The Night Stalker (1986)

The 1980s was the golden age of action films in the United States.  There were some interesting ones in the 1960s and 1970s, but it was the 1980s that perfected the framework they established.  Quite popular were gritty police dramas where the lead was bound to be almost as bad as the villain, someone close to him was going to die and eventually he would have a redemption arc after battling an unstoppable or brilliant killer.  

Once the pattern gets going and the money starts coming in it isn't long before everyone starts jumping on board.  Sometimes that means surprising, forgotten classics, while other times it means a movie that has been forgotten for a reason.  The Night Stalker is one of the latter. 

J. J. Striker (Charles Napier) is an alcoholic police inspector in the robbery division of the Los Angeles Police Department.  He is partnered with Charlie Garrett (Robert Viharo) and is more than a little close to an ex-prostitute named Rene (Michelle Reese), who takes care of a young lady named Denise (Katherine Kelly Lang).  Rene still knows most of the women on the street and tries to be there for them, including protecting them from a pimp named Julius (Julian Christopher).  

When a killer (Robert Z'Dar) starts targeting the local prostitutes Striker asks that he and Garrett be put on the case, something his Captain (John F. Goff) refuses to do because of Striker's drinking.  He starts investigating anyway and finds out that the killer is an ex-mercenary who believes that by committing murders he will become invincible.  Inevitably both Rene and Denise become the killer's targets and Striker must do what he can to get rid of a man who refuses to die. 

The most notable thing about The Night Stalker is this is the movie Robert Z'Dar was in before making the first Maniac Cop.  His work on this movie is what helped get him noticed by William Lustig for the role of Matt Cordell.  For the most part the killer in this movie, Chuck Summers, is filmed in shadow, mumbling spells in French as he makes up his victims' corpses to look like geishas.  It is something that should be weird and shocking but, under the direction of Max Kleven, doesn't raise much tension.  The supernatural elements in this movie should have been used to take this the few steps it needed to just be off-kilter enough to become a cult classic, but the pacing and handling of the story just never manages to pull it off.

That doesn't mean there aren't some good parts.  Striker dealing with gang members harassing him at a hamburger stand gives some hope for a lot more action that doesn't come, while Julius's crew taking on Summers is one of the highlights of the movie.  Otherwise, much of this is by the book, with the usual characters being killed off in service of the plot and the tough women becoming damsels in distress.  Julian Christopher, even when not fighting Summers, is one of the highlights in the film as it seems Christopher thought he was in a much better movie than he was. 

It's not a complete waste of time but there are plenty of other movies that did it better, including the Maniac Cop series when it comes to Z'Dar playing a supernatural serial killer.  This is a movie that needed Larry Cohen or William Lustig behind it to emphasize the elements that would have made it more than just another forgettable police thriller.

The Night Stalker (1986)
Time: 93 minutes
Starring: Charles Napier, Michelle Reese, Robert Viharo, Robert Z'Dar
Director: Max Kleven 



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