Movie Reviews

MaXXXines True Crime References Explained: Who Is The Night Stalker?

This article contains discussions of rape and murder, as well as MAJOR SPOILERS for
MaXXXine
(2024).


Summary

  • The movie MaXXXine, directed by Ti West, is the third installment in the X trilogy and is set in 1985 Hollywood.
  • The Night Stalker, a real-life serial killer and rapist named Richard Ramirez, is referenced throughout the movie as a significant character; however, he is used as a red herring for MaXXXine’s true killer, Maxins’ televangelist father, Earnest Miller.
  • Maxine and Tabby joke about the murder of aspiring actor Elizabeth Short, who was murdered in Los Angeles in 1947.


Ti West’s MaXXXine includes references to the Night Stalker and the Black Dahlia, two true crime cases that, upon further examination, have a deeper significance to the story. The conclusion to A24’s slasher trilogy has hit theaters, garnering praise from critics and fans alike. MaXXXine finishes the story of Maxine Minx, a woman who breaks into the acting business through pornography but aspires to be a big star in Hollywood. Things go horribly awry when murders start happening all around her right as she gets her first major film role.

The trailer for MaXXXine sets up the Night Stalker as a significant character in the movie, so references to him came as no surprise. However, within the film, the actual information on the criminal is sparse. Interestingly, MaXXXine also references a second true crime case from Los Angeles history – the Black Dahlia – which isn’t explained within the narrative. While neither the Night Stalker nor the Black Dahlia cases are described in much depth, both have a meaningful impact on the narrative and setting.


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The Night Stalker Is A Real Serial Killer And Rapist Named Richard Ramirez

The Night Stalker Was Active From April 1984 to August 1985

Throughout MaXXXine, the news covers the Night Stalker’s horrifying crimes throughout Los Angeles, providing a red herring for the murders committed. While all the other characters are fictional, the Night Stalker is a real-life serial killer and rapist named Richard Ramirez who terrorized the San Francisco Bay and the Greater Los Angeles area from April 1984 to August 1985. According to Britannica, Ramirez was introduced to rape and murder early in life by his cousin, who showed him photographs he took of his war crimes during the Vietnam War.


Richard Ramirez started his crimes with break-ins and auto theft but escalated to rape and murder when he moved to Los Angeles. His victims included children and elderly women, with at least 14 different murders being attributed to him (though only 13 resulted in convictions). His victims included girls as young as nine and as old as 79. The serial killer was finally identified when police found his fingerprint at one of the crime scenes. The police released his photos and name to the public, leading to his capture. Disturbingly, Ramirez never expressed any remorse for his crimes.

The Night Stalker’s Connection To The Story Of MaXXXine Explained

The Night Stalker Serves As A Red Herring In MaXXXine


Ti West sets the Night Stalker up as the titular main character’s adversary in MaXXXine’s trailer, and the first half of the movie also implies this. The fear of the serial killer shakes most of Hollywood; though, the women in sex work don’t seem scared of him. The reason for this is never addressed in the narrative, but it’s probable these women have faced enough threats of violence, displayed by the protesters in the movie, that they brush it off. Additionally, sex workers like Maxine received no legal protection, so they could have faced repercussions for coming forward with information.

The choice to reference the Night Stalker but not include him as a character was narratively disappointing after the trailer tease, but ultimately, it was an intelligent choice.


However, by the end of MaXXXine, they learn the person targeting the people around Maxine Minx is her zealot televangelist father, Earnest Miller. The choice to reference the Night Stalker but not include him as a character was narratively disappointing after the trailer tease, but ultimately, it was an intelligent choice. True crime lovers have become more aware of the ethics surrounding the genre and the tendency for the media to center serial killers over their victims. Moreover, MaXXXine would’ve been compared to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, which was called regressive, if the movie included a famous serial killer.

Elizabeth Short Was An Aspiring Actress Who Was Murdered And Dubbed The Black Dahlia

Elizabeth Short Was Murdered By An Unknown Assailant On January 15, 1947

The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy cover featuring a side profile of a woman's face with blood dripping from her mouth


While the primary true crime case referenced in MaXXXine is the Night Stalker, Maxine Minx and her friend Tabby Martin joke about the notoriety Elizabeth Short gained after her murder. This refers to the famous LA cold case of The Black Dahlia. According to Oxygen True Crime, Elizabeth Short was a 22-year-old young woman who moved across the country to Los Angeles, California, where she was murdered, mutilated, and bisected. In her younger years, Short built a modeling portfolio. After moving to Los Angeles, she worked as a waitress and aspired to be an actor, though she earned no roles.

