If you’re a fan of true crime like I am, there are numerous resources for you to get your fix. Podcasts, movies, television series; whatever way you prefer to learn about heinous crimes, there’s an outlet for it. One of the most reliable places to find pieces revolving around true crime is Netflix. Over the last few years, the entertainment hub has been delivering outstanding, brilliantly made true crime works. From Don’t F*** With Cats, American Murder: The Family Next Door, and everything in between, Netflix has been releasing chronicles of shocking crimes that are beautifully blended with meaningful storytelling. The new docuseries from Netflix, Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer fits right in.
Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer tells the story of serial killer Richard Ramirez as he terrorized California from 1984-1985. The series contains interviews from families of victims, as well as survivors, while it also examines vital facts and details in Ramirez’s life as well as the cat-and-mouse chase that went on between Ramirez and detectives. Through all of the information given in the limited series, viewers learn how terrifyingly unique Ramirez was as they attempt to comprehend the mind of the psychopathic monster.
Among horrifying serial killers with signatures or patterns, the Night Stalker is sometimes forgotten or lost in translation. John Wayne Gacy had a clown suit, the Zodiac Kiler had taunting letters and ciphers, Jeffrey Dahmer had cannibalistic tendencies, Ted Bundy had his good looks that lured women in. Richard Ramirez truly had no patterns, signatures or typical groups that he attacked: everyone was at risk. It is so important that among murderers with more “fame” or notoriety, Ramirez is exposed and held accountable for the acts he committed, and this documentary does just that.
Each of the four episodes does a stellar job at not only uncovering the disturbing and grisly acts Ramirez committed, but also not losing sight of the fact that these victims were actual people with loved ones and stories to tell. The interviews that are presented from the families of those that were senselessly murdered as well as victims who survived are the centerpiece of the series. They bring to light the true pain, anger, and anguish that accompany losing someone so close to you for no apparent reason. They emanate feelings of pure fear, trauma, and deep pain when you hear from those that survived his attacks. They highlight just how devastating this serial killer was to so many, and they incite the same terror in every viewer that communities in California felt for over a year while Ramirez was active. While some documentaries sensationalize, or even fetishize the murders that serial killers occur, this documentary always approaches each and every victim’s passing with grace, respect and dignity.
There are also an abundant amount of interviews with the investigators who were on the Night Stalker case and how it affected their lives. Specifically Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno, who were lead detectives on the high-profile case. While Carrillo was a new detective at the time, Salerno had previously worked on many cases, including the Hillside Strangler case. Being able to hear firsthand experiences from two officers at different times of their lives and careers—and how it was all turned upside down during the investigation—adds further depth to the series as well as severity to the situation. Both men, among others interviewed, give wonderful testimony as to what it was like to be in California in the 80’s, while the crimes were raging on and pressure was high. These moments will truly transport you to that time with the frustrating, heartbreaking, or anxiety-ridden stories they tell.
Director Tiller Russell seems to have an affinity for documentaries. Russell has been a producer and director on multiple documentaries, including The Last Narc, and it’s safe to say he has found his niche. The brooding, intrusive feeling that Russell inserts into this documentary series builds on the idea of how unhinged and chilling Ramirez was. The director chose to add reenactments that were essentially short horror films, showing snippets of a shadowy figure breaking in, or a rat skulking around and witnessing a crime. The way these short depictions of how Ramirez may have stalked and tortured his victims were filmed and cut together are disturbing and may leave you laying awake at night in fear. Russell acknowledges how utterly horrifying these accounts must have been for everyone involved, and he implants viewers into those moments, leaving audiences with sweaty palms and racked nerves. Many documentaries lose an opportunity when it comes to reenactments, as they may come off more artificial and cheesy, but Russell turned it into a gripping and lingering experience.
The series is brimming with information and first-hand knowledge in regards to Richard Ramirez’s life, crimes, interviews, and actions throughout his infamous years. By the end of it, you may find yourself hard-pressed to think of any lingering questions that were unanswered. Despite the wealth of facts, the documentary never feels overwhelming, confusing, or loses interest. The way every scene, interview, and event is strung together is completely fluid and easy to comprehend. The only possible negative comment I can say about this series is that it does contain some graphic imagery from crime scenes, which all viewers should be aware of beforehand.
Even if you’re not a true crime junkie, the stories will keep you entranced and binge-watching each episode. Make sure to check out Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer when it begins streaming on Netflix on January 13, 2021.