Dave is riveted by one of the best small screen serial killer flicks of the ‘90s.
When the interns of network television executives would trawl America’s newspapers, desperate to find something to satiate the public’s seemingly insatiable hunger for the next good serial killer story, they often laid the foundations for a number of fascinating character studies.
IN THE COMPANY OF DARKNESS is unquestionably top tier.
As with all of these dark journeys into the minds of mixed-up individuals, the reality that forms the backdrop to the fiction charts a heinous history:
A resident of the sleepy community of Belmont in the San Francisco Peninsula, Jon Scott Dunkle began preying on teenage boys in the early ‘80s, eventually going on to murder fifteen year-old John Davies, and the twelve year-old Lance Turner and Sean Dannehl. Arrested in ‘85 and sentenced to death in ‘89, Dunkle’s appalling crimes were coaxed out of him through the determination of an undercover cop, Lisa Thomas. Planted in the same fast food joint that Dunkle was already working in, Thomas wore a wire and eventually became the fiend’s drinking buddy, earning his trust week by week until he confessed to everything.
For this CBS flick, Lisa Thomas becomes Gina Pulasky (Helen Hunt): a rookie on the force, but one who shows a steely desire to get the job done. Her resolution of a dangerous domestic confrontation raises her profile, and before long, she’s handpicked to nail Dunkle (portrayed brilliantly by Steven Weber).
Hunt is stunning in the role. Arguably one of her finest dramatic performances, she brings a real complexity to Gina; a principled person yet one prone to whims of jeopardy. Highlighting this is Gina’s on/off relationship with her supervisor, Will McCaid (Jeff Fahey). Confronting him with “You have a wife and two kids. How come you’re coming after me?” but capitulating to his advances with the promise of apple pie à la mode, Gina is an enthralling contradiction, locked away in a childhood that hides the bulk of her insecurity.
Screenwriter John Leekley started in television by penning and producing acclaimed Civil War miniseries The Blue and the Gray (1982) before going on to tackle episodes of Miami Vice and Nightmare Café. The dialogue that he’s written for In the Company of Darkness is nothing short of phenomenal. There’s a bite to it that’s rarely seen in the world of TV movies, with a tone, structure, and conversational overlap that belies so many of its more stilted peers. In my notes I commented on how the procedural aspect must have been influenced by the intensity of Paul Attanasio’s discourse on Homicide: Life on the Street — but Leekley’s picture beat the acclaimed TV show to air by three weeks.
Having said that, with a three year stint on Hill Street Blues under his belt, director David Anspaugh was no stranger to crime stories, even if it was his first feature, sports drama Hoosiers (1986), that cemented his legendary status . Cinematographer Sandi Sissel (Full Eclipse (1993)) moves her camera with urgency and keeps the light low for interiors. Unexpectedly, the film also marks the debut of The Don Johnson Company ident: the Miami Vice star produced In the Company of Darkness for CBS.
USA ● 1993 ● Drama, TVM ● 90mins
Helen Hunt, Steven Weber, Jeff Fahey, Juan Ramirez, Dan Conway ● Dir. David Anspaugh ● Wri. John Leekley
 Lightning very nearly struck twice with the similarly excellent football biopic, Rudy (1993), seven years later.
2 thoughts on “Kiss Me a Killer: In the Company of Darkness (1993)”
Have been hunting for this movie for a number of years to add to my extensive Jeff Fahey collection. Great to read a thorough, modern day review for it. Ta.
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Hey Gareth, thanks for checking this article out. I really hope you manage to find that elusive copy of it. Jeff is a great addition to any film!