On January 15, 1947, a woman named Betty Bersinger found Short’s body in the Leimert Park neighborhood of LA. Because the body was washed, drained of blood, and posed, she initially believed Short was a discarded mannequin. Elizabeth Short’s case immediately gained attention because newspapers sensationalized the murder, spreading rumors that about Short’s promiscuity. FBI records point to a surgeon or doctor as the most likely suspect. Sadly, Short’s murder has never been solved despite over 500 people claiming responsibility for the crime.


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The Black Dahlia Story Parallels Maxine Minx

The Black Dahlia Joke Helps Shape The Character Of Maxine

The reference to The Black Dahlia is significant because of the parallels in the origin stories of Maxine Minx and Elizabeth Short. Both the character and the real-life woman had contentious relationships with their fathers. Short was reportedly kicked out of her home because of conflicts with her father (via Black Dahlia: Shattered Dreams by Brenda Haugen), and Maxine’s father uses her as an example of the devil taking children. Both women moved to Los Angeles and pursued acting.


By including references to Elizabeth Short, the movie subliminally shows an example of what could have happened if things had gone horribly wrong for Maxine Minx.

While their specific jobs differ, Maxine and Short both worked menial jobs to cover their bills. Moreover, if rumors are to be believed, they both engaged in behaviors that could be deemed immoral. It’s widely publicized, including by the FBI, that Elizabeth Short spent a significant amount of time partying in cocktail bars and nightclubs. Meanwhile, Maxine Minx works as an actress in pornography. Ultimately, by including references to Elizabeth Short, the movie subliminally shows an example of what could have happened if things had gone horribly wrong for Maxine Minx.


How Accurate MaXXXine’s True Crime Connections Are To The True Stories

MaXXXine Makes Small Changes To Both True Crime Cases

Maxine (Mia Goth) with smudged makeup pointing a gun in MaXXXine (2024)
Image via A24

With two references to true crime, questions come up about the references’ accuracy compared to the actual cases. The investigators in MaXXXine initially believe the victims are connected to the Night Stalker because they fit his target demographic and his modus operandi of leaving satanic symbols. Both of these assertions are true. According to Britannica, Richard Ramirez targeted women, and he left Satanic symbols at the crime scenes as his signature.


The one big difference between the fictional version of the Night Stalker in MaXXXine and the real serial killer is the fact that Ramirez didn’t specifically target sex workers. This detail was likely included to tie Maxine Minx’s story into the ongoing mystery. Additionally, three major serial killers from the 1980s targeted sex workers – The Southside Slayer and The Riverside Prostitute Killer, both of whom were active in California, and the Green River, who was active in Washington. As such, the decision to make the Night Stalker target sex workers doesn’t feel out of place for the 1980s.

When it comes to the Elizabeth Short joke, MaXXXine doesn’t provide much information on the case to compare to reality. Short was an aspiring actress who only became famous after her death. The only subliminal inaccuracy within the joke is the idea that Elizabeth Short wasn’t a sex worker like Maxine and Tabby. After her death, newspapers falsely reported that she was a lesbian, a sex worker, and pregnant at the time of her death. Many of these can be seen in the FBI records. However, none of these claims have ever been substantiated.


MaXXXine’s True Crime References Help Strengthen The Movie’s Setting

The True Crime Cases Fit Into MaXXXine’s 1985 Hollywood Setting

Maxine (Mia Goth) on the red carpet surrounded by the press blowing kisses to the audience in MaXXXine (2024)
Image via A24

While they also serve a narrative purpose, the most significant impact of the true-crime references in MaXXXine is helping shape the movie’s setting. There’s virtually no way that the movie could’ve occurred in Hollywood in 1985 without mentioning the Night Stalker. In real life, the serial killer shook terrified Angelenos and made them more vigilant about the protective actions they took. If MaXXXine ignored the existence of the Night Stalker, it could have broken viewers’ suspension of reality, especially with the high crossover between horror and true crime fans.


Additionally, the legacy of Elizabeth Short’s murder has become an important part of Los Angeles lore, making the joke between Maxine and Tabby appropriate for the setting and time period. It also shows how time shapes the way we see events – an important aspect of Maxine Minx’s story. Ultimately, this attention to detail is part of what makes MaXXXine such a strong ending to Ti West’s X trilogy.

Sources:Britannica, Oxygen True Crime, FBI records, Black Dahlia: Shattered Dreams by Brenda Haugen, and FBI

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