Netflix’s “Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer” may be one of the many crime documentaries on the media streaming platform, but it's notably distinct from all the ones that came before it.
This true crime docuseries is comprised of four 50-minute episodes that detail the investigation of the murders and atrocities committed by serial killer Richard Ramirez, who was dubbed the moniker “Night Stalker” by the local Los Angeles community.
The docuseries follows head detectives Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno on the Night Stalker investigation team and brings viewers along their entire journey with detailed recollections of the cases and stages along their agitating investigation.
Between the victims’ chilling accounts of their interactions with Ramirez, disturbing crime scene footage and vivid sound effects like a bloody hammer falling to the ground, the docuseries' haunting cinematography brings these events to life and enables viewers to feel as though they were part of the hunt.
Be warned, though, for this docuseries is not for the faint at heart — graphic imagery and details of Ramirez’s crimes are the backbone of the documentary. The homes he invaded and committed monstrosities in were repeatedly described as "a bloodbath," and there are many images to prove it.
Upon hearing and seeing the killer’s heinous crimes, I felt utter disgust and rage, and that's exactly what motivated me to keep watching — I was waiting to finally see him captured.
Despite being apprehended in the end, I was shocked at how Ramirez was able to repeatedly slip out of law enforcement’s grasps — he was able to flee on foot after being pulled over for driving recklessly and narrowly evades capture when a burglary alarm installed at his dentist’s office for notifying the police of his arrival fails to go off.
This documentary is truly riveting. Unlike previous documentaries about serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy, there isn’t a pattern behind Ramirez's gruesome crimes.
His unpredictability, combined with an unusual range of crimes including (but not restricted to) burglary, assaults, pedophilia, abductions and rapes at the hands of one man, distinguishes the Night Stalker from all other notorious serial killers. His incentives aren't evident and his victims are randomly selected.
Ramirez’s first identified crime was the shooting of 34-year-old Dayle Okazaki in her apartment. Although he originally intended on killing her roommate, Maria Hernandez, she managed to survive — Ramirez's bullet deflected off of her car keys, saving Hernandez's life. Okazaki, unfortunately, didn't survive.
Forty minutes later, Ramirez is shown dragging a young Asian girl out of her car and shoots her in the chest. His ruthlessness only escalates as the series unfolds.
Oftentimes, he committed multiple crimes in one night, in the same location or interspersed within Southern California. He preyed on children, the elderly, poor and rich, regardless of race or gender. Anyone could be a victim and this was particularly frightening for the residents of Los Angeles in 1985 who constantly wondered, “Am I next?”
Throughout the documentary, Ramirez's quotes were displayed on-screen in hot pink letters. Statements such as “I was in alliance with the evil that is inherent in human nature and that was who I was — walking death,” along with pentagram drawings he often left at crime scenes, affirm that Ramirez had a deep fascination with Satanism.
Yet, they provide little insight into the mind of the man described by victims as dingy with dark eyes, crooked teeth, a pungent odor and an evil aura.
It can be disappointing to some that the documentary didn't delve deeply into Ramirez’s background and upbringing, despite a brief mention of physical abuse by his father and his observance of a cousin murdering his wife at the age of 13.
Viewers are left to discover more about the Night Stalker outside the documentary, which devotes its focus to the notable detectives and their mission of tracking down Ramirez, as well as the victims whose lives he disrupted.
While it may not be a happy or feel-good watch, the docuseries brought a long-desired sense of warmth with its conclusion when Ramirez is beaten and subdued by the same local residents that lived terrorized daily by the news of his horrific atrocities. Through their combined efforts, the Night Stalker was finally captured and delivered to authorities.
If you have an appreciation for true crime documentaries and can endure the sickening details and frustrations attached with this one, this one is certainly is a must-see.