A middle-aged couple awake to the sound of knocking. Upon investigating the sound, the man finds no one at the front door and returns to bed, unaware that the knocking was not coming from outside the house. What’s more, their night time visitor is not shy about making his presence known. And so goes the teeth-grindingly tense opening sequence of John R. Leonetti’s short, sharp shocker, which is a retelling of the Tate-LaBianca murders carried out by Charles Manson’s followers in LA on August 8th 1969, and it is that very night on which the remainder of the action takes place.
The film is an unusual take on the true-life stoy, presenting a pretty straight depiction of the events that took place, but with an approach more akin to The Strangers say, than previous screen incarnations. We get no backstory to the aggressors, who are frequently cloaked in shadow and utter barely any dialogue. The film instead relies on viewers’ existing knowledge of that night, trusting us to piece together who is who and fill out the bare bones plotting, and while comedic moments are in short supply, we also get a few subtle easter eggs for clued-up viewers. For those unfamiliar with the film’s true life basis however, it will work just as well as an intense, effective home invasioner, housing its tale within a simple, slasher framework.
As you’d imagine from its Summer of Love setting, the film has a great soundtrack (featuring the likes of The Zombies and Tommy James & The Shondells), but Leonetti’s greater weapons are silence and stillness. Tiny movements within the frame seem colossal, and singular sounds (taps, scrapes) feel deafening. The director also doesn’t resort to jump scares, instead building fear with the killers’ constant presence, glimpsed through windows and in car headlights.
Clocking in at under 70 minutes, Wolves at the Door wastes no time with unnecessary contextualisation and backstory, and is as effective as another telling of the events that befell Sharon Tate and her houseguests that night as it is a tight-as-a-guitar string shocker. This is Leonetti’s best film by a country mile, and proof that he’d do well to leave behind the popcorn horror for which he is better known.
Reviewed by: Kevan Farrow