Television puts a face on evil this week, and it’s Brian Dennehy’s. He is convincingly menacing and maniacal as serial murderer John Wayne Gacy in the two-part “To Catch a Killer,” airing at 8 tonight and Thursday night on KTLA-TV Channel 5.
The murders of 33 male teens in suburban Chicago are attributed to Gacy, who is currently on Death Row at the Illinois State Penitentiary. His grisly method of operation was to imprison and sexually assault his victims in his Des Plaines home before killing them.
This 1991 Canadian production is a cop’s-eye view, with Jud Kinberg’s script telling the chilling Gacy story from the perspective of Joe Kozenczak (Michael Riley), a Des Plaines police lieutenant. Kozenczak is depicted here as heroically cracking the case with a pugnacious investigation that included having Gacy under close surveillance around the clock.
Kinberg’s approach is formulaic: Kozenczak is hounded by city hall and resisted by his own men, who resent his hard-driving methods. Yet ultimately he wins their respect and loyalty. Meanwhile, his preoccupation with the Gacy case proves costly on the home front, where his neglect of his teen-age son causes grief.
Although giving us someone to admire and helping to fill the four hours, these side trips into Kozenczak’s personal life cost “To Catch a Killer” momentum.
Nevertheless, director Eric Till knows how to wring suspense from even a long and rambling crime story, and “To Catch a Killer” also benefits from strong performances by Riley, Margot Kidder in a small role as a psychic, and especially the hulking Dennehy as the arrogant, brazen Gacy.