Helter Skelter (1976 film)

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Helter Skelter
Helter Skelter (1976 film).jpg
DVD cover of Helter Skelter
Genre Crime
Based on Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi
Curt Gentry
Screenplay by JP Miller
Directed by Tom Gries
Starring George DiCenzo
Steve Railsback
Nancy Wolfe
Marilyn Burns
Christina Hart
Cathey Paine
Alan Oppenheimer
Read Morgan
Theme music composer Billy Goldenberg
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of episodes 2
Producer(s) Philip Capice
Lee Rich
Cinematography Jules Brenner
Editor(s) Byron 'Buzz' Brandt
Bud S. Isaacs
Running time 194 minutes
Production company(s) Lorimar Television
Original network CBS
Original release April 1 – April 2, 1976

Helter Skelter is a 1976 television film based on the 1974 book by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry. In the United States, it aired over two nights. In some countries it was shown in theaters with additional footage (nudity, language and more violence).

The movie is based upon the murders committed by the Charles Manson Family. The best-known victim was actress Sharon Tate. The title was taken from the Beatles' song of the same name. According to the theory put forward by the prosecution, Manson used the term for an anticipated race war, and "healter skelter" [sic] was scrawled in blood on the refrigerator door at the house of one of the victims. It recounts the murders Manson committed, the investigation, and the 1970-71 trial where prosecuting D.A. Bugliosi attempted to draw connections between the Manson family and his violent convictions.

The 1976 film, directed by Tom Gries, stars Steve Railsback as Manson and George DiCenzo as Bugliosi. Writer JP Miller received a 1977 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best TV Feature or MiniSeries Teleplay.

In 2004, the book was adapted for a second made-for-TV movie, written and directed by John Gray and featuring Jeremy Davies as Manson.


The movie depicts the murder trial of one of the most notorious serial killers of the 1960s, Charles Manson, the crimes he committed in 1969 and the attempt to convict him, as worked on by Los Angeles District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi.


Broadcast history[edit]

The film premiered with a household share of 36.5, ranking it the 16th highest rated movie to air on network television.[1]


On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 100% based on 11 reviews, with a weighted average rating of 7.3/10.[2] Maitland McDonagh from TV Guide felt that Gray's aim to "downplay the procedural elements and shine a light into the darkest corners of Manson's charismatic lunacy" made the film lose sight of the big picture in the process.[3]

Awards and nominations[edit]

1977 Emmy Awards[edit]

  • Nominated, Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for a Special (Dramatic Underscore) – Billy Goldenberg
  • Nominated, Outstanding Directing in a Special Program - Drama or Comedy – Tom Gries
  • Nominated, Outstanding Film Editing for a Special – Byron Brandt, Bud S. Isaacs

Directors Guild of America[edit]

  • Nominated, Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Specials/Movies for TV/Actuality – Daniel Petrie

Edgar Allan Poe Awards[edit]

  • Won, Best Television Feature or Miniseries – J.P. Miller

External links[edit]


  1. ^ The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. p. 805. ISBN 0-345-45542-8. 
  2. ^ "Helter Skelter (1976) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Flixer. Retrieved 18 May 2018. 
  3. ^ McDonagh, Maitland. "Helter Skelter - Movie Reviews and Movie Ratings". TV Guide. Maitland McDonagh. Retrieved 18 May 2018.