(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Series: Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: It’s a true crime series about the police detectives who were tasked with solving the case of the notorious Night Stalker (real name: Richard Ramirez) in 1970s and ’80s Los Angeles.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: It’s a well-structured and well-paced documentary series that does not overstay its welcome. If you’ve watched just about anything on Netflix, you know how often stories can be dragged out – often feeling like they’re just treading water to kill time or create filler. There’s none of that here: Night Stalker is only four episodes, and for the most part, it feels like you learn just about everything you need to know about this case.
The show follows Gil Carillo and Frank Salerno, two L.A. County Sheriff’s Department detectives who are partnered up and find themselves hunting down a man who commits some of the most heinous crimes on the books. Whereas many killers have a clear “type” of person they pursue, Richard Rodriguez assaulted, molested, and/or murdered his targets seemingly at random – and as the documentary details, communication problems between law enforcement agencies resulted in additional needless deaths.
While edging into sensationalistic territory at times (a blood-covered hammer spinning in slow motion is the nadir), this series admittedly takes a pretty cool approach to depicting crime scenes that I haven’t quite seen before. In addition to showing us old Polaroids from police archives, the documentary also recreates most of the crime scenes in hyper-detailed CGI, allowing a virtual camera to zoom through the location and orient the viewer in a way that the 2D photos can’t always provide.
While the majority of the show is focused on these two detectives who were tracking the case, without spoiling anything I’ll say that there’s a community aspect to this, too, one that helps Los Angeles feel like a living, breathing place instead of a faceless backdrop for horrific crime. There are a few more little quibbles (you can hear me talk more about this on our most recent Water Cooler episode of /Film Daily), but overall, there’s a lot to recommend here if you like true crime stories and aren’t already overly familiar with the details of the Rodriguez case.
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Author: Ben Pearson
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February 1, 2021