Helter Skelter (1976 film)
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DVD cover of Helter Skelter
|Based on||Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi|
|Screenplay by||JP Miller|
|Directed by||Tom Gries|
|Theme music composer||Billy Goldenberg|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||2|
|Editor(s)||Byron "Buzz" Brandt|
Bud S. Isaacs
|Running time||194 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Lorimar Television|
|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 cinemas, with additional footage including nudity, language and more violence.
The movie is based on 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 home of victims Rosemary and Leno LaBianca. It recounts the murders Manson committed, the investigation, and the 1970-71 trial, in which prosecutor Vincent 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 Mini-series Teleplay.
William Garrison is arrested following the discovery of the bodies of Sharon Tate and her guests at her home but is released three days later for lack of evidence. The police are unwilling to connect the Tate killings to the Hinman murder and LaBianca killings, despite the similarities of the crime scenes including writing in blood on the walls, and instead pursue a drug-related angle for the Tate killings.
The police raid Spahn Ranch in an attempt to break up an auto theft ring and arrest Manson and his gang. 9-year-old "Steven Quint" (based on 10-year-old Steven Weiss) discovers a gun and his father turns it over to the police, where it is ignored. The Manson Family is released from prison and later two girls fleeing from Death Valley, "Stephanie Mark" (based on Stephanie Schram) and Kitty Lutesinger, tell police that the Manson Family has moved to Barker Ranch and that Susan Atkins was involved in the Hinman murder. Susan is arrested and reveals to her fellow inmate Ronnie Howard that she also killed Sharon Tate and was involved in eleven other killings.
Los Angeles District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi interviews Danny DeCarlo, who gives a tour of Spahn Ranch and says that Manson had a .22 caliber Buntline revolver matching that used in the murders. Ronnie Howard calls the homicide division and tells them what Susan confessed to her. Bugliosi requests bail to be set high for Manson's trial for burning municipal earthmoving equipment in order to give him time to get evidence for the grand jury for the murders.
Bugliosi interviews the Manson Girls and obtains arrest warrants for participants in the killings. Linda Kasabian turns herself in on the warrant while the fingerprints of Tex Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel are matched to those found at the Tate residence. During the grand jury proceedings, Susan gives all of the details of the Tate and LaBianca killings. As a result, Susan, Leslie Van Houten, Tex, Patricia, Linda, and Manson are all brought up on charges.
Reporters for ABC News attempting to retrace the events crime as reported in the newspaper find where the bloody clothes from the murders have been discarded. Steven's father calls to ask about the .22 revolver, but the police tell him that they don't have time for him and hang up on him. He tells the story to the news in order to embarrass the investigators. Bugliosi uses ballistics testing to link the gun to the one used on Sebring.
Manson chooses to represent himself at trial and Bugliosi tricks Manson into requesting more time, thus also giving himself more time to put a stronger case together. Bugliosi interviews former Manson Family member Paul Watkins, who explains Manson's views that the Beatles are sending him messages to spark a race war dubbed "Helter Skelter".
During the trial, testimony is heard from Linda Kasabian regarding the Tate and LaBianca murders despite repeated objections from the counsel for the defense. At one point Manson leaps at the judge but is subdued. He demands to give testimony, much of which works to his disadvantage. Due to their continuous disruptions, the defendants are ordered out of the courtroom during the closing arguments. Ultimately all of the defendants are sentenced to death but California later eliminates the death penalty in 1972, making the convicts eligible to apply for parole in the future.
- George DiCenzo as Vincent Bugliosi
- Steve Railsback as Charles Manson
- Nancy Wolfe as Susan Atkins
- Marilyn Burns as Linda Kasabian
- Christina Hart as Patricia Krenwinkel
- Cathey Paine as Leslie Van Houten
- Alan Oppenheimer as Aaron Stovitz
- Sondra Blake as Ronnie Howard
- Rudy Ramos as Danny DeCarlo
- Jon Gries as William Garretson
- Skip Homeier as Judge Charles H. Older
- Marc Alaimo as Phil Cohen
- Paul Mantee as Sergeant O'Neal
- David Clennon as Harry Jones
- Eileen Dietz as Family Girl
- Carole Ita White as Big Sal
- Larry Pennell as Sergeant White
- Bruce French as Officer Ocher
- Howard Caine as Everett Scoville
- Adam Williams as Terrence Milik
- Jonathan Goldsmith as Hank Charter
- Robert Ito as Drees Darrin
- Bart Braverman as George Brewer
- Ray Middleton as Mr. Spahn
The first part of the film premiered on CBS on Thursday, April 1, 1976 with a Nielsen rating of 35.2 and an audience share of 57%, making it the most watched made-for-TV movie ever surpassing 1972's The Night Stalker. The concluding part aired the following night and had an ever better rating of 37.5 and an audience share of 60%.
The average household share of 36.5 was eclipsed the following year by Little Ladies of the Night but the 37.5 rating for the concluding part was not eclipsed by a made-for-TV movie until 1983's The Day After.
Awards and nominations
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1977 Emmy Awards
- 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
Edgar Allan Poe Awards
- Won, Best Television Feature or Miniseries – J.P. Miller
- "Hit Movies on U.S. TV Since 1961". Variety. January 24, 1990. p. 160.
- The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-Present. Ballantine Books. 2003. p. 805. ISBN 0-345-45542-8.
- "Helter Skelter (1976) - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.com. Flixer. Retrieved 18 May 2018.