Grindhouse Classics : “The Love-Thrill Murders” (a.k.a. “Sweet Savior”)

Posted: March 10, 2013 in movies
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You honestly have to wonder — what would low-rent exploitation producers have done in the early 1970s without Charles Manson? Cinematic variations on the murders attributed the impish, always-horny Rasputin and his so-called “family”  were positively everywhere for awhile there, and if it weren’t for the bloodbath on Cielo Drive we wouldn’t have had such entries into the grade-Z canon as The Helter-Skelter MurdersI Drink Your Blood, and Simon, King Of The Witches , to name just a (very) few. In addition, we wouldn’t have had the superb and genuinely chilling documentary Manson, and hell — on-again/off-again “Family” associate (and convicted murderer) Bobby Beausoleil even appeared in Van Guylder’s 1969 sexploitationer The Ramrodder and  legendary underground auteur/”black” magician Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising.

So yeah, there’s no doubt about it, friends — the tentacles of Charlie and his associates/accomplices were spread far and wide throughout Hollywood there for awhile. The always-entertaining and thought-provoking Dave McGowan, who runs the “conspiracy”-themed website Center For An Informed America (www.davesweb.cnchost.com — and Dave, if you’re reading this, please write more often, your work is sorely missed!) even has a “flow chart” of sorts up called “The Six Degrees Of Charlie Manson,” detailing the various connections within the movie and music industries of the guy whose birth certificate reads “No Name Maddox,”  that’s absolutely mind-boggling.

All that being said, somewhere underneath the veritable cottage industry of dark rumblings and shadowy, slithering tendrils that have sprung out from what arguably remains America’s most notorious crime spree there’s still, in fact, a very real, concrete set of murders that took place —and even if the events and motivations surrounding those murders remain hotly debated and endlessly speculated about to this day, their bloody end result is certainly not in question. To that end,  if  a “just the facts, ma’am” approach is what you’re after, one of the more straight-forward re-tellings of the so-called “Manson murders” is to be found in 1971’s “Sweet Savior,” a movie that transposes the infamous events from California to New York, sure, but otherwise doesn’t take too many liberties from what we know to be true (or at least what we think we know to be true).

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Starring former ’50s teen heart-throb Troy Donahue as a charismatic cult leader named Moon who keeps his mostly-female acolytes tethered to his will via a potent combination of psychedelics, sex, and “trippy” pseudo-philosophy, the film — better known by the title Troma gave it in 1985 for home video release, The Love-Thrill Murders — doesn’t shy away from Manson/Moon’s alleged racism, sexism, and anti-semitism, but director Bob Roberts looks at the crimes from an angle few were willing to consider in the years immediately following in their wake — namely that the victims were every bit the drugged-out, hedonistic degenerates that the perpetrators were.

These days, of course, it’s pretty well accepted that Sharon Tate and her party guests were just  as immersed in the late-60s Hollywood drug culture as Charlie and his girls, and that it’s quite likely that everyone at the house on that fateful night knew each other, but in the immediate aftermath of the incident, the general public perception, eagerly sold by the mass media,  was that Tate and her friends were absolute saints and the no-good hippie scum who slaughtered them like, as was written on the wall in blood, “pigs,” were Satanic reprobates spewed out from the very pit of Hell itself. Remember, we’re talking about a time here when Roman Polanski was viewed as a grieving widower who lost not just a wife but an unborn infant, as opposed to these days when he’s known to be an admittedly great director, sure, but also a child molester who can’t set foot on American soil.

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It would be too much to say that Roberts portrays Moon and his coterie of impressionable young beauties as being sympathetic in this film, but his Tate stand-in character, bored-and-wealthy socialite Sandra Barlow (Renay Granville) and her crowd are shown to be moving in the same milieu as the Manson-family-in-all-but-name, and even invite their eventual murderers over to their party willingly, thinking they’ll provide some “kicks” for the evening. Those “kicks” unfold more or less exactly as the court records state they did in real life, so in that sense The Love-Thrill Murders is a bit on the dry side, but the challenging editorial viewpoint Roberts takes with his story’s presentation more than makes up for any lack of creativity on his part. He certainly isn’t saying the “beautiful people” who get butchered up “have it coming,” by any means, but he is saying that if you flirt with danger for cheap thrills, sometimes you don’t come out alive.

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If you want to watch this flick, you’ve only got two options — either find it on VHS or catch a shitty rip of it that’s up on a website whose initials are Y.T., since for whatever reason (probably a legal limbo of some sort) Troma’s never put this out on DVD  despite the film having a relatively decent reputation. I personally view movies like I Drink Your Blood, that use the basic trappings on Manson-ism as set-up but then veer off into telling completely different stories with no connection to reality whatsoever, as having a bit more sheer entertainment value, but for its audaciousness (at least for its time) alone, The Love-Thrill Murders is definitely worth a look. In addition, Donahue’s surprising effectiveness in the lead role, Roberts’ unflinching portrayal of the murders (the film got an “X” rating upon its initial release), and a nice little “twist” ending that finally does diverge from the Vincent Bugliosi-approved (and, some would argue, created from wholecloth) version of history all combine to give the proceedings a bit more “oomph,” as well.

The disinterested and/or merely curious probably won’t find much here to either attract or hold onto their attention, it’s true, but for those of us still morbidly intrigued by the entire, let’s face it, Manson legend, The Love-Thrill Murders makes for some interesting — at times even compelling — viewing.

Comments
  1. I have never heard of this one, and I usually shy away from movies about Manson because the idea of the murders being a random home invasion is too scary for me. Now I have to look online for more info about the history of the murders being sort of sanitized. As you say, the possibility that the killers were invited over doesn’t excuse what they did, but it does give a different perspective, one I honestly never thought of.

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      We’ll nevver get to the bottom of the whole Manson situation, it seems to me — whether or not the killers were invited over remains an open question, but the more I read, the idea that at the very least they all knew each other doesn’t strike me as being unrealistic at all. Manson and his cromies were dfinitely known to much of the Hollywood crowd, and supplied psychedelics for a lot of them. Manson definitely knew the guy who lived in the house before Tate and Polanski, a record producer named Terry Melcher (he was also the son of Doris Day), and some speculate that Manson sent his minions into the house to kill Melcher, believing he still lived there, because Melcher welched out on a record deal he had previously offered Manson. Who knows? We probably nevver will!

      • After I left that comment I did some searches and went down a rabbit hole of internet craziness, mostly involving conspiracy theories about Manson and the C.I.A.! But who even knows if it’s that crazy.

      • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

        Yeah, there’s a lot out there — I’ve read the supposed Manson/CIA link stuff, and a lot of speculation that the killings were part of the s-called “great acid coup of 1969.” Who knows? We’ll probably never have all the answers, and if Manson was being used by shadowy CIA-type figures, he may not even have been aware of it himself! Like you said, it’s quite a rabbit hole — an iteresting one to be sure, but also an endless one.

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