WOLVES AT THE DOOR (October 22nd)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
There have been a lot of films about Charles Manson and his cult of loony followers over the years. Helter Skelter, Manson are a couple – and more recently we've had The Haunting of Sharon Tate and Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. We have also had a TV show too (Aquarius, starring David Duchovny). The Family were undoubtedly one of the kost famous and intriguing cults that have ever existed within North America and it seems that interest in them has been relatively high recently (three of the previous five examples were all released within the last four years). There is another Manson Family movie though that caused quite a stir upon it's release. That film is 'Wolves at the Door'.
Truth be told, I was actually looking for a different film when I landed on this. I remembered a film being described on The Shockwaves podcast a couple of years ago and thought I'd try and track it down. Thing is, I couldn't really remember what it was called although something told me it had 'wolves' in the title. I remember it being about a kid who has escaped a cult and who winds up in a a mansion, only for it to soon be besieged by masked cult members looking to apprehend him (or worse). So when 'Wolves at the Door' came up on Netflix I thought it might be the film I was thinking of*. It wasn't, but I thought that I'd watch it anyway.
The film claims to be 'loosely' based on the Celio Drive murders. I've read 'Helter Skelter' by Vincent Bugliosi so I am relatively familiar with Manson, his 'family' and the crimes they committed so I was rather baffled to basically see the exact story play out in front of my eyes. For those who aren't clued up with their serial killers, the Celio Drive murders involved four of Manson's cult invading the home of heavily pregnant actress Sharon Tate (Wife of Roman Polanski) and murdering her and three of her friends. It was a savage and heinous crime that shook Los Angeles and the county. The Events of Wolves at the Door are largely faithful to what happened (in terms f key events) and even the character names of the protagonists are the same as the Celio Drive victims. Indeed at the end of the film there is a minute or so where they reference the Manson cult and Charles Manson and refer to the victims by name. It's not loosely based on the murders, it is strictly based on those murders.
Ultimately this is the issue that most people have with it. It takes the Sharon Tate murders and plays with the details and translates it into a home invasion horror. It's a bit of a risky move by the film-makers as some of the relatives of the victims are still alive and might indeed be offended/upset by the decision to turn a tragic murder case into a derivative horror movie. I get that and agree with it to some extent. However I would say that using creative licence with real life murder cases is not a new thing. David Fincher's Zodiac, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, 10 Rillington Place and any number of Ted Bundy movies/TV adaptations have all done similar things, yet not received half the hatred that Wolves at the Door has.
The film itself is actually very short – only 72 minutes long. It's also got some very capable people involved. Director John R. Leonetti was the cinematographer on a number of the Waniverse movies and writer Gary Dauberman wrote the screenplay for both IT movies. To be fair to them the film is fine from a technical perspective. The build up and tension within the first forty minutes or so is moderately effective and the opening scene, although pointless, is pretty creepy too. Although we don't really see any of the killers close up, they are still rather unsettling. If you put sacks on their heads this could be a Strangers prequel or something. Katie Cassidy does a fine job playing Sharon and the others are all pretty decent too, especially Elisabeth Henstridge.
Mark Kermode called it the worst film he had seen in several years and called it crass, vile, boring and offensive and morally repugnant. I think a lot of his (and other people's) issues with it relate to the fact that it went back and forth before it's release on whether it was supposed to be an actual retelling of the Sharon Tate murder or if it was just something inspired by it. In the end what we got was something in between, which appears to have appeased no one and offended many.
*Turns out the film I was thinking of was 'Jackals'.