Editor’s Note: The review contains a content warning for discussion of sexual assault, child abuse, and extreme violence.
“We’re all evil, in some form or another, are we not?”
Evil is a distinctly human trait. Acts of nature may bring devastation, the breakdown of machines can cause chaos, but only humans will look into the eyes of another and choose nihilistic, selfish destruction.
Director Tiller Russell’s new Netflix docu-series explores evil in one of its purest forms with NIGHT STALKER: HUNT FOR A SERIAL KILLER. Told through first-person narratives from law enforcement, news reporters, survivors, and their family, the series sketches out the hunt for one of America’s most notorious serial killers while painting the horrors of the case in vibrant, terrible color.
Much of the narrative follows Gil Carrillo, who was a brand new detective with Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department’s homicide division when he was assigned to investigate a brutal murder/attack in Rosemead, California. Even though the young detective was fresh to the job, he quickly proved his prowess when he was able to make associations between disparate crimes committed in the LA area more tenured police had missed. While the rest of the department was focused on the increasing instances of violent murder, Carillo noticed that a string of children who had reported sexual assault were describing the same perpetrator.
“When you look at the reports that the children gave, their descriptions were very similar. . . . my opinion, we had a serial killer that was responsible for kidnapping children, girls, boys, raping adult women, killing adult women, killing males. Not many people believed that, because we’ve never encountered anybody like that in criminal history.”
While most of the department dismissed Carrillo’s theory as ludicrous, legendary investigator Frank Salerno saw potential in the younger man. Before long, the two had become partners on the force and the lead investigators in what came to be called the Night Stalker murders.
Russell and his team have put together an impeccable piece of edu-tainment with NIGHT STALKER: HUNT FOR A SERIAL KILLER. The four-episode series continuously builds its suspense by working through the story chronologically, resisting the urge to deviate or jump forward in time. This choice forces viewers into the mystery and tension of every moment without reprieve.
Fans of the genre will appreciate the detailed descriptions from Carillo and Salerno as they take their interviewers through each new clue. When the duo discovers a pentagram painted on the wall of a crime scene in episode two, Salerno resists indulging in assumptions and instead guides the viewer through the myriad of potential significances the symbol might represent.
“Was he trying to leave us a message? Was he into Satanism? What is something he believed in? Was it something he practiced? Was he maybe copycatting Mason?”
True Crime docu-series have become a staple on streaming services. HBO’s The Vow and Heaven’s Gate: The Cult of Cults and Hulu’s The Act stands out as some recent critically lauded series. But no service has a corner on True Crime quite like Netflix. From The Staircase and Making a Murderer to Evil Genius and Wild, Wild Country, Netflix has consistently curated some of the most compelling stories of real-life cruelty, corruption, and sin.
With NIGHT STALKER: HUNT FOR A SERIAL KILLER, Netflix has shown that in 2021 they’re still the place for True Crime fans to see what’s next.
NIGHT STALKER: HUNT FOR A SERIAL will be released exclusively on Netflix on January 13, 2021.