Whether you know a lot or a little about the heinous crimes of Richard Ramirez, Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer is a terrifying watch.
An intensely atmospheric understanding of what made the notorious home intruder so captivating.
In just four episodes, the new docuseries from director Tiller Russell immerses viewers inside the violent crime spree that terrorized California residents from 1984 to 1985, and has held the attention of true crime aficionados ever since.
Before his capture, Ramirez murdered at least 14 people in Los Angeles and San Francisco, all of them seemingly chosen at random. He raped and burgled many more, sometimes leaving Manson Family-like scribblings on the walls of the homes he invaded. A self-proclaimed Satanist, Ramirez never showed remorse or gave a reason for his crimes, instead quipping that he was headed for “Disneyland” on the day the State of California sentenced him to death.
If those facts are scary, then Night Stalker‘s presentation of them is downright horrific.
Between archival footage of Reagan-era Los Angeles, neon pink title cards, and some remarkably gruesome crime scene footage, Night Stalker presents an intensely atmospheric understanding of what made the notorious home intruder so captivating to the public then — while simultaneously reflecting on how much we still don’t know about killers like Ramirez today.
Anchored in interviews with the lead investigators on the case — former detectives Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno (the latter of whom also led the hunt for the Hillside Strangler) — Night Stalker recounts more than a dozen of Ramirez’s confirmed killings. Journalists, survivors, witnesses, and family members of victims recall in painstaking detail the damage done by this lone attacker, as Carrillo and Salerno walk the audience through what it took to catch him.
It’s a tightly written and extraordinarily well-edited narrative, offering a comprehensive crash course in the prominent case with a moody style that is undeniably compelling. Distorted perspective on crime scene photos, scratchy audio clips of Ramirez himself, and a score that is unrelentingly agitating make Night Stalker a fresh take on an old subject. Even in the investigation’s more monotonous moments, the series’ overall tone keeps the pacing urgent and the decades-old case important.
That said, unlike some previous biographers of Ramirez, Russell doesn’t glamorize the high-profile killer. Yes, Ramirez, like Ted Bundy, gained a considerable following of groupies during his incarceration and seemed to revel in the public’s search of answers he would never give. While Night Stalker does acknowledge those details to offer a full-picture of its subject, the time and sensitivity given to those directly impacted by Ramirez offers a solid condemnation that never lets his seem cool.
Captivating but still conscientious, Night Stalker is arguably the best primer on the infamous killer available. It won’t provide new answers for those already acquainted with this horrifying bit of California history, but it will stoke fear in anyone who watches.
Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer is now streaming on Netflix.