The Manson Family

I’ve never been particularly interested in the Charles Manson phenomenon but last month I got bored and began reading up on it on the web. Thus I rented this film…why? In retrospect I sort of wish I hadn’t.

Essentially a docu-drama directed by Jim Van Bebber (who also apparently directed music videos for Pantera and Skinny Puppy, whose Download side project score the film as well as films with such descriptive names as My Sweet Satan and Necrophagia: Through the Eyes of the Dead) and made over a 15 year span, it’s pretty unclear to me if this is an exploitation film or some sort of tribute. The nudity is extreme and the violence is over the top such that the murder scenes are often more absurd than gruesome. The acting is pretty terrible. The girl who plays Sadie Atkins is particularly over the top and the actor playing Manson doesn’t add much except an uncanny resemblance to the man himself.

At the same time, there’s a definite sort of auteur factor with this film. While influenced immensely by the more Satanic films of Kenneth Anger it has it’s own distinctive manic style (though many of the more hallucinatory scenes reminded me quite a bit of similar scenes from Natural Born Killers, though it’s unclear if those scenes were shot before or after that film’s release). The thing that’s especially disturbing about this is that it almost strikes me as a tribute to Manson and not so much any sort of thoughtful examination, no less denunciation, of his and the family’s acts. It certainly was not enlightening in any way and just made me feel sort of dirty for having sat through it.

I’d recommend this for people with strong stomachs as a midnight-movie sort of thing or for people who really enjoy terrible horror special effects, but be warned, while it’s more numbing than morally disturbing, it certainly is a harrowing experience in it’s own way.

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