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Netflix's Night Stalker is yet another true-crime docuseries reveling in the glamour and thrill of gruesome real-life events

  • The four-episode Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer on the 1980s California serial killer Richard Ramirez from director Tiller Russell "makes some interesting points," says Daniel D'Addario. "Those, though, tend to be studded within a project that gives itself away to mania more frequently. Clogged with high-gloss but somewhat ludicrous footage, Night Stalker knows it’s about the deaths of innocents only inasmuch as that makes for a riveting story, but it lacks the seriousness of purpose to tell its story well." D'Addario adds: "It can be boring to constantly write about true crime as lacking the deeply-thought-through intentionality to match its grave subject matter — in part because it happens so frequently. While Ramirez’s victims, including a kidnap victim he let go as well as families of the slain, get the chance to speak, here, the show’s pleasurable embrace of violence seems, in its effort to attract, tonally repulsive. Series like HBO’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, with its careful construction and deliberate pace, tend to be exceptions: More frequent are shows like this one, that tend to revel in the glamour and thrill of pretty gruesome real-life events."


    • Night Stalker is truly terrifying: "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," says Alison Foreman. "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."
    • Night Stalker's solid reporting is undercut by lurid, B-movie production values: "Where the series goes horribly, offensively awry is in the lurid packaging of the very solid interviews with the police, journalists, surviving victims, and families," says Ann Donahue. "Real crime-scene photos are used throughout the series, a choice that is profoundly upsetting but necessary to illustrate the animalistic horror. (As wild as your imagination is, it would not be enough.)What is not necessary, at all, are director Tiller Russell’s re-enactments of the crimes supported by cheesy B-movie grade visuals. We do not need to see a single drop of blood in slow-motion as it falls to the ground. We do not need to see a blood-covered hammer drop alongside it. (This shot repeats multiple times.) We do not need to see scenes of ominous animals looming in the dark — it’s not symbolism, it’s tawdry, scare-tactic filler. We do not need Ramirez’s recorded words bulleted across the scene in hot pink over scenes of nighttime Los Angeles traffic. This isn’t a Patrick Nagel exhibition."
    • Night Stalker is a powerful and haunting addition to the streamer’s onslaught of true-crime fare: "But more than that, it deftly captures a place and time that many Angelenos will remember as part of their collective history," says Lorraine Ali, adding that the docuseries "dives deep into the psyche of the detectives, and the fear of a city. All lived in the shadow of a figure so malevolent he seemed almost supernatural."
    • Night Stalker missed an opportunity to offer new insight into the Richard Ramirez case and interrogate it through a more contemporary lens: "Instead, it's another horror story that only seems intent on shocking its audience all over again," says Laura Jane Turner, adding: "The four-part series goes into grim and disturbing detail, not shying away from the cold, hard facts of the case. But The Night Stalker – which doesn't name Richard Ramirez, the man behind the terror, until the final episode – also continues to echo the sensationalism and panic of the time, failing to ground its story."
    • Night Stalker focuses too much about the hunters not enough about the hunted: Director Tiller Russell's emphasis on detectives Frank Salerno and Gil Carrillo detracts from the docuseries, says Stuart Jefferies. "In erasing Ramirez, Russell spent too much time establishing Carrillo and Salerno as heroic protagonists," he says. "Episode one was particularly ponderous in establishing the detectives’ back stories. The rookie, Mexican-American Carrillo, was thrilled to become partner of old hand Salerno, the legendary detective who had solved the 'Hillside strangler' case a decade earlier. While their relationship was told in meticulous detail, Ramirez’s crimes were narrated confusingly. There was too much about the hunters not enough about the hunted."
    • Night Stalker director Tiller Russell didn't want to glamorize Richard Ramirez: "That was incredibly important to us not to fall prey to his false and corrupting and dangerous myth," he says. "So what perspective do you want to anchor it in? Those homicide cops and what they went through to catch him became a natural entry into the story. It allowed us to make a past tense story in present tense. We only revealed what they knew when they knew it. They were detectives walking into the dark and trying to unearth information clue by clue. We also wanted to remind the audience of the victims and their surviving family members to really show them the extreme horror and terror and brutality of these attacks. We needed to honor their stories and what they went through. What often happens for the victims of a sensational crime spree is that it can be reductive and dehumanizing. They can be viewed as just a statistic of somebody else’s depredations. We wanted to treat those people as people. That summer in L.A. everybody felt like it could be me, it could be my kid, it could be my grandmother that goes next."

    TOPICS: Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, Netflix, Richard Ramirez, Tiller Russell, Documentaries