Saturday, October 28, 2023

Living Hell of Ulli Lommel: NIGHT STALKER (2009)

I woke up in a cold sweat. I had that nightmare again. The nightmare has been the same for a month. I was in a room, watching movies that had no budget, barely made any sense and were wrong in every conceivable way and then... I'd write about it. As if anyone cared. I was wracked with pain, both physical and mental. How could my mind come up with such horrible visions? Then I realized, it was not a dream. IT WAS REAL.

In absolute honesty, I am really hard pressed to think of anything I've seen in the horror genre that is more lazy, boring and void of artistic merit than this movie. Of course, Ulli Lommel (who loved to talk of his association with Any Warhol and Rainer Werner Fassbinder) would no doubt say that those features are exactly what makes it art. Art, by its definition, is something that is created by an allegedly sentient being and provokes an emotional response in the viewer.  The only creativity on display here is the wiliness Ulli uses trying to make as much cash as he can will as little effort as possible, and the emotion that it evokes is something similar to being gibbeted. Gibbeting, if you don't know, was a medieval form of execution, where a person was placed in a body-shaped cage which was hung from a high pole in a well travelled place as the victim slowly died of exposure, starvation and dehydration and rotted away over the heads of the general populace. Yeah, that pretty much describes sitting through this movie. Except after it's over, I can go have a sandwich and try to forget that this nightmare ever happened.

If you have been following our Horrible Halloween coverage of Ulli Lommel's serial killer movies, you may have noticed my complaint that each successive movie that I watched was worse than the last one. It's no different here. Once again, Ulli continues to strip down his movies, minimizing the amount of work needed to fulfil the basic requirements of a "movie". Or rather the basic requirements set forth by Lommel's enabler, Lionsgate. It's kind of fascinating in a way. It's kind of like an outlaw biker making a chopper, except that while the goal there is to strip off all the excess parts making the bike lean, minimalist and without distinguishing characteristics that would make them easily identifiable to the authorities, Lommel strips away everything that makes a movie a movie, making something that has no aesthetic appeal whatsoever. But it does help him avoid the law. I don't think Lommel ever paid for a filming permit in his life and I'm sure he thought of himself as an outlaw filmmaker, making anti-art that challenges the establishment. Of course, that is complete bullshit. Ulli was all about making money for Ulli and doing as little work as possible to get it.

Several of Lommel's serial killer movies have just slapped a serial killer's nickname on the box and then Ulli did whatever he felt like doing in the movie. Facts make work so much more difficult, so why bother with them at all? On the flip side of the coin, he actually kind of gives us a half-assed biographies, which while woefully inaccurate by normal standards, is pretty amazing by Ulli's. Sure a lot of the facts are wrong and a lot of the character is wrong and a lot of the setting is wrong, but he uses real dates! This is what progress looks like to Ulli Lommel. I wonder if his headstone is actually on the right grave?

Richard Ramirez, known ultimately by the nickname The Night Stalker, but also tagged with The Walk-In Killer and The Valley Intruder, was an abused child from Waco, Texas who under the tutelage of his older cousin, a Vietnam vet turned serial killer, learned how to stalk and kill people with military precision. A drug addict from an early age, he started committing burglaries and found that he enjoyed murdering the men and raping the women sometimes forcing the victims to praise Satan while he looted the house. He committed a string of these burglary rape-murders in Los Angeles starting in 1984 before moving on to San Francisco, where he continued until the then very green mayor, Diane Feinstein (who was thrust into the role after a shocking double murder), announced to the press what evidence the police had and just how close the police were to catching him. Ramirez then dumped the evidence and moved back to L.A. where he committed more burglary/rape/murders. In 1985 he was cornered by a few citizens who recognized him from his police sketch and his mouth full of rotten teeth. After a frenzied attempt at escape which included a failed carjacking, the citizens turned into an angry mob that grew to a couple hundred people. He was severely beaten by the mob before the police finally showed up to arrest him.

In the '80s, TV news and general public were already in a hysterical panic over alleged Satanists being "uncovered" hiding in plain sight, around every corner. Ramirez dumped gasoline on this inferno of idiocy by drawing a pentagram on his hand, which he held up during his massive, media blitz trial and shouting a bunch of stuff about how he worshipped Satan. He enjoyed the attention and the fear he inspired, infamously saying "see you at Disneyland" after being told he could be executed for his crimes. It was almost as a defining moment for California and American history as the Manson murders. It profoundly affected the psyche of the nation to the point where it changed the behavior of citizens and law enforcement. He is one of the primary reasons Californians started locking their doors and windows before going to bed at night. So, what better story with which to make some quick and easy cash on, amiright?

