The Strangers is a horror movie so uniquely frightening that the summer after it came out the mere mention of it around a campfire at my friend’s remote cabin in northern Minnesota caused half the group to decide it was time to retire and head inside. Hours later as another guest and I were walking slowly down the beach that connected our friend’s cabin to the others along the shore of the lake we heard knocking coming from one of the dark homes we thought were empty for the weekend. Who knocks at the door of an empty house in the middle of the night? Not someone who expects an answer.
Bryan Bertino wrote and directed The Strangers. He said he wrote the story based on an experience he had in childhood where a stranger came to the door while his parents were out and asked for someone who didn’t live there. He believes the strangers were casing the neighborhood, as several homes were burgled later on. Bertino has also said he was inspired by the murder of Sharon Tate and her friends by the Manson family.
In 1969, a group of cult members under the influence of Charles Manson (and likely hallucinating on LSD) drove to 10500 Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills. They then brutally murdered everyone on the premises, even though they had never met any of the victims before that night. The victims were eight and a half months pregnant Sharon Tate, her friend celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring, heiress Abigail Folger and her boyfriend actor Wojciech Frykowski, and a guest of the property’s caretaker, Steven Parent.
One of the creepiest parts of these murders is that while Sharon Tate was a famous actress (and the home belonged to her husband, Roman Polanski, a famous director) she wasn’t targeted on purpose. Manson had previously been to the home when it was being rented by Terry Melcher, a music producer who worked with The Beach Boys. It’s believed that Manson was upset Melcher had not offered him a record deal and the murder was intended to be revenge for hurting Manson’s feelings. Despite this, no care was taken to actually target Melcher. Manson told his followers to go to the home and “totally destroy everyone in it, and to do it as gruesome as you can” even though he had no idea who would actually be in the home.
The four members of Manson’s cult cut the home’s phone line and then cut through a screen and entered the home through an open window. When Wojciech Frykowski woke up and asked what was going on, one of the cult members, Tex Watson, replied “I’m the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business.” This echos one of the most haunting and horrifying parts of the movie when Liv Tyler’s character is finally able to ask “why are you doing this to us?”
The strangers answer? “Because you were home.”
Though impersonal murders are typically less gruesome, the Tate murders were particularly violent. Sharon Tate and her guests were gathered in the living room where nooses were put around their necks and then they were murdered one by one. Abigail Folger managed to flee the house but was caught in the yard and stabbed 28 times. Tate plead for the cult to take her hostage long enough for her to give birth to her child but she was stabbed to death and Susan Atkins wrote ‘pig’ on the home’s front door in her blood. Because of the high profile victims and trends in news reporting, this case is especially well-documented and you can see photos of the gruesome crime scene here.
For their roles in the Tate murders as well as other murders and crimes committed as part of their time with the Manson Family Tex Watson and Leslie Van Houten remain in prison. Charles Manson and Susan Atkins died in prison. Patricia Krenwinkel is currently the longed incarcerated woman in California. Linda Kasabian, who was present outside the home on the night of the Tate murders acting as a guard, became a witness for the prosecution against Charles Manson and his cult members and was not charged with any crime.
Another ending for The Strangers gave even more context to the creepy backstory of the strangers but it was cut to keep the killers as scary as possible. Writer/director Bryan Bertino directed sequel The Strangers: Prey at Night but didn’t write the story. He has gone on to direct another creepy cabin in the woods movie with a female lead, He’s Out There, and rural family horror The Dark and the Wicked.