Along with four other young guests at her home, Sharon Tate Polanski was murdered shortly after midnight on the 8th of August 1969, two weeks from full term in her pregnancy with film director Roman Polanski’s son, and for no immediately discernible reason. The five had been, in fact, the victims of Charles Manson’s “Family”, as part of the cult’s plot to seed social mayhem and subsequently inherit the Earth. The incident is infamous not just for the sheer horror of what happened – especially in Tate’s case – or for the light it shed on the post-“Summer of Love” attitude to free thinking, but also because of certain changes in American victims’ rights legislation that were later brought about thanks to pressure from Tate’s mother.
We tell you this because, other than in the form of a handful of caption slides at the end of the film, Wolves at the Door doesn’t bother explaining any of the background to or consequences of the events it portrays. With the Tate murders evidently something of a passion of director Leonetti, this is a very professionally executed but extremely shallow presentation of the incident – shallow enough it makes you wonder why he bothered. There is without question a very interesting drama to be made about the night of August 8th – about how Polanski had been delayed in London preventing him from being present, about how Tate’s sisters might have easily also become victims of the crime, and of course about Manson and his acolytes’ motivations and intentions – but Leonetti’s film is a very singular vision, almost literally restricting itself to placing four people in a building and terrorising the hell out of them.
By choosing to show none of the perpetrators except in shadow and silhouette, the only clue an uninformed audience can glean about the coming horrors is from a brief but effective prologue concerning the spate of inexplicable break-ins plaguing Los Angeles during the summer of 1969. Once a state of imbalance has been established, Leonetti shamefully briefly introduces his protagonists and almost immediately has them under attack.
What follows is impressively shot, edited and scored, but demonstrates not only a lapse in judgement about what makes the incident interesting, but also a lapse in taste about what makes a film worthwhile. In making the Family members an empty space and by giving Tate and her friends little in the way of backstory, Leonetti essentially creates a video game scenario, wherein the viewer is invited to hunt the pregnant woman down and cruelly murder both her and her child, as well as her four companions. This is the worst kind of terror pornography, betraying Leonetti’s fascination with the murders as superficial and troubling.
WOLVES AT THE DOOR / CERT: 15 (TBC) / DIRECTOR: JOHN R. LEONETTI / SCREENPLAY: GARY DAUBERMAN / STARRING: KATIE CASSIDY, ELIZABETH HENSTRIDGE, ADAM CAMPBELL, MILES FISHER / RELEASE DATE: 24TH JULY