Opening with the half-conscious body of a shirtless, leather-jacketed prettyboy (Adolph Cortez) surrounded by a mob of ten people, we start at the end. In real life, Ramirez (the representation of whom, in standard Ulli fashion, is never named) was beaten by a mob of a couple hundred people who had caught him in their neighborhood after a newscast went out showing an artist's sketch of his face. Ulli can't afford 20 people, much less 200, so less than a dozen it is, with the sounds of a crowd on the soundtrack. This prompts a flashback to what brought him to this point.

Shot in Los Angeles (and only Los Angeles this time) and set in '84 and '85 (without any attempt to create that setting), Lommel kills as much time as possible with the clip-fest credits, flashing images in positive, negative, color and black and white of Los Angeles before focusing on a vaguely Latin guy with no shirt and a leather jacket sucking a Blow-Pop. You can almost feel Ulli drooling all over the camera. Of course, no Ulli Lommel serial killer movie is complete without a monotonous voice-over and this is no different with some of Ulli's most obvious writing from the gut: "Women. I never understood women. They think they own the world, with their pussies, their tits, their asses." Only 70 more minutes to go. Can I make it? "They keep hitting on me, telling me that I'm cute, and sexy, trying to pick me up. I hate their fucking guts." All of this rambling goes on while poor Richie is having two attractive young women corner him and take him home to their apartment. After being dragged back to their pad and having them do everything they can to get him to stop sucking his Blow-Pop and rise to the occasion, he jumps up and takes off while thinking "I prefer sucking my lollipop over sucking your pussy, bitch! Why don't you suck your own pussies and leave me the fuck alone!" Welcome to Ulli's own personal therapy session. And the motherfucker gets paid for it! Wily, I tell ya.

We also get flashbacks of Richie's uncle Mike (in reality, cousin Mike) ranting about committing war crimes and shooting his nagging wife (Nola Roeper) in the face, causing a blood-spattered 8 year old Richie to freak out. In reality, Ramirez, who was 12, was very calm and enjoyed witnessing the murder, though he was went through a depression and had epileptic fits afterwards. His drug use started at ten. This leads us to June 28th 1984, which is the date of Ramirez's second known murder, an elderly woman whom he severely cut up with a knife while she slept in her bed. Ulli really doesn't care about those details, and if this were a good movie in any way, I wouldn't either. Ramirez's first known murder was of an 9 year old girl in a San Francisco basement. He also raped her and hung her partially nude corpse from a ceiling pipe. Maybe I'm getting old and soft, but there's nothing about that that should be exploited in a cheapo movie. Here, Ulli decides to have Richie day stalk a young black woman back to her apartment where he peeks in her tiny bathroom window, then suddenly appears in the room and shoots her while she's sitting on the toilet. Not entertaining, but for once I'm glad that Ulli is showing blatant disregard for the facts.

This is essentially the pattern for the movie. In spite of the title being NIGHT STALKER, Richie does a lot of walking around in the California sun, while complaining about it in his head: "I hated the fucking sunlight. It was like Jesus was trying to straighten me out with good thoughts!" Uhhh, Ulli, your Freudian slip is showing. This rambles along for about two dozen minutes until Richie spies a "blonde and green eyed monster" (Elissa Dowling, as a brunette in sunglasses, who you may not want to remember from Ulli's insufferable THE BLACK DAHLIA [2006]). Richie, suddenly obsessed with a girl, contrary to his previous woman-hating rants, thinks to himself "the star of my nightmares... Mistress of the night. Beyond bullshit. Beyond stupidity. Beyond the beyond." Uhhh, what? Ulli is clearly having trouble using his words again. After the girl stops under a small, windy bridge to snort some white powder, Richie continues to follow her, sucking his ever present Blow-Pop and flashing his perfect, white teeth. Finally, they meet and say stuff to each other which, of course, the audience can't hear (Ulli would have to make that shit up!), and walk off together. Which means... we actually have a subplot! I'm guessing in his next movie, Ulli won't make that mistake again.

