The Halcion days of mid-80’s Los Angeles are graphically depicted in Tiller Russell’s brilliant NIGHT STALKER: THE HUNT FOR A SERIAL KILLER. A four-episode true-crime limited docuseries premiering on Netflix Wednesday, January 13th, Night Stalker follows the relentless efforts of two diligent detectives as they chase the brutal trail of serial killer Richard Ramirez, aka The Night Stalker during his 13-month killing spree. Russell uses archival news reports, first-hand accounts, maps, photos, and a pristine timeline to guide viewers through the narrative of a Los Angeles under siege by an invisible evil and the two men determined to capture him.
There were no patterns. The killer began striking in 1984 leaving a trail that looked like unrelated homicides, robberies, and child abductions/molestations. Russell sets the scene then introduces us to the heroes of the saga, detectives Frank Salerno and Gil Carrillo. We get their backstories, their family lives, and in the case of Carillo, a slightly forced narrative about the emotional thread on his drive to redeem himself to his father.
But we want true crime and boy, do we get it. The victims range from 6 to 82. Scattered around the southland they all came from different neighborhoods, races, and economic levels. Nearly every victim is explored in chronological order with a breakdown of each incident. This includes a timeline, crime scene photos, and where possible, interviews with friends and family of the victims. It is through these remarkable interviews that we get a real sense of the tragedy on a personal level. We also get an idea of how Salerno and Carrillo began piecing things together. Seemingly unrelated details are connected while the two attempt to keep a tenacious army news media at bay.
Having been one that lived through this time, I can personally say that the series does a fair job capturing the zeitgeist of the time along with the heavy blanket of fear and paranoia provoked by the unknown killer. There was no pattern, and no one knew where or when he would strike next. We get a clear sense of that, yet I could have done with just a little bit more. This is a fine procedural documentary that documents the chase beautifully along with the unbelievable impact it had on the state of California but somehow, the visceral fear that hovered over the city is missing. A minor note considering the admirably reverent depiction of each of Ramirez’s’ targets.
Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer is not at all for the faint of heart. This series deftly explores one of America’s most notorious serial killers and the impact that he had on his victims, his pursuers, and the city he called home. Tiller Russell and team have done a solid job reminding everyone to keep their doors and windows locked at night. Even if you didn’t live through it.
Norm(an) Gidney is a nearly lifelong horror fan. Beginning his love for the scare at the age of 5 by watching John Carpenter's Halloween, he set out on a quest to share his passion for all things spooky with the rest of the world.