STORY- This limited docu-series tells the true story of how one of the most notorious serial killers in American history was hunted down and brought to justice.
REVIEW- In 1985, residents of the greater Los Angeles area found themselves under attack by a psychopath. Soon dubbed the “Night Stalker”. It turns out he had been active long before detectives first linked the random murders, sexual assaults, and kidnappings into a pattern of sorts; that realization only fueled hysteria, as one can imagine. Usually, a serial killer has a specific modus operandi that allows investigators to recognize his calling card. Not so here. In the new Netflix series Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, director Tiller Russell (Operation Odessa) expertly walks us through the gruesome facts of the murders and how the perpetrator was eventually caught.
Unfortunately, though Russell’s storytelling skills are as sharp as ever, the series format does not serve the narrative all that well. There’s not quite enough material here to warrant four approximately 45-minute episodes; it would be better to have but one 90-minute movie. With the decision to go for length, Russell and the company rely far too much on filler and drawn-out sequences. Bringing in copious background information on both the lead detectives and the killer’s victims that sometimes add intriguing details. But all too often bog down the narrative flow. The heavy-handed musical score does not help, either.
Leaving that significant criticism aside, what remains is still quite watchable. Thanks to now-retired detectives Gil Carillo and Frank Salerno, who worked the case. They make for highly engaging subjects, assisted by a bevy of fine additional interviewees, among them journalists, witnesses, and more. Step by step, little by little, they walk us through what happened, as they experienced it. And how they were able to winnow down their initial broad, desperate search to just one prime suspect. Russell even brings the former partners back together, throwing their present-day selves into an unmarked car so they can patrol the streets once more as a team, for effect.