With the title being what it is, I should have expected more of a focus on the investigations that led to the ultimate arrest and conviction of Richard Ramirez. They say it right there in the title, “The Hunt for a Serial Killer.” It was still disappointing to see what the documentary turned out to be.
Ramirez is one of the more fascinating characters from the annals of American serial killers, so it stood to reason they might have spent a bit more time focusing on who Ramirez was and what he did. Instead, I ended up sitting through three hours of police hero worship. Strangely, I would have preferred if it had been three hours of that bizarre hero worship that some people devote to serial killers…it would have been far more interesting, at the very least…also a touch more disturbing.
Some elements of the investigation were interesting enough, but certainly not sufficiently captivating to keep me from wanting to stop wasting my time at various points. The crime scene photos were largely things I’d been familiar with from various books and other documentaries over the years, as were many of the first-hand accounts from surviving victims and those who were close to the victims who were not so lucky. There wasn’t much by way of new material being covered with respect to Ramirez himself or the things he did.
There was one point in this circle jerk of police aggrandizement when a detective admits to punching a known acquaintance of Ramirez in the face, being mocked for the weakness of the blow, and when the officer threatens to punch the individual again he cowers and gives up what he knows. I don’t believe that account from the officer. I suspect what really happened is far more sinister and far less in accordance with proper behavior of police officers. My assumption is that the detective withdrew his sidearm and threatened to shoot Ramirez’s acquaintance after learning that he–as Robert De Niro in Raging Bull might have put it–throws a punch like he takes it up the ass and that his machismo and badge simply weren’t enough to get his way. That is, of course, just my impression of the segment in question. I could be wrong, but the story told by the detective simply wasn’t internally consistent and didn’t ring true at all.
The one thing I can say about Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer is that it does reaffirm my contempt for Dianne Feinstein. How she handled things as Mayor of San Francisco was short-sighted and counterproductive. Her actions may have directly led to Ramirez avoiding capture long enough to ruin more lives. How she continued being voted for after that boggles my mind.
I can’t say that I’d ever be able to recommend this documentary to anyone. It’s tedious, sometimes mind-numbingly boring, and nowhere near as shocking or graphic as I was led to believe. It’s heavy handed in its overwhelmingly favorable depiction of law enforcement and largely neglects to tread any new ground.