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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Nightstalker (2002)

"I was offered a job as a detective, a homicide detective, on this case, and it's really, really crazy."
- Gabriella Martinez (Roselyn Sanchez)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: September 02, 2003

Stars: Roselyn Sanchez, Bret Roberts
Other Stars: Danny Trejo, Evan Dexter Parke, Brandi Emma, Derek Hamilton
Director: Chris Fisher

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language, drug use and sexuality
Run Time: 01h:36m:56s
Release Date: August 05, 2003
UPC: 043396014053
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- CB-B- C+

DVD Review

Those who pick up this disc expecting a fact-based account of real-life mid-1980s Los Angeles-area serial killer Richard Ramirez, aka The Nightstalker, will be sorely disappointed. This disappointment will be even more compounded not just by the "based on a true story" blurb under the title, but by the tagline that proclaims: "They called him the Nightstalker. This is his story." It's just not entirely true, and those kind of statements only seem to fly in the face of the largely fictitious narrative that makes up Nightstalker.

What little truth (ok, there were satanic writings at the crime scenes), or at least fact-based truths, that there are in this film are buried beneath layers of completely new scenarios, characters, and more importantly, an ending that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the actual capture of The Nightstalker killer. So, if you get past the absence of any historical accuracy, and the blatant fibs told on the cover art, you are left with a corny story of a (fictitious) young Hispanic police officer named Gabriella Martinez (Roselyn Sanchez, who looks like a stern Sandra Bullock playing a young Hispanic police officer), who ends up on the task force hunting down The Nightstalker. This film is really all about Martinez, and not The Nightstalker, and we get all the usual, familiar clichés, like the religious mother, the crusty partner, the brash reporter, and so on.

In between the dull cop story antics of the proud Martinez on the trail of the killer, Nightstalker does include some truly chilling and disturbing sequences featuring the killer ( Bret Roberts), and they are almost like they are from another film entirely. Writer/director Chris Fisher wisely avoids allowing The Nightstalker character (he's never referred to as Richard Ramirez) in any scenes other than when he is on the prowl for victims, and the scenes are all shot with that frenetic, herky-jerky Jacob's Ladder effect, where the crack-smoking killer has visions of a demon (a big, bald, white-skinned guy), all encased in creepy-sounding guttural Latin incantations and speed metal riffs. DP Eliot Rockett did a terrific job with these sequences, and there is the kind of exciting, dangerous edge you would anticipate in a film about a serial killer that unfortunately doesn't extend through the rest of Nightstalker. Roberts, in a role that is minimalistic and frightening, only has dialogue when he is about to kill someone ("Do you believe in Satan, bitch?"), and in all honesty, the barebones way he is portrayed and presented is effective and unsettling, and a couple of scenes played with almost, and I say almost, the same level of unpleasant uncomfortableness that I felt when I watched the granddaddy of uncomfortable serial-killer flicks, Henry:Portrait of a Serial Killer.

I know that films based on true stories often change facts, characters and settings to suit a 90-minute narrative, but the reworking done to this story is essentially pointless. The real Nightstalker case was disturbing enough, and the plot changes in Chris Fisher's film are in most instances less interesting than what really happened. Sure, the scenes with the killer are eerie, but the rest of the film plays out by-the-numbers. If this had not claimed to be the story of The Nightstalker, I might have cut the project some slack, but the revisionist history used in an attempt to make a character-driven story only ended up turning things overly simplistic and one-dimensional.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Columbia TriStar doles out Nightstalker in a mediocre 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that improves little on the film's low-budget origins. Here's an instance where I imagine that even a strong transfer would not make a weakly lit film look any better. During night scenes, deep shadows creep in and make much of the action difficult to follow, while interior sequences have a similar sort of problem with noticeable facial shadows. Colors and fleshtones are presentable and consistent, though not especially bright. On the plus side, there were no major dirt or compression issues evident.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: It's apparent that the filmmakers intended the audio portion of Nightstalker to supply a definite mood and tone of uneasiness during the many scenes with the title character. This edge comes across pretty well in the included Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, which lets the ever present manic speed metal and guttural demonic utterings swirl and stutter effectively, as well as some fair sub activity, creating some nicely mixed audio elements that make the rest of the below-average presentation of the dialogue even more lackluster. When the film isn't featuring the Nightstalker's drug-induced satanic visions, general character dialogue and ambient effects are relatively flat and lack timbre, and at that point the 5.1 mix fares little better than the included 2.0 English stereo track.

A French 2.0 stereo track is also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Identity, Spider, Double Vision
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Chris Fisher, Eliot Rockett, Dan Padgett
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The full-length, scene-specific commentary from writer-producer-director Chris Fisher, cinematographer Eliot Rockett, and editor Dan Padgett is a nearly tolerable track documenting what is referred to by the participants as their "tasteful exploitation" film. It's nearly tolerable only because the film itself was no great shakes, and the thought of sitting through 90 minutes of analysis may not be exactly something you might be look forward to; like when you know you have a cavity and your dentist appointment is not until next week. Still, in fairness, Fisher, Rockett and Padgett chat amicably about the film's low-budget restrictions, and they discuss the questionable whys of changing the story so dramatically, and in listening to them I was struck by how pleased they all seemed with the finished product, especially on shots that seemed insignificant.

Also provided are a pair of pointless deleted scenes that, like most cut footage, don't add much to the finished story, and their inclusion here is seems like filler. At The Bar (03m:10s) is the better of the two, and showcases a clichéd confrontation between the sexy reporter and the frazzled detectives, while The Berry on the Vine (02m:06s) gives us more between Martinez and the hunky young detective she's partnered with. Rounding things out there are four trailers (Nightstalker, Identity, Double Vision, Spider) for your previewing pleasure.

The disc is cut into 20 chapters, and includes subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Moments of wonderfully inspired visual creepiness are sandwiched between predictable rookie detective escapades, and the wholesale fudging of the real-life Nightstalker facts only serve to make the tenets of this "based on a true story" film pretty wobbly.


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