Netflix's Serial Killer Docuseries 'Night Stalker' Is Another True-Crime Nightmare

The crimes of Richard Ramirez get the Netflix treatment in this four-part docuseries that focuses on the cops more than the killer.


Though the number of serial murders committed in the United States have declined over the last three decades, the country’s pop-culture obsession with these grisly crimes has only deepened. Scrolling through Netflix, you’d think serial killers were still terrorizing the public and generating headlines with the same intensity they were in the ’70s and ’80s. In addition to producing two seasons of the David Fincher’s FBI profiler drama Mindhunter, which picked the brains of killers like Ed Kemper and Charles Manson, Netflix has buttressed its growing true-crime library with shows about figures like Ted Bundy and the Yorkshire Ripper. Night Stalker, a four-part account of the hunt for Richard Ramirez that debuted on the service this week, fits right into this streaming mood board of dread. 

From the opening, a jaunty montage of sunny Los Angeles set to Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” the docuseries attempts to frame Ramirez’s brutal killings in a way that turns the spotlight away from the killer himself. Occasionally, Ramirez’s ramblings will appear on screen in garish light purple text, evoking the heavy-metal-tinged “Satanic Panic” of the ’80s, but these creepy interjections are kept to a minimum. Instead, director Tiller Russell, who helmed last year’s Amazon-produced DEA docuseries The Last Cartel, emphasizes the struggles of the detectives investigating the case, the media frenzy around the events, and the haunting stories of the victims. It’s a largely admirable decision that can make for frustrating viewing.


Given the nature of the crimes, the violence described in Night Stalker is sickening. From June 1984 to August 1985, when he was captured by police, Ramirez, a 25-year-old with a fondness for AC/DC hats and Avia sneakers, killed at least 13 people in a crime spree that still defies easy categorization. He targeted the young and the old, men and women, and the range of his brutal methods made his behavior difficult to predict. The two cops assigned to work the case, Gil Carrillo and Frank Salerno, initially struggle to identify a pattern and then find themselves overwhelmed by the frequency of the killings. 

Though Night Stalker contains a number of talking-head interviews, Carrillo and Salerno quickly emerge as the stars of the series, which folds them into a familiar odd couple dynamic straight out of True Detective. Salerno, who worked Los Angeles’s Hillside Strangler case in the ’70s, is the grizzled older veteran and a rock star within the department. Carrillo, a cuddly screen presence as an older man, is the young rookie looking to make a name for himself with a theory that connects the recent slayings to a string of sexual assaults. While there’s a degree of self-mythologizing going on here, the series does an effective job of detailing the tedium of police work and the emotional strain of working such a demanding high-profile case.


Still, the filmmakers can’t resist the inherent lurid pull of the material. Some of the aesthetic choices, like the jarring cuts to grisly crime scene photos or the slow-motion reenactments of a bloody hammer falling to the ground, are too slick and derivative. Similarly, observations about how L.A. has a “dark side” don’t exactly land like lines of hard-boiled James Ellroy prose.

The tricky tonal balance between more straightforward journalism and stylish pulp comes with the territory. By keeping a tight focus on the tick-tock narrative, Night Stalker avoids making too many broad claims about the significance of the Ramirez crimes but it can also feel thematically scattered, particularly in the middle two episodes. 

There’s a fascinating undercurrent to the series about the way cases like this become political and cultural footballs. The internal turf wars between police departments in different cities, the managing of unsurprisingly delicate detective egos, and the interplay between scoop-chasing television reporters and the authorities all get mentioned and teased out at different points. In one of the most startling moments towards the end, Salerno discusses how Ramirez knew he worked the Strangler case and considered himself a “student” of other killers, suggesting a type of fan-driven feedback loop. But even at four-episodes, the show feels limited in its scope, content with rehashing old war stories instead of digging for more complicated truths. Need help finding something to watch? Sign up here for our weekly Streamail newsletter to get streaming recommendations delivered straight to your inbox.

Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He’s on Twitter @danielvjackson.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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