Troy Donahue’s Career Going to the Darkest Side of the “Moon” – Sweet Savior (Titled Sweet Saviour – 1971)



In the days when Cinema was moving into all kinds of dark areas, it was also looking for actors with the hunger to mature out of their well-established roles (or at least the daring-do to freak out even if it looked wack) and try something a little different no matter what the outcome was. One time Teen Idol Troy Donahue decided to see if “Death-Crazed Hippie Cult Leader Pimp of the East Village” was going to be a good fit.

Sweet Saviour, the film many know as the Love Thrill Murders, is seriously one of the most interesting stories of the Dark Side of Hollywood. It’s star, Troy Donahue, was battling a lot in the downside of fame as well as his own demons, known for an image that was played to perfection in a Summer Place and the TV series 77 Sunset Strip and Hawaiian Eye which was by then out of fashion and dealing with the bite that living beyond the means that was as sharp as it can get. After trying to mature his image with My Blood Runs Cold (released 1965) and parting ways with the studio that helped carve that image into the public conscience (Warner Brothers), Donahue was moving down the Cinematic Food Chain by winding up in films such as  Come Spy with Me, Those Fantastic Flying Fools, and Albert Zugsmith’s  The Phantom Gunslinger, which was filmed in 1967 and released in Mexico around 1970 (The noted Exploitation Producer/Director would end his career with a series of Sexploitation films more fitting to his style ending with Violated co-starring Rene Bond in 1974). By Late 1969, he was in New York City and trying out a new chapter of his life which wound up with the film in focus here as Pistolero Phantasma was playing in Mexico and the occasional Spanish screen in The US.


Albuquerque, 9-2-72 – Places that featured Spanish movies might have had a showing of the Phantom Gunslinger, now released in Digital quality through Vinegar Syndrome. Some showings like this appeared when Sweet Savior was playing it’s original run. As you can tell, it certainly clashed with what was happening!


9-2-71, Village Voice, New York – After this debut, reportedly this played in some areas with the infamous BJ Lange Presents, featuring Mickey Rooney playing a psycho director keeping a starlet tied up in a movie studio in a film loaded with psych-out effects and a scene with the star some of the most WTF scenes known to anyone.




Producer Bob Roberts only had one film to his name by that time, Michelene and The Device, and according to Bill Landis was the owner of a Closed Circuit TV station that televised Adult movies to hotels which also had a talk show that had an episode which Donahue appeared on. Although reportedly likable, he also seemed to be a major hyper as well by appearing at every interview Donahue was at. Thankfully, the star knew what he was doing and where the film was going enough to keep a level head through it all.  Donahue’s experiences in California during the Late 60’s obviously had an effect on him, but while it was said that the film was a warning (and with a lot of truth backing it up knowing of several cases similar but not as potent as the Manson story), you can tell that he was enjoying his scenes quite a bit making things more intense.

The plot is simple – Moon and his Cult, based in New York City, are invited to a fancy party by a group who want to spend a night with The Freaks and kill the “Rich Pigs” at the end, although for a film made on the quick and the cheap, many of the little things one can see all add up to an Exploitation experience. With a plenty of NYC scenery to roam around in, a move that avoided the risks of filming with Hollywood’s expensive prices, the effect was more believable in a way that made  the filmed-in-Cleveland film Sign of Aquarius more interesting than many of the LA Scene hippie flicks after 1968. Some Early 70’s sights were captured well, and the poster for The Different Drummer in the ran down flat add more to the period charm. Throw in a great theme song by Jeff Berry, who’s Bubblegum songs were classic radio music for the time, and even some effective Moog sounds and cool background music, the film all adds up to something for  Cinema Ghouls to catch at least once.

The mystery of who wrote the script under the “Matt Cavinaugh” name was mentioned in Bill Landis’ Sleazeoid Express as being by Willie Gilbert (p. 256 in the book), although I still wonder if Donahue had some contributions to it considering his time in California in 67-9.



Burlington,, NC paper, 8-7-71 as Sweet Savior was about to make it’s debut in New York – Used to highlight the reaction to the “New Image” – some still wanted the old school Troy!


3-5-71 – By that time, Manson was sprouting the short hair that would characterize his scary appearance in the Documentary Manson. The long-hair look that personified him which led to countless imitations was to return later in the decade.






With appearances by Tallie Cochrane, Matt Greene (as Bull, the psycho right hand man to Moon with a David Hess/Last House on the Left-like mania), Francine Middleton (from Joe and Martin), and Reney Granville as the Sharon Tate of the story, everyone did their best to keep things running well. One of the more interesting cameos is by Perry Gewirtz who has appeared in several films including High Rise and even in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories. With such high expectations and a lot of hype, it was assumed that things would go well for the film, but they did not.

Sweet Savior appeared after the public was sick of the real case and through distribution through UMC (of which this was among it’s last pick-ups), went through a series of lower end Cinema and Drive In plays after it’s New York showings. Try as UMC did, even through pairing it with more bankable films including One Swedish Summer, it was to do little business in it’s first run of showings, although the X rating must have caused some resistance as well. Still, some film freaks got to see it at the time and more wanted to know what the fuss was about.


2-11-72, Burlington, NC


2-10-72, Gastonia, NC


2-15-72, Gastonia – small ad




7-8-72, Tuscon

CLOVIS-NM-9-8-72 - Copy

9-8-72, Clovis, NM – UMC’s Sexy and Swedish flicks released at the company’s start were it’s money makers by that time while their release of Glen and Randa under-performed (Eva was Everything but Legal being an eye opening title). The Lyceum was a normal B theater that turned X-Rated by 1969-70, reportedly now revived as a performing arts center for the city.


Tobi Marsh offering a nightmare-inducing cross-dressing performance for Bull. Admittedly, this is an attempt at humor that should not have worked among the seriousness which actually did playing on Bull’s Homophobic attitude.


Ruth (Tallie Cochrane) on the prowl in a blink-and-you-miss-it moment.


Donahue and Gewirtz.


The Van!


The Point!



5-14-72, Bridgeport – One of the more amusing events for the Moon-era Donahue as a host of the Glamour Days Fashion Show!

By 1976, Omni pictures had it slightly trimmed for the R and with the right timing after the classic TV film Helter Skelter sparked interest in the case once again, ad it play more theaters under a new title. Admittedly, the name change was a wise move. By that time, Donahue was a regular on TV (think Love Boat-style appearances) and was possibly trying to not talk about it along with a couple of films he made in the East before his move back to California and a steady stream of work (reportedly he did four). Still, with the case back in the news and talk shows, there was nothing one can do to stop the film’s re-issue from being played more than it did on the first run.


6-1-74, Troy, NY paper.



2-4-77, Corpus Christi, TX


…Detroit! 2-18-77 – An inspired double feature that paired the Drama with the Real Deal. Reportedly, Manson did not play Detroit on the first run, either!


San Antonio, 2-5-77

Thanks to Lloyd Kaufman’s involvement, the film found a good home at his Troma company with a much-rented VHS release and some theatrical playdates. Cue me at a Video Connection circa 1990, and there’s where I finally see the film for myself. Before Troy Donahue passed away in 2001, he was to be seen in many B films and a few high-profile movies, amusingly in the Ross Hagen-starring psycho feast Click and more importantly in John Waters’ Cry Baby.


~ by screen13 on January 5, 2016.

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