Following its release last Wednesday, Netflix’s new docuseries Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer has gained significant media attention for its unique coverage of Richard Ramirez’s rampage of horror during the 1980s.
Ramirez’s name has gone down in infamy for the sheer terror that he inflicted on the West Coast in 1984 and 1985, including countless home invasions and maniacal murders of innocent individuals. Unlike the traditional M.O. of most well-known serial killers throughout history, Ramirez did not appear to have a prototypical victim. Instead, his strings of murders, assaults, rapes, and kidnappings impacted individuals of all ages (including children and the elderly), races/ethnicities, and genders.
Ramirez’s ghastly moniker of “The Night Stalker” was created as a means of explaining the seemingly random slew of crimes that terrified the state of California. Consequently, The Night Stalker’s name also pointed to the cruel reality that anyone could have been his next victim during his year-long rampage.
After his capture in 1985, Ramirez was eventually convicted of 14 counts of burglary, 11 counts of sexual assault, 5 counts of attempted murder, and 13 counts of murder. However, because there is great potential that many of Ramirez’s victims remain undiscovered, his charges likely do not encapsulate the full breadth of his destruction.
Night Stalker takes a new approach toward unraveling the web of death and devastation that was woven during 1984 and 1985. Although the four-part series opens with footage of a vibrant and prosperous Los Angeles during the 1980s, the first episode peels back the shiny layers of tinsel-town almost instantly. As a result, the darker underbelly of crime and fear that was growing rapidly within the city during that time becomes wholly exposed.
The docuseries centers around Detective Gil Carillo and his partner Frank Salerno— the key investigators on The Night Stalker case and the two men that ultimately brought Ramirez to justice. During numerous interviews that are sprinkled throughout the show, Carillo and Salerno recount their tireless efforts to track down the murderous home invader and eventually arrest him. Additionally, in an effort to deglamorize Ramirez and his crimes, Night Stalker creates a narrative that is told (almost) exclusively through the voices of survivors, family members of victims, and reporters during that time.
Night Stalker also makes ample use of real footage and crime scene images, which serve to erase any element of fantasy and mysticism that was created around Ramirez and his murders. In turn, the docuseries is less about the murderer and more about those who were gravely impacted by Ramirez’s rampage— an important yet surprisingly rare perspective to find represented in popular media.
Nevertheless, the series is not without its criticisms. While the show’s gory visual aids cultivate a harsh but critical understanding of Ramirez’s crimes, their inundating presence throughout Night Stalker may feel excessive and unnecessary to some. Moreover, the reenactments of murder scenarios and animated crime scenes feel a tad overwhelming— no matter how aesthetically pleasing they are when isolated from one another.
Rather than focus on the murderer himself, Night Stalker effectively reframes the case’s narrative in a way that emphasizes the experiences of Ramirez’s victims and those in law enforcement who worked to bring him down. Hence, the series offers a unique and distinctly human view of Ramirez’s horrendous 1980s murder spree. Furthermore, despite falling victim to the cliched true crime visuals of shiny knives and spooky backyards, the docuseries does offer a novel sense of care and heart for everyone affected by Ramirez’s wrath.