Growing up watching shows like America’s Most Wanted, Cops, and other shows of that sort, I’ve always found myself drawn to shows and movies that explore that kind of stuff in a more realistic way. So, when I saw that Netflix had dropped a new serial killer documentary, I was intrigued to see what it was all about.
Comprised of 4 episodes that run roughly 46-48 minutes apiece, Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer focuses on the story of Richard Ramirez, one of the most terrifying serial killers in American history. Unlike most serial killers, who usually follow a pattern, the violence the Night Stalker inflicted upon Los Angeles County in 1984 and 1985 was random and made it more difficult for investigators to connect the dots.
Eventually convicted of 13 counts of murder, 5 counts of attempted murder, 11 counts of sexual assault, and 14 counts of burglary (this doesn’t include several other criminal charges he was linked to, or even ones that investigators didn’t know about), the Night Stalker was a perfect storm of violence unleashed upon the west coast.
At its core, Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer is an intriguing series. However, it does take some interesting turns with how it portrays the sequence of events, often throwing in scenes of bloody knives, hammers, and other gruesome content as if to shove it in your face. It works, I guess, and it’s important not to downplay the violence that Ramirez brought to the people of the west coast, but ultimately it feels out of place as the video shifts to interviews with the real-life victims and investigators involved in the case.
Night Stalker begins with an opening message from the video that Detective Gil Carrillo recorded and sent out to the masses during the investigation, painting a quick picture of just how violent the Night Stalker was. This quickly shifts to a montage of Los Angeles, painting the city in colors of promise and vibrance, while also making a heavy note of the darkness that lies underneath the rose-tinted glasses that the city hides itself behind. It’s a stark reminder that no matter how “golden” a place may seem, there is always a dark side to it.
Detectives Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno—a legend in the Los Angeles investigation scene—are the beating heart of the series, as it explores Carrillo’s rise as an unexperienced investigator to one of the figures spearheading the hunt for the Night Stalker. It does a really great job of humanizing the men and showcasing the effects that hunting this criminal had on their lives, including Carrillo having to send his family away to keep them safe.
It’s these true parts of the show that do the most to really show how dark of a person Ramirez was, and how his actions affected so many. Interviews with the real-life victims play way between the investigative bits, and while a deeper dive into how the investigation was pushed would have been intriguing, the interviews with the victims help to draw your attention away from the overly exploity true-crime transitions of dripping blood and bloody tools.
Altogether, I really enjoyed Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer. It was haunting and most of the presentation was well done. The transitions between interviews seem out of place and offer no real tone to the content that follows them, but this is easy to ignore as the series dives deeper into the investigators and victims who have had to live with the memories of what happened to them.