After Lommel entered a sharp decline in the late '80s, Lommel has had a penchant for major corner-cutting. These have become so extreme in these Lionsgate movies that there is almost nothing left. Anything that would take time or work is thrown out the window. Dialogue, characters, character names, subplots, plot twists, settings, set dressing, everything is stripped down to the bare minimum to even fall under the definition of "movie". In his serial killer movies, for the most part, law enforcement doesn't even exist. One thing that has been consistent is Ulli's penchant for shooting scenes of people endlessly walking around and scenes in the most random of (cheap) places. In THE BIG SWEAT (1991), he shot a meeting between FBI agents in a lumber warehouse around a Pepsi vending machine. Here, in these serial killer outings, a warehouse would be a massive spike in production values. In one scene Ulli actually shoots a tight shot of confrontation between killer and victim sitting at the top of a staircase that has been "dressed" with a lamp, a silver box and an unlit hurricane candle, placed in front of a door, with a rotary telephone on the first stair (c'mon, in '84 we had pushbutton phones). I can't even speculate on why he chose to do this (were the girl's parents home? Did they say "you kids go play on the stairs"?), but here we are and Ulli thinks this is fine. Astonishingly, Lionsgate did too. Or rather they didn't care either. Whatever brings in the filthy lucre is fine.

The two of them, Richie and his non-blonde, and some other random dude who is just there all of a sudden, snort lines of white powder and chant "hail Satan" in a public restroom (the same one from 2008's CURSE OF THE ZODIAC). There's your subplot. With this scene used as a cut-away, we get Ulli's favoritest thing ever: Couples Argument Improv Theater! Yep, making a grand return from CURSE, we get more improv arguments that are capped off by the killer (this time Richie) entering the scene and shooting them. The guy usually gets killed quick and Ulli tries to milk the anguish by lingering over a "terrified" girl being held at (firing pinless) gunpoint before finally getting shot and the killer smearing her blood around for a while. In one scene the girl recites The Lord's Prayer before Richie stabs her off-screen. Ulli's new gimmick this time around is having sexual moaning sounds on the soundtrack during the murder scenes. That, and what is obviously Ulli's voice, trying to sound sinister, softly muttering Spanish and Latin words and phrases like "en cristo la matardo," "postmortem" and "post Necronomicon". Whatever the fuck that means.

If you've been following along, you might be excited to see some other returning faces (seriously, there's not much to grab onto here) in CURSE's "piano fag" (Ulli's words, not mine) and "skinny girl" (that's mine). Guess who they play? You got it, an arguing couple! Here Ulli tries to get serious by having them argue about abortion. I would say it's an appropriate topic for the '80s, but apparently, 60 years later, we are still arguing about it as a nation, so uhhh... timeless, I guess? Piano Guy is outraged that Skinny Girl (Cassandra Church) had an abortion and Skinny Girl says it's her life and her body and... oh christ, wake me up when it's over. It's all the most basic arguments that you've heard a million times before over the decades. I don't care where you stand on this issue, this is fucking boring. Finally Skinny Girl stomps off to meet her death after Piano Guy yells "I guess I wouldn't want to marry a murderer anyways!" A crying baby can be heard on the soundtrack. Ulli Lommel, master of subtlety.

Ulli also gets as profound as he possibly can when we get to the "the last kill for me in the city". Richie gets a Southern girl in his apartment and while she tries to get her proselytization on, Richie thinks "Jesus loves you, they say. Then how come this place is what it is? There is no Jesus, there is no God." After sitting through hours of Ulli Lommel's verbal diarrhea, I'm inclined to agree. Fortunately, at the 76 minute mark, Richie is recognized in the streets by a handful of citizens who beat him up a little with baseball bats and then bizarrely stand back and just stare at him lying on the ground while sirens wail on the soundtrack. You know outlaw Ulli ain't going to try to steal footage of an actual cop car! Pony up for red and blue lights to flash around the alley? Pssssh! What is the color of the sky in your world?

Ulli caps things off with a text card stating "The Night Stalker is still waiting for his execution." This is actually true in 2009. Capitol punishment has had a long and convoluted history in California, before and after Ramirez's trial, and during it's on-again, off-again relationship with the courts and voters, prisoners have the right to appeal and make court motions. This leads to many delays of state executions and many prisoners die of natural causes or suicide. Richard Ramirez died while sitting on death row of cancer in 2013. I hate to get serious here, but if you've ever known anyone who has died from cancer, it is a truly horrible thing that I wouldn't wish on anyone. Even so, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Anyone who is pro-capitol punishment should see cancer does to a human being. The gas chamber (the State execution method of choice at the time) is, I'm sure, a much nicer way to go.

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