Netflix‘s buzzed-about docuseries “Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer” takes viewers back to the sweltering summer of 1985 and tells the true story of how one of the most notorious serial killers in American history was hunted down and brought to justice.
Richard Ramirez, also known as the “Night Stalker”, took the lives of 14 victims and sent the entire city of Los Angeles into a horrifying wild goose chase.
Bloody Disgusting’s The Boo Crew Podcast is joined by acclaimed filmmaker Tiller Russell on their latest episode to discuss the gripping story that’s told through the eyes of investigators, victims and their families.
It’s hard to deny how interesting true crime documentaries are, and yet it always festers within this writer as to the ethical boundaries in making one. Are the filmmakers profiting off the pain and suffering of the victims and their families? Are the stories being sensationalized for eyeballs? Do we even need this kind of “entertainment” in our lives? These kinds of events in history are so perplexing and so shocking that it’s hard to not want to know why.
Digressing, Russell talks to Boo Crew about the ethics behind making “Night Stalker” and how they approached doing so with sensitivity.
“Very early on, you have to ask yourself these ethical questions. ‘I don’t want to make Richard Ramirez a rock star…that we’re not going to do.’ How you do that then is [by] giving people the opportunity to tell their stories, particularly victims and survivors and family members,” explains Russell adding that “it’s so dehumanizing what happens oftentimes to these victims – where you’re a stat in somebody else’s murder spree and your entire life is reduced to that. It’s not even an obituary, it’s a line in somebody else’s.
“There’s this great sadness and resentment among people and families who get branded by that story,” he continues, explaining how they focused on bringing the victims to life. “We’re gonna tell victims’ stories…we want to bring the person to life, who they were before so you understand how impactful this was. I think this is why it was so captivating at the time as well as horrifying at the time… it could have been anybody.”
Ramirez’s killings were so randomized that it perplexed detectives. It was so unpredictable that it truly could have been anybody. In fact, there are still reminders of Ramirez’s killing spree cemented across Los Angeles.
“A crazy footnote to the story is the bars that are on the windows and the houses in [Los Angeles]… that began this summer because it was a hot summer and if you don’t have AC, you’re having to leave your windows open; so if you don’t want the Night Stalker to climb in, people [were] putting up bars. So to this day, all the bars that are over windows in LA are a product of the Night Stalker.”
One of the grossest aspects of the case were Ramirez groupies who were obsessed with him.
“It was so crazy. We really wrestled with this and reckoned with this quite a bit because that is true. That happened. This guy became a kind of international sex symbol and you can’t ignore that,” said Russell before diving into some theories from “forbidden fruit” to our worship of celebrity.
Interestingly, Ramirez is often cited as the end of the serial killer era. Russell believes these things are cyclical.
“I think these kinds of [things are sort of] cyclical and go in waves where there are periods and pockets of this that the culture… for whatever reason, there’s this cultural ferment, and then it explodes and then goes dormant again. It may be dormant but I doubt it’s gone.”
Listen to the entire episode below and check out “Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer” now streaming on Netflix.
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