If we were to ask what Netflix does best, most likely, we would all unanimously say documentaries. Whether it’s documentary films or series, their projects are all exquisite. We haven’t even finished the first month of 2021, and Netflix has already released two fantastic documentaries. “Crack: Cocaine, Corruption & Conspiracy” is the first one, and “Night Stalker” is the second. Netflix, which generally chooses crime-related topics for documentaries, selected the story of a killer who once caused people in Los Angeles to lose sleep for an entire year. The world may not have heard much about the Night Stalker, but this name is chilling to every American who knows it, sending shivers down their spines.
Let’s briefly touch upon the subject of the documentary… On April 10, 1984, 9-year-old Mei Leung was found dead. Following Mei’s murder, a series of unsolved deaths began. The killings continued until the killer was finally caught on August 31, 1985. The police struggled greatly to apprehend the killer because he had a distinguishing feature that set him apart from others: He had no identifiable characteristics. The killer’s modus operandi did not adhere to any patterns. Sometimes he killed children, sometimes the elderly, sometimes women, and sometimes men. He also used different weapons each time. Only one clue could potentially identify the killer: his shoes. Unfortunately, even that proved to be of little use. During this period, the killer attacked 18 different people, keeping all of Los Angeles on edge for months due to his unpredictability.
The documentary features journalists from that era, the police officers involved in the case, and survivors who managed to escape the killer as speakers. However, the story mainly unfolds through the perspectives of Gil Carillo and Frank Salerno, who have followed the case since day one. The series is divided into five episodes, each taking the tension to a higher level as it explores the emergence of the killer, the increasing number of cases, the process of collecting evidence, the time of panic, and the process of capture. From its storytelling to editing, the documentary is one of the best technical works that Netflix has produced. Americans, especially critics, didn’t appreciate the documentary as much. Perhaps because they experienced those times firsthand, they haven’t encountered a documentary as impactful as this one. That’s quite normal. However, the documentary will certainly be captivating for someone who hasn’t lived in America.
Now that I have roughly explained the documentary, I would like to present two analyses in the next paragraph. Author Şafak Altun discusses the Devil Effect and the Screen Effect in his book “Ferrari’yi Çalan Fil” (The Elephant Who Stole the Ferrari). The Devil Effect suggests that humans are inherently evil. In fact, they are inherently flawed. When given the opportunity and under suitable conditions, the human being can do anything. Individuals spend their lives trying to civilize themselves and suppress and purify the evil within them. I also share the same belief. We are all inherently inclined towards malice, but the education we receive and what we are taught, as well as what we witness and experience, determine the kind of person we become. People who could be described as kind neighbors can turn out to be killers. The person we know who used to feed cats can turn out to be a maniac. The Devil Effect emphasizes that evil comes from within, not from appearances, and it takes shape depending on the circumstances.
There is also the Screen Effect. It is one of the most fascinating theories. We can also call it the Television Effect. You can easily observe this effect on various television channels in many countries worldwide. Many cold-blooded killers who have no qualms about stealing from their own families, commit acts of harassment, rape, and even murder without any shame, and who manage to avoid getting caught, suddenly start to boast like nightingales when they appear on television. The killer whom the police couldn’t apprehend for days can now proudly showcase how he killed. The killer who remained silent during weeks of investigations can come to the studio and vividly describe every detail of what happened in front of or behind the camera. What is being implied here is that even killers have a desire to become famous, which brings us to the connection between these two effects and our documentary.
The killer Richard Ramirez is one of those individuals we can consider as born killers. If you have seen “Natural Born Killers,” our killer is no different from the duo in the film. He is a killer, a pervert, a madman, and someone who takes pleasure in these acts. The result that emerged from the first murder cases was that Ramirez enjoyed killing and didn’t require a specific pattern; in other words, he had an obsessive degree of deviance. Most serial killers follow certain patterns, whether they are aware of it or not. If you have watched the series “Mindhunters,” you will understand what I mean. Many killers have been captured based on the paths they followed, deduced through mathematical analysis. They have obsessions and seek out individuals who fit their obsessions to kill them individually. However, Ramirez is not one of them. Ramirez acts entirely spontaneously. In fact, the documentary does not contain a single sentence about how he selected his victims because it is not known. The reason is quite simple: Ramirez is a born killer. He hasn’t suppressed the evil within him, and he even derives great pleasure from being such a person.
I would like to provide an excellent example from the anime “Psycho-Pass.” The anime has a structure similar to Steven Spielberg’s film “Minority Report.” In the anime, before a crime is committed, the police receive a notification, and the killer is apprehended before they can carry out the crime. In “Minority Report,” the killers were captured by psychics. In the world of “Psycho-Pass,” people are monitored by cameras, and if there is a potential increase in stress, information is sent to the police, and they intervene at that point. In other words, the system in the anime can determine whether you are inclined toward becoming a killer based on changes in your chemical composition. However, they cannot seem to capture the main antagonist of the anime, Shogo. This is because Shogo is inherently evil and does not experience stress or changes in his body chemistry when killing. Just as your body reacts when you add sugar to your tea, killing is a mundane act for Shogo. The most ironic part of the anime is that individuals cannot be officially apprehended unless the system says “capture.”
Now let’s talk about Ramirez, who is no different from Shogo. He was also a born killer, and taking lives was a pleasure for him. Until the case grew and the incident gained media attention. When the killer appeared on television and was dubbed as “Night Stalker,” Ramirez’s entire demeanor changed. His chemistry was disrupted. Over time, he started playing to the cameras. Ramirez, who left no traces at the crime scenes, began sending messages, making himself known, and stubbornly displaying his satanic beliefs. He enjoyed the fact that the entire America was following him so much that he began turning his murders into a spectacle. Even a born killer succumbed to the power of television. When Ramirez was captured as a killer, he eventually became a superstar. Letters from women who wanted to sleep with him, television news, journalists—Ramirez’s attitude changed. The man who had trouble putting two words together shifted to a demeanor reminiscent of Iggy Pop, sliding his glasses and putting on a satanic show, while the trial was ongoing.
“Night Stalker” is, of course, a documentary about a killer, but it also serves as a beautiful example of how powerful the media can be. If you have seen the film “Zodiac,” you know about the killers’ desire for fame. Many people choose to become killers in order to become famous. Ramirez, on the other hand, chose to become famous after becoming a killer. In the first three episodes of the documentary, he was an unpredictable killer, but in the last two episodes, he transformed into a superstar playing to the cameras. Here, I would like to ask you a question: Perhaps television has become a tool for capturing killers; what do you think? Maybe this is now a kind of practice. We don’t encounter serial killers as much as before. If you become a killer today, you will be captured the next day because of surveillance. We don’t have a “Psycho-Pass” universe, but hardly any streets without cameras exist. However, if a serial killer emerges again one day, the best thing to do to apprehend them might be to put them on television and make them famous. Many countries already have television shows that implement this. Every year, plenty of killers willingly appear on television to try to make themselves famous. We watch them and applaud them.
Cast & Crew
director: Tiller Russell, James Carroll
writers: Lee Cronin
starring: Gil Carrillo, Frank Salerno
USA | 2021 | 5 EPISODES |