Eric Martin of Guts and Grog had the awesome opportunity to head out and see a 35 mm screening of The Manson Family, and instead of posting his experience on his own awesome website, he was kind enough to contribute a review to Mayoween. Eric’s been a regular contributor over here, and his work is always excellent – even when drunk. Here, he explores the serial killer Charles Manson, fascinated by the killer’s story.
When I saw that “The Moon is a Dead World” was doing Mayoween I had to be involved. I had a blast doing the Halloween fifteen back in October, and always enjoy working with my horror brethren. Well, this time it was our choice, and not a designated film. That is great, but where do I start? So many angles. So many great films that I feel like not enough people pay attention to. I scanned my head(which is terrifying) and dabbled with ideas of touching on a lost eighties classic, or an indie film that not many had heard of. I then realized that one of my favorite films of all time was touring the country in a glorious 35mm print. I saw it was playing here in Portland so I figured, problem solved.
That movie is Jim Van Bebber’s classic “The Manson Family.” I first head about “The Manson Family” back in roughly 2003 when I read Chas Balun’s “Beyond Horror Holocaust.” At this point it was called “Charlies Family” and was still not available in any real capacity. There were some bootlegs out there, but nothing I was able to get my hands on. I ended up pickingup an illustrated screenplay to it, and that was great, but I wanted to see this damn movie.
Finally in 2004 I found out it was gonna hit DVD. Not only was it finally coming out, but he was going to film some new footage and flesh it out a bit. I was intrigued. Well, after what felt like a Christ age of waiting I went and picked up the DVD as soon as I woke up on that Tuesday morning. I took it home and popped it in the player and sat back and had my brains blown out with awesome.
There have been many films made about the Manson exploits. I have spent most of my life intrigued by serial killers, so I have seen and read pretty much everything I could about the sickness that happened those two nights in 69. There are many things that set “The Manson Family” apart from all the rest. A big one is that it is directed by Van Bebber, so it has a style that only he could create. I love his work. “Deadbeat at Dawn” and “My Sweet Satan” both blew me away. I am a huge fan of the sleazy New York films of the eighties, and I always think of Van Bebber as one of the main names in this genre along with Henenlotter, Giovinazzo, and even Scorsese. Another thing is that Van Bebber used the story as a model, and plenty of it is factual, but he also took lots of liberties, and has been pretty open about that. I remember reading that he didn’t want to interview any of them. He just made it his own.
Most of the film takes place during 69 as we see the family hanging out, fucking, taking many drugs, and killing a few folks. This is inter cut with a TV producer who is putting together a documentary on the family. At the same time this is happening a bunch of drugged up kids who love Manson are creating their own plan.
Now lets get back to the style. This thing is dripping with style, and blood of course. There are some truly sick moments here, but they are filmed in such way that you forget and just get sucked in. Every time I watch this my eyes are glued to the screen.
When he filmed the extra footage it had been more than a decade, so everyone looked older. This played to his advantage as it plays out like a documentary with flashbacks. So when everyone is being interviewed in prison, they actually have aged quite a bit. This is the kind of thing you can’t plan, unless you are the most patient mother fucker in the world.
As I mentioned earlier I was able to see a 35mm screening of this. I have watched this film many times as I also stated earlier, and this was a great experience. I saw it at The Clinton Street Theater which is Portland’s very own Grindhouse. It was a perfect way to see it. When I got there it was dead silent. I bought my ticket and my popcorn and entered the theater. The only other person in the theater was asleep, not just nodding off, but passed out like me after a night of debauchery. I love this theater. The seats are pretty uncomfortable, there is a hole in the screen, and you feel like you are probably walking on fluids you wish you weren’t. This was a perfect way to see this film, for roughly my fiftieth viewing.
“The Manson Family” is a truly unique film. It took over a decade to make. Everyone involved put their all into it. The effects are great, the acting is overall pretty excellent for a film with no “professional” actors, and the music is perfect. I have seen it a ton of times, and that won’t change anytime soon. In fact I woke up this morning to my limited edition of a hundred copies VHS that I ordered, so it looks like it’s time to watch it again.