diamond Phillips as Richard Ramirez

Written and directed by Megan Griffiths (Eden, Lucky Them) and starring Lou Diamond Phillips as Richard Ramirez and Bellamy Young as a fictitious defense attorney, “The Night Stalker” follows the heinous crimes of the man who terrorized Los Angeles during a heat wave in the mid 1980s.  While clearly influenced by the crimes of the Satanist, rapist and murderer some crimes were soft pedaled while still being mentioned as a matter of fact. 

Kit, a defense attorney from Texas heads to Death Row at San Quentin Prison to coerce a confession out of Ramirez. Back in the Lone Star State a black man was wrongly convicted for the murder of a Japanese woman and her son.  This crime occurred before the string of offenses were committed in the mid ’80s.

“The Night Stalker” shows Kit’s obsession with the serial killer and his “career” which was covered pretty extensively by the news.   The grownup Kit must earn the trust of Ramirez while not letting him gain control of their conversations.

In many ways this could be seen as a pale imitation of Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lector, a  woman starting her career in a legal capacity needs the help of a serial killer to solve another crime. This fictionalization works but the comparison is clear and one wonders whether this was, in some odd way, a homage.

It could even be a nod to the interviews by real-life  FBI profiler Robert Keppel  who interviewed Ted Bundy in an attempt to solve another series of murders.  The Green River Killer, aka The Riverman was baffling authorities and Keppel  spoke with the convicted Bundy to gain some insight on the suspect.

This TV movie goes back to Ramirez’s childhood, his violent upbringing and early marijuana use as the triggers that started his murderous acts.  Ramirez himself stated that he was pure evil and never relied upon his youthful experiences as an excuse. (Not mentioned in the film was his epilepsy although it did mention a frontal lobe injury.)

The younger actors who portrayed Ramirez in different stages of his life were more than adequate.  It is Phillips however  who really sells the evil in this man. His eyes and facial expressions are damned near terrifying. The actors eyes show coldness and a combination of death and callousness that is truly frightening.

The film skirts around the real-life issue of 9 year-old Mei Leung who was found raped and killed in the basement where Ramirez lived in 1984. Her death was changed to that of the Japanese boy and his mother whom (in the film) Ramirez raped then killed.

The Japanese were quite possibly substituted for the real case of Leung and Dayle Okazaki  because the real case was so much more horrific.

(In a sidenote, it was announced in March this year  that police were reopening the Night Stalker files to search for a second assailant in the Leung case.)

“The Night Stalker” ends with the 2013 death of Ramirez and the defense attorney visiting her mother in California.  The television film aired June 12 and will be showing again on LMN June 24.  Lou Diamond Phillips is intense and he convincingly sells the evil that Ramirez believed was deep inside of him.

Catch this one if for no other reason than to see Phillips work those massive chops.

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