by Dan O’Neill ’21 A&E Staff
A recently released documentary on Netflix titled Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer has captured the attention of viewers, as it details the race to stop the murder spree of Richard Ramirez. The documentary was released on Jan. 13 and follows detective Gil Carrillo and investigator Frank Salerno as they uncover the brutal crimes of their suspect. The production successfully captures the aura and environment of the era, as serial crimes and murders wreaked havoc in the 1980s.
Richard Ramirez, known as “The Night Stalker,” led police on a long, arduous chase as he murdered at least 13 people. His crimes included breaking and entering, assault, kidnap, rape, and murder. The documentary series follows each crime as they occur in chronological order and successfully displays the evidence as Carrillo and Salerno continue their investigation. The director, Tiller Russell, even adds the gruesome recollections of specific individuals, both family members and survivors, to focus the series on the heinous nature of Ramirez’s crimes.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, when asked about the inspiration for creating the documentary series, Russell said, “Ramirez’s crimes were unprecedented. There weren’t other serial killers that were murdering adults and abducting children and sometimes murdering them.” The uniqueness and individuality of the crime spree are part of the reason for the success of the series, but not all of it. In the same interview, Russell also states, “It was important to us to highlight the stories of his victims carefully because we were dealing with highly sensitive, fragile, and sometimes tragic memories of somebody’s life.”
One of the reasons that this documentary series is so well regarded is because of the human aspect of the film. The main topic of the series is obviously the brutal murders and crimes of Richard Ramirez, but the director also successfully explores the effect that the job has on the detectives. Salerno, according to the documentary, was used to hard-hitting cases like that of the Night Stalker. For detective Carrillo, however, the gruesome nature of the case, and the endless brutality it revealed, started to take a toll on his family life. However, Carrillo ultimately withstood the pressure and successfully tracked down the Night Stalker.
Ultimately, this documentary series is successful in capturing much more than just the catching of a serial killer. The series focuses on the genuine emotions, reactions, and attitudes surrounding the crimes, and even gives a stunning look at Los Angeles in the summer of 1985. The graphic documentary gives a solid view into the time period and the intensity of the circumstances in a city rattled by an indiscriminate killer.