Director – John R. Leonetti, Screenplay – Gary Dauberman, Producer – Peter Safran, Photography – Michael St. Hilaire, Music – Toby Chu, Visual Effects – Fuse FX, Special Effects Supervisor – John Carlucci, Production Design – Bob Ziembicki. Production Company – Safran Company.
Katie Cassidy (Sharon Tate), Elizabeth Henstridge (Abigail Folger), Adam Campbell (Wojciech Frykowski), Miles Fisher (Jay Sebring), Lucas Adams (Steve Parent), Spencer Daniels (William Garrelson), Chris Mulkey (John), Jane Kaczmarek (Mary), Eric Ladin (Detective Clarkin)
On August 8, 1969, actress Sharon Tate, who is several months pregnant, is relaxing at her L.A. home along with her friend Abigail Folger, Abigail’s boyfriend Wojciech and Sharon’s ex Jay Sebring. They begin to hear strange noises around the house as they then become the victims of a brutal home invasion.
Charles Manson is a name that lives in notoriety. Manson was a petty criminal who had served jail time for a variety of offences including armed robbery. He was hanging around L.A. with ambitions of making it as a musician. In 1968, Manson and the group of primarily female followers located to the Spahn Ranch near L.A.’s Topanga Canyon. From there, Manson began to preach his ideas of a coming race war he called Helter Skelter where he claimed to be led by hidden symbolism in lyrics by The Beatles. In 1969, Manson directed Tex Watson and three of his girls to the former house of record producer Terry Melcher where they murdered the pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four friends, while on the following night they killed grocery store owner Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary. In 1971, Manson and five followers were convicted to life sentences. Manson died in prison at the age of 83 in 2017.
There have been a number of Manson-based works over the years including the tv mini-series Helter Skelter (1976) with Steve Railsback as Manson; the film The Manson Family (2003); the tv mini-series remake of Helter Skelter (2004) with Jeremy Davies as Manson; Live Freaky! Die Freaky! (2006), a satirical Claymation retelling; Leslie, My Name is Evil (2009), which focuses on the Manson Girls; the low-budget House of Manson (2014); Charlie Says (2018) with Matt Smith as Manson; The Last of the Manson Girls (2018); the bizarre The Haunting of Sharon Tate (2019) based around Sharon Tate supposed precognition of the murders; the cheap The Manson Family Massacre (2019); Quentin Tarantino’s alternate retelling Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019); and the documentary tv mini-series Helter Skelter: An American Myth (2020).
Wolves at the Door comes from John R. Leonetti, a former cinematographer who branched out as a director and for a time seemed to specialise in sequels to other people’s films with the likes of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997), The Butterfly Effect 2 (2006) and Annabelle (2014), although he did eventually start into original material with the likes of Wish Upon (2017), The Silence (2019) and Lullaby (2022). Gary Dauberman is a screenwriter who wrote Annabelle and other works like Crawlspace (2016), It (2017), The Nun (2018), The Cabin House (2019), The Dark Side (2019) and created the short-lived Swamp Thing (2019) tv series. Dauberman made his directorial debut with Annabelle Comes Home (2019) followed by the remake of Salem’s Lot (2022).
With Wolves at the Door, Leonetti and Dauberman make another variant on the Manson Family killings. In this case, their focus is on the Tate-Folger-Sebring-Frykowski murders. The entire incident is seen through the four victims’ eyes on the last evening they had together. In fact, Tate, Folger et al become so much the focus of the film that the members of the Manson Family are barely seen.
Indeed, what we have now plays out less as a film about the activities of a Cult and more as a Home Invasion thriller. The members of The Family are only seen as shadowy peripheral figures lurking around the property. The way the film has them popping up in the background, it feels more like are watching Michael Myers in Halloween (1978) or one of its sequels. In reality, the invasion of Cielo Drive gave all the impression that the incident was over and done with in a relatively short time, whereas the film has the Manson group staking the property out and the murders dragged out for several hours.
Leonetti and Dauberman do depict many of the details of the real incident – the cutting of the phone lines; Steve Parent being attacked in the driveway; William Garrelson listening to music on his headphones all night and hearing nothing, the various stabbings. On the other hand, there are many aspects that are not depicted as they happened – the film has the word ‘pig’ written on the outside of the house before the murders whereas in reality it was written inside and had to have been after the murders for the simple reason that it was written in the victims’ blood.
Abigail and Wojciech are stabbed in roughly the same places they were in reality but the film has them stabbed only a couple of times whereas Abigail was stabbed 28 times and Wojciech 51 times. There is also nothing of the attempts to hang Sharon and Wojciech pleading to spare Sharon’s baby, nor of Folger going to give them money from her purse. Equally, Leonetti seems only minimally interested in the 1960s period and makes little effort to replicate this beyond some of the clothing. The film could be taking place contemporarily if you did not know otherwise. This makes it one of the more negligible treatments of the Manson story.