Manhunt: Search for the Night Stalker (1989 TV Movie)
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Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Sound format: Mono
The search for serial killer Richard Ramirez, who committed a string of horrific rapes and murders in Los Angeles between June 1984 and August the following year.
It looks a little dated now, but Bruce Seth Green's detailed examination of the facts surrounding the Night Stalker murders - filtered here through the viewpoint of the two detectives (Richard Jordan and A Martinez) who supervised the case - still packs a solid emotional punch. Green's no-nonsense approach to the material results in a couple of voyeuristic crime reconstructions which may strike some as unnecessary (Ramirez had only just been convicted when the movie first aired), but these grotesque details go a long way toward establishing the randomness and savagery of this man's gruesome rampage. Joseph Gunn's wide-ranging script covers all relevant bases, including the desperate attempts by city officials to prevent sensational media coverage driving the killer underground, and the personal toll exacted on law enforcement officers involved in pursuit of the maniac. The climactic sequence - depicting the bizarre events surrounding Ramirez' eventual capture - is ripe with irony, and well-staged by actors and filmmakers alike.
On the bright side, I commend them for making this film without the blood and gore that we usually see. I guess that's because it was made for TV, but it was a refreshing change.
I wish they would have focused more on Ramirez and his crimes (absolutely nothing was said about his background or motives). This movie was really only about the two detectives who investigated the crimes and not about the crimes or suspect at all.
I've been trying to figure out why. The best proposal that I can come up with is that the fault lies in every aspect of the production. The photography is cloudy, the score done by the numbers. And, as another commenter pointed out, the acting is at best routine. The actors seem to be reading from cue cards half the time. Even Richard Jordan, whose work elsewhere has been quite good, is almost embarrassing to watch. His voice seems slurred and the sound man has picked up every intake of breath, as if Jordan were asthmatic. The role of Richard Ramirez is a key one, and they've used an actor who has a single expression -- a kind of bug-eyed sneer, like an evil Harpo Marx, distinctly wicked. The real Ramirez was angelic, as handsome as a movie star. Girls flocked to him, whereas no one would flock to this guy except flies. The director does nothing to help matters. Camera placement, role enactment, blocking, micromovements -- all are strictly routine. Given all the other weaknesses in the production, the director really needed to punch things up.
Maybe the script is the worst part. I wonder if the writers, while setting the dialogue down on paper, ever really imagine hearing a living human being speaking their words. Jordan "feels" things several times. He calls his partner late at night and tells him, "I have a feeling about tonight. He's going out again." When they're closing the ring around the perp, Jordan tells his partner, "This is it. I can feel it." When the perp is finally safely locked away, Jordan tells his partner solemnly, "We're going to be living with this a long time." This coming from a seasoned detective on the LAPD. Does the line ring false to anyone else? And then there is the squabble between one of the cops and his wife. It seems he's been spending too much time away from home, on the job, and she's worried and frightened, and they have an argument. "I didn't marry your work!" she yells at him tearfully. "What do you want me to do?" he shouts back. (She packs up the kids and leaves him for the duration of the case, but don't worry -- there's a lachrymose reunion at the end.) All straight out of a thousand stories about cops (or military men, or dedicated doctors). No one is really given a believable line. The characters are cartoons, none of them in any way individuated. They don't have twitches or neuroses. They don't joke. They don't make mistakes, although Diane Feinstein does.
The movie is a big long unrefreshing yawn. Too bad. It would have been interesting to know more about what happened, particularly inside Ramirez's head. But that's something we'll never know anyway. Even Ramirez doesn't know. So maybe it's just as well nobody tried to probe his brain and pin it all on the conjecture that he and his Dad were not close enough or something. Anyway, as it stands, I've read more interesting abstracts for articles in Psychiatric Quarterly, and that's saying a lot.
This is suppose to be a Chiller of a thriller- it's trying to be, but the suspense is subdued due to certain scenes of some tedious moments that are unnecessary to be shown, like the cop's private lives, comprised with hammy performances and bad music score with a rip-off of Night Prowler by AC/DC.
