Netflix’s formulaic approach to the true crime genre has its latest addition, a thrilling manhunt for a satanic maniac- another fine series designed to shock the audience while never leaving the safety of its blueprint. In the newest true crime documentary on Netflix, “Night Stalker: The Hunt for A Serial Killer” two dissimilar detectives rush to hunt a disorganized serial killer as body counts rise through neighborhoods of California during the 1980s. Gory and grotesque crime scenes along with disturbing interviews with survivors successfully paint the serial killer, Richard Ramirez, as the ultimate figure of evil. Not only was Ramirez a ruthless killer, breaking into homes, using knives, gouging out eyes, and raping elderly women, but he was also a child kidnapper and molestor. B-roll footage emphasizes the fear-mongering killer, albeit sometimes unnecessary (a scared cat, a banged up hammer, slo-mo blood dripping). The stylistic choices echo the times of the murders – from 80s style graphics and fonts, synthwave editing, and vintage night shots of LA. The drama unfolds through the chilling accounts of detective Frank Salerno and Gil Carillo of the LA homicide department. Unlike other true crime docs, “Night Stalker” focuses heavily on the backstory and frustrations of these two detectives: their personal histories and how they got into homicide, how the investigation haunted them and their families, even down to what they ate and drank during the hunt. Gil often appears egotistical, noting his qualities as a ‘teddy bear’ and genius instincts. There is something off-putting when he catches the killer and expresses the satisfaction of making his father proud, versus saving dozens of victims. Gil disturbingly admits his wish for the killings to continue for the chance for more forensic evidence. But, as viewers who crave higher stakes, are we really any different? Unnecessary details about the detectives override enough satisfactory backstory for Richard Ramirez. Apart from a 2 minute review of his life, there is scant information about his childhood, early traumas, and history of drug use. We are left with a jarring question: what made him so evil? How did he turn into a killer? It’s no surprise that dozens of articles are popping up about what the series left out about Ramirez and his manifestation into a killer. Vital facts are left out, like how Ramirez suffered blunt trauma to the head as a young child – a characteristic of many would-be psychopaths. Surely, there is no glorification of Ramirez. But, meaningful psychological details are missing for us to truly get into the mind of a killer. We get a full picture of the gross incompetence of mainstream media and politicians who broadcasted crucial clues to the public and jeopardized the entire investigation. Even the police hindered the process- setting up a faulty push-button at the serial killer’s dentist, leaving car fingerprints to dry-out, and incorrectly measuring the killer’s footprint. The true heroes are the residents of San Francisco who were part of the most epic citizens arrest in history while doing what the police, politicians and media could not, finally apprehending Richard Ramirez. “Night Stalker” is an adrenaline-filled manhunt designed perfectly for Netflix’s shelf of true crime extravaganza.
Check out “Just A Guy” (Dir. Shoko Hana) after you watch Night Stalker. You’ll learn about the women who fell in love with this murderer.
For more true crime short reviews, check out our blog “5 Must-See True Crime Thrillers.”
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