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Night Stalker is "prestige true-crime" that updates trash-TV aesthetics

  • "Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer employs a technique I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, at least not quite so spectacularly," Eric Langberg says of the Netflix docuseries on Richard Ramirez's 1980s reign of terror. There are a number of crime-scene photographs shown on screen, with electrical tape placed over the goriest bits but doing little to otherwise protect the viewer from witnessing something gruesome. When the show goes in-depth on a particular murder scene — something it does often—the camera seems to enter the photographs, showing the blood-splattered tableaux from different angles. We get a birds’-eye view of the room, or a close-up on a wound, or a tracking shot through the trail of blood left behind. I imagine a lot of this is accomplished through CGI and the use of restaged crime scenes; the effect is jarring and uncomfortable, like we are being asked to witness the crime scene just as the detectives did. It’s the exact opposite approach of Netflix’s recent show The Ripper, which retold the events surrounding the Yorkshire Ripper murders in England. Whereas that show maintained a studied distance from the grisly details of the murders, instead focusing on the victims and their memories, Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer is happy to not only relate in detail all the gory specifics of the crimes, but to depict those specifics on screen. It feels like an update of the trashy tabloid shows of old, repackaging the same titillating details and <i>how-horrible! aesthetics for an audience used to something more sophisticated at this point. Still, this is a very well-made show, sure to be a hit because of how confidently it tells its story. It’s particularly excellent at depicting the societal context surrounding to the Night Stalker’s reign of terror, particularly insightful in how it paints a picture of Richard Ramirez’s specific brand of terror. I just wish its approach didn’t feel stuck in the 80s, too."

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