'Night Stalker': Police odd couples, territory and satanic oaths
Netflix's new adaptation of the Richard Ramirez crimes that shocked L.A. in the 1980s stands out as an homage to the police that pursued him.
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The docu-series about the terrible crimes of Richard Ramirez released by Netflix in January features four episodes following a story designed for true crime lovers.
Ramirez, better known as "Night Stalker," shocked California in the 80s with a trail of homicides, pederasty and cheap Satanism. In October 1989, he was sentenced to his death for 14 murders, five attempted murders, nine rapes, two kidnappings and 14 home invasions.
His notorious story has been adapted before (The Night Stalker, 1986, Manhunt: Search for the Night Stalker, 1989, Nightstalker, 2002) but this time, director Tiller Russell (Operation Odessa, The Seven Five) and writer and historian James Carroll are in charge of giving it shape. His figure is part of the popular imaginary of serial killers and his name is mentioned in songs and pop products.
Ramirez, with a long history of domestic violence, died of liver failure in prison after 23 years on death row.
Although it is being presented as a dramatization, reviews in other media say its strength lies in the prominence of detectives Frank Salerno (previously known for solving the crimes of the Hillside Strangler) and Gil Carrillo. Many may be particularly struck by Carrillo's background and the complexities of his rise to detective.
Carrillo was the son of Mexicans who, while only 17 years old, enlisted in the army to escape the streets. His commitment to being the first in his family to go to college and to rise through the ranks of the police force is commendable, as is the struggle against prejudice within the force that surfaces in the docu-series.
Especially relevant in the end is his close relationship with the Mexican-American community, where he was known as "El Cucui," and the humble friendships he gains for helping solve such a macabre crime.
In exploring these relationships between the detective and community that the docu-series removes itself from the norms of the genre. The same happens at its start, when the narrator addresses the stifling heat of L.A. and the new freeway design giving the hope for the future of the region. Later, the show delves into community relations and the role of other Mexican-Americans such as TV host Tony Valdes.
The show also focuses on the curious couple of Salerno and Carrillo as the show falls into the same old cop drama tropes.
"There has never been such a case documented," the inspectors say on several occasions. Nor has a city like L.A., which not only has numerous cultural systems and three jurisdictions, ever been completely documented.
All of these opportunities are squandered. To confront the intellectual idolization of murderers and rapists rather than showing the numerous mistakes of third-rate cops. It would have been simpler to take a more literary line that does not only focus on protagonists and victims.
Moreover, the police force once again plays at pontificating on perversions and sexual deviations — a reduction of this class of criminals that is part of the game of fear and how cases like Ramirez's become urban myths. His Satanism was, at its core, macabre pop marketing that functioned and survives as a low-intensity urban terrorism.
In other words, Carrillo deserved a docu-series on his entire career.