Netflix has become a staycation destination for the true crime obsessed in recent years with countless dramatizations, documentaries, and history book spun yarns highlighting the world’s most sadistic minds. It’s only a matter of time until Netflix has given every serial killer of the 20th century their patented docu-series treatment and convicted murderer & rapist Richard Ramirez is once again given a moment in the limelight with Night Stalker: The Hunt For A Serial Killer.
Directed by Tiller Russell, the limited docu-series takes you behind the crime scenes of Ramirez’s 14-month-long rampage of the San Francisco area through detailed interviews with witnesses, victims, and lead investigators Gil Carrillo & Frank Salerno. As the title suggests, Night Stalker: The Hunt For A Serial Killer focuses its attention on the torturous road toward capturing Richard Ramirez but that doesn’t mean it’s free of salacious spotlighting. By interviewing people close to the case the series reduces Ramirez to a pathetic, cowardly monster but it makes some bold (bordering on poor taste) choices that help prop up his satanic rockstar status.
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In 1984, newly appointed homicide detective Gil Carrillo responded to a residential shooting after a decade of ‘working his beat’. Respected by his fellow officers for his tenacity and sharp observational skills, it’s no surprise that Carrillo turned out to be the absolute best officer to respond to this particular crime scene. No one knew it at the time, but the murder would later become the San Francisco police department’s entry point into what would later be known as the “Night Stalker” crimes. And to hear it as Carrillo describes, he was way ahead of the rest of the department in connecting the dots between a string of seemingly unrelated crimes with the murders he had recently been assigned to investigate.
“Good old fashioned police work” is a broad term that can mean anything you want it to depending on the tone of your voice. Night Stalker: The Hunt For A Serial Killer runs the gamut on what good old fashion police work looked like back in the 80s, but there is no denying that the profile Carrillo had been quietly building for his suspect is exactly what gave the SFPD a leg up in identifying the full extent of Ramirez’s criminal activity. Unfortunately, good old fashioned police work took a back seat to jurisdictional politics when other investigators involved in the wide-net search for Ramirez become more interested in their headline hero status than stopping a vicious killer. It’s hard not to get riled up watching this all unfold but that’s nothing to hold against the series. It’s a testament to the filmmaker’s abilities that they can pull these stories from their subjects (including off-hand retellings of police brutality) but there is a glorification of Ramirez that doesn’t seem in-line with some of the series’ more sensitive discussions of violence.
Like a fly buzzing around each crime scene, the camera glides over the chaotic aftermath of murders looking for evidence. We thread the needle through little bits of garbage and zoom around displaced decor à la y2k-era David Fincher (Fight Club, Mindhunter). It’s super great, I never got bored of it (because I’m easily amused, I guess) and it eliminated any need to dramatize or recreate actual crime scenes. When it comes to “talking head” style documentaries, it’s the little bits of footage that connect and accompany interviews that really nail down a film’s style, and as silly as it sounds, I got super sucked into those fly-on-the-wall shots and the never-ending parade of neon-soaked late-night drives.
Night Stalker: The Hunt For A Serial Killer is a little too True Detective for its own good, but it is still an informative for anyone wanting to learn more about the tireless investigation that went into stopping one of America’s worst serial killers. We can’t rewrite the past. We can’t save innocent lives from being ruined and we can’t retry a dead person for a disgusting amount of molestations that were wiped from his record to “spare the children”. What we can do is learn from these monstrous acts to better identify and safeguard against future attacks. And more importantly, applaud the people directly responsible for putting an end to that bastard’s reign of terror.
Richard Ramirez wasn’t a celebrity or the boogeyman, he was a murderer and a rapist. The real rockstars are the investigators at the center of this story. Regardless, it’s Ramirez that comes out on top with synth wave stings, block-rocking beats and day-glo painted title cards. Richard Ramirez was a fascinating person, specifically because of his inflated ego and grandiose delusions but the series’ decision to focus solely on his body count only helps further his status as a cultural icon. The whole affair leaves a bad taste in your mouth but I can imagine it would have gone any other way when discussing a person who fed of the pain and fear of others.
All four parts of Tiller Russell’s Night Stalker: The Hunt For A Serial Killeris available to binge (globally) on Netflix right now! Let us know what you thought of the limited true-crime docu-series over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.
Review: NIGHT STALKER: THE HUNT FOR A SERIAL KILLER
Night Stalker: The Hunt For A Serial Killer is a little too True Detective for its own good, but it is still an informative for anyone wanting to learn more about the tireless investigation that went into stopping one of America's worst serial killers. As the title suggests, Night Stalker: The Hunt For A Serial Killer focuses its attention on the torturous road toward capturing Richard Ramirez but that doesn't mean it's free of salacious spotlighting. By interviewing people close to the case the series reduces Ramirez to a pathetic, cowardly monster but it makes some bold (bordering on poor taste) choices that help prop up his satanic rockstar status.