The third entry in the Relentless franchise features the great character actor William Forsythe as a man named Walter Hilderman, a charming blue collar type with a very dark secret. He returns home from work to torment Marianne, the mentally off-balance woman he lives with. He rules Marianne’s entire world with an iron fist because he is, as he insists, “the star”. But it gets worse than that. Walter is also a necrophiliac serial killer who goes out to restaurants and bars with the sole intention of meeting women who he can woo, present himself to as their Prince Charming, then eventually murder – strangling them, mutilating them, keeping their bodies at his house, then after a while disposing of them in remote locations.
Realizing they have a serial killer, or a “repeater”, on their hands, the LAPD brings in Detective Sam Dietz, the lead character of the Relentless series, to get his opinion on the case, even though Dietz no longer works in the Major Crimes section.
Although Dietz appeared to be getting back together with his estranged wife at the end of part 2 and making a change in his law enforcement career, by the time the events of part 3 have rolled around, nothing about the happy ending of the previous film has worked out for him – he has now been divorced for three years and rarely sees his young son.
With his (ex-)wife Carol out of the picture this time, there’s a subplot that follows Dietz as he attempts to get back into the dating world. He starts seeing a girl named Paula, played by Signy Coleman, and their relationship gets off to a very rough start. The scenes depicting the issues Dietz and Paula run into as they try to work things out between them are very well written, well performed, and quite realistic.
Leo Rossi reprised the role of Dietz for this film and continued to do strong work as the New Yorker-in-LA detective with a messy personal life, proving that although his career has primarily consisted of supporting roles, he is also quite capable of carrying his own series.
Dietz is initially reluctant to get involved with this new repeater case, but after seeing the body of the latest victim he is compelled to assist in any way he can… And becomes even more involved when the killer sends a package to the police with a horrific item within, accompanied by a letter demanding that Dietz work the case, because the killer considers himself a star and feels he deserves to have Dietz tracking him down.
The more Dietz investigates the clues, the more he begins to feel like he may have some sort of past connection to this killer, and the more the killer starts to focus on Dietz and make it personal – threatening Paula, murdering colleagues and fellow officers. Dietz was fully dedicated to bringing the killer down before, but Walter really gets him fired up by targeting people he cares about and/or works with.
Director William Lustig (Maniac Cop, the original Maniac) kicked off the Relentless films, but never came back to helm any of the sequels. However, this third installment was written and directed by James Lemmo, a regular collaborator of Lustig’s, having worked as cinematographer on the Lustig films Vigilante, Maniac Cop 1 and 2, Hit List, and even the first Relentless.
Lemmo did fine work continuing on the detective crime procedural franchise, bringing to life a sequel that is very dark and intense, with a straightforward but intriguing story that is deeply emotionally engaging for its hero.
I do feel that the film sputters out in its third act, reaching a conclusion that, although brutal, feels too simple and low-key considering the events that precede it. I wanted to see a great showdown between Walter and Dietz, and Lemmo didn’t really deliver that. The ending isn’t very satisfying, which brings my overall opinion of the film quite a bit, but the first 70 minutes are very solid. As much as Walter deserved Dietz, Relentless III deserved a wrap-up that was more cathartic.