The TRUE shadowed actions of the Night Stalker was that he never made a sound of slamming car doors, nor using flashlights in the dark; he adjusted to work in remote darkness. As for the rare avia tennis shoes, he suppose to have dumped them in the San Francisco river, and opt for combat boots later on due to Diane Feinstein's elocution slip up, that's why cops can't see them on his feet. However the movie writers claimed Diane mentioned 'ballistics were the same compared to the L.A. Murders' but that was NOT the only evidence that "damaged" the investigation, she mentioned the avia footprints that the Night Stalker did notify to choose a more common footwear, so there was loose accounts to this movie.
The dialogue was full of terrible lines, and careless errata too, one of Gil Carrillo's daughters was called "Rene" in the beginning, so why was his wife, Pearl, called the same girl "Mica" after 43 minutes into the film? Like one Critic mentioned, Richard Jordan as an experienced detective Frank Salerno, also in charge of the Hillside Strangler case in the 1970's relies on "his gut" than anything else!
Plus, The face of the Night Stalker was revealed near the end of the movie - which is cringe worthy, another Actor should have played Richard, someone with talent. I agree with the same reviewer- Cruz had a single expression on his face, and the Real Richard was slovenly in appearance when he was apprehended by the police but was in fact seraphic looking, blessed with devilishly fierce good looks, and moody hypnotic charm. Gregory Norman Cruz was not a brilliant actor at all, and he kept looking at a certain angle of the camera to appear sinister, surely Keanu Reeves who is good at playing villains could have done a better job at that time of making this movie, he was an unknown actor, tall, looked like a light-skinned Mexican due to his Hawaiian and Caucasoid features, and the same age as Ramirez in 1985, but these days it would be Benjamin Bratt to fit Richard's Visage.
Most of all, There should be scenes that Habitants all over the State that stay up late in the brutal heat of the Californian Summer, their mind playing tricks on them thinking every nuance of sound IS the Stalker - this should meticulously create the convincing fearful atmosphere which the movie did not represent. The movie should be like THE BOSTON STRANGLER; showing the statistics demonstration of locks and guns being sold by the hour in the city to provide an epitome of the aura of Los Angeles in 1985, but unfortunately it was vacantly provided to be unconvincing. Instead Bruce Seth Green done laconic scenes especially of Richard being a fugitive, falling on his face so audience can laugh at him like a pantomime villain, also skidding up some dust, and taking a Mustang with some mooning fat guy hanging out the car window then being knocked unconscious, suddenly people of East L.A. came out of nowhere chasing Richard, pounced on him, and the SAME fat guy with the Mustang was at the scene!! How did he get there so fast despite his quick sleep??
This is an average sleeper; I suggest Philip Carlo's book is a better project than this fine old mess.
Acquaintances described Ramirez as an ardent Satanist and long time drug abuser, obsessed with the mock-satanic rock group AC/DC. According to reports Ramirez had adopted one of the group's songs: "Night Prowler"-as his own personal anthem, playing it repeatedly, sometimes for hours on end. They have a scene in this film showing just that and the late great Alma Beltran has the unfortunate pleasure of being a neighbor that lives right next door in the apartment complex and goes over one night and knocks on the door and tells him to either lower the music or she's going to call the cops. He quickly just turns it off and Beltran runs back to her apartment completely scared and locks the door. Ramirez gets up and walks in the hallway and heads out into the night. Nice little scary scene.
The great Gregory Cruz plays Richard Ramirez (The Night Stalker) (as Gregory Norman Cruz). While he is one of my favorite actors. (he reminds me of a more intense & meaner version of Lou Diamond Phillips)I feel that there were 2 other actors they could have had in this role. Don't get me wrong, Cruz did a good job with his sinister and mean look that he has, but to me either the great Billy Drago or the great Jeff Kober could have done a just as great or even better portrayal of Ramirez. I'm thinking that neither Drago or Kober did not want to be type-cast or associated with such a despicable character and the fact that Ramirez is never truly seen till the last 1/2 hour of the film makes it like ,why bother?
I enjoyed the ending of this film because Cruz as Ramirez is finally seen and his is in every scene for the last half hour of what's left of the film. An all-points bulletin was issued and his mug shots were broadcast on TV and plastered on the front page of the newspaper and was seen by almost everyone right away. He was captured by civilians in East Los Angeles mobbed and beaten as he tried to steal a car. The Police arrived just in time to save his life. That's too bad. That was the end he truly deserved. Being punished by the very same people he caused such a terror to.