Directed by Chris Fisher
Produced by Ash R. Shah & Chris Fisher
Written by Chris Fisher
Director of Photograpy Eliot Rocket
Music by Ryan Beveridge
Cast: Roselyn Sanchez, Bret Roberts, Derek Hamilton, Evan Dexter Parke & Danny Trejo
2002/97 mins/Color/5.1 DD
1.78:1/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from the Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment DVD
I think that most of us would agree that THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was a great movie. And while that movie's success brought with it many things, such as accolades to the cast & crew, and attention to author Thomas Harris, it also spawned a slew imitators who thought that simply having a serial killer in the movie was enough to make it worth watching. The latest in this long line of wannabes is NIGHTSTAKER, which is very loosely based on real-life case of Richard Ramirez.
It's the year 1985, and Los Angeles is in the grip of terror, as a serial killer is killing people in their homes, seemingly at random. The press dubs this killer the "Nighstalker". Police officer Gabriella Martinez (Roselyn Sanchez) is promoted to the Nightstalker Task Force, to work alongside homicide detectives Lieutenant Mayberry (Evan Dexter Parke) and Detective Elliot (Derek Hamilton). As the killer (played by Bret Roberts) leaves a trail of bodies around L.A., the detectives scramble to assemble clues and stop the Nightstalker before he slays again.
If you know anything at all about the real-life Nightstalker murders and the bizarre case of Richard Ramirez, then you are way ahead of this movie, which clearly has no intention of revealing anything at all about the true facts behind the case. Most films about serial killers make some attempt to get inside the killer's head, but NIGHTSTALKER is having nothing to do with that. All that we learn about Ramirez is that he smokes a lot of crack and yells about "Satan" a lot. I could go downtown and see that. He also hallucinates about "Satan", who is this pasty, white guy who looks as if he escaped from a Tool video. Ramirez's mental problems are illustrated through quick, repetitive editing and a ton of JACOB'S LADDER-esque head-shaing. NIGHTSTALKER chooses instead to focus on the police investigation. With this, all we get are cops who investigate crime scene after crime scene, and have no idea who or what they are looking for. The movie tries to introduce a moral struggle that Martinez faces in her work, but this is never fleshed out, and draws the film further away from the serial killer angle. A crime film with lame cops and a killer we know nothing about, equals 90-minutes of pure boredom.
The creative problems in NIGHTSTALKER are only further compounded by the technical issues with the DVD. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The quality of the image varies from scene to scene, as if we were seeing several movies spliced together. Some shots are very sharp and clear, while others are incredibly muddy and show an incredible amount of grain. The degree of color in each shot varies as well, although the red of the blood usually stands out. Many of the shots also include a noticeable amount of artifacting. The audio is even worse. The primary audio track on this DVD is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. It must be said that some scenes offer great sound, as the dialogue is intelligible and there is a nice use of the surround speakers for ambient noises. But, in many scenes, the dialogue can't be heard, while the rear speakers continue to spew forth sound effects. And the dynamic range is terrible in every scene, as the volume fluctuates wildly. These difficulties made a bad movie even harder to watch.
The disc contains a few extras, starting with an audio commentary from writer/producer/director Chris Fisher, cinematographer Eliot Rocket, and editor Dan Padgett. In the first 2-minutes of this commentary, they tell us more about the real Ramirez than the movie even comes close to. This is really sad, as it shows that that Fisher did some research on the killings, but didn't take this opportunity to tell us anything about the murderer. Other than that, this is a fairly good commentary, as this trio speaks at length throughout the film, keeping most of their remarks scene-specific. They discuss location shooting and talk about the rigors of low-budget filmmaking. The disc also contains two extraneous deleted scenes and the original trailer for the film, which is presented full-frame.
A quick jaunt around the internet will show that there isn't much of the true story of the "Nightstalker" case in this film. (Although, some of the murders in the movie do reflect what happened in real life.) Instead, we get a tired police movie that goes nowhere. Director Chris Fisher integrates some interesting visuals into the film, but this can't take the focus off of the story. As if all of this wasn't disheartening enough, there are reports that Fisher will next set his sites on the case of the Hillside Strangler. Damn you SILENCE OF THE LAMBS!
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2003. ©