Header Ads

The Manson Family (2003)

Studio: Severin

Theatrical Release: August 23, 2003 (UK)

Blu Ray Release: June 11, 2013

Director: Jim Van Bebber

Not Rated

Review by James Klein

I believe American culture will forever be fascinated by Charles Manson and his "family". Over the years, Charles Manson has grown into this American icon, a sort of boogey man who certain young people seem to look up to. Not because of the murders but for the fact that this nut job was able to convince these young people to live with him, love him, and ultimately kill for him. He had some sort of power over these young people that is admired by many. How could he have brain-washed these kids? Writer/actor/director Jim Van Bebber's surreal, strange and shocking film focuses more on the young people who lived with Manson who ultimately committed murder in that summer of 1969 than on the man himself.

The film starts off with journalist Jack Wilson doing a news story on Charles Manson and his desire to do a news spread on the Manson "family" and not so much on Manson himself. As the movie progresses, the film jumps back and forth from 1969 to present day as the followers of Charles Manson are all interviewed, speaking about their involvement with one another and their despicable acts of murder. This provides the film with an interesting pseudo-narration as they fill in the blanks on what happened or why certain situations evolved. It's interesting to see these characters change and regret their involvement with Manson.
Manson Family

The Manson Family does recount some of the strange going on's that happened on the Spahn ranch before the murders took place. Group sex, drug use, animal sacrifices, all are shown here in graphic detail. The film is also edited in a hectic, manic style much like Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers with strange jump cuts and bizarre images of skulls, Christ-like photos and even Satan himself. For those looking for a straight up docu-drama may be left cold or disappointed as the movie, while staying true to what happened or at least reported, tends to go off in odd directions that don't always make a whole lot of sense. While I didn't mind the editing style, it may not appeal to everyone.

My biggest issue with The Manson Family are the last 10-15 minutes of the movie. By jumping back to present day and watching these Goth kids take on or carry the torch of Manson so to speak, I was just bored. I get what Van Bebber was going for in that Manson has continuously influenced today and possibly tomorrow's youth, but to me it is just unnecessary. I don't even understand the point of showing a drug deal gone bad with meth heads attacking one another. By trimming off this fat, The Manson Family could have been a much stronger film.

But don't let my opinion of the climax dis-way you in any way, as The Manson Family is a pretty decent film and that lays on the shoulder of independent film maker Jim Van Bebber. Van Bebber's chaotic editing, manic direction and excellent performance as Bobby Beausoleil, the Manson follower who was sent to prison for murder before the Tate/LaBianca murders took place is what makes The Manson Family so memorable and hard to forget. In fact, all of the performances are top notch with Marcelo Games especially creepy as Charlie.
The Manson Family

The making of this film is actually an interesting subject for an alternate movie. Shot on a very low budget, Van Bebber put his soul into this project and even helped in funding the film himself out of pocket. When the film ran out of money, he showed a rough cut of the movie at the Chicago Underground Film Festival in 1997 to help try and raise funds to complete the movie. He even made a short film, My Sweet Satan, to raise money to complete the film. His stubbornness and unwilling desire to never give up, Van Bebber made the film his way and refused the films subject matter to be edited down when he could have completed the film much earlier if he compromised his vision. Like him or not, the man is a hero to independent film makers. Much of the trials and problems in making the film are explored in the documentary The VanBebber Family which is one of the many special features on the Severin blu ray.

Speaking of the blu ray, Severin hits another home run and gives fans a great looking transfer and the option to listen to the film in the original 2.0 mono and a new 5.1 surround. There is a short interview with former Pantera member Phil Anselmo who gave Van Bebber $5,000 to finish some post production work and who eventually supplied a song for the film as well as the voice of Satan. There are also some rough looking deleted scenes, an audio commentary by Van Bebber, an interview with Manson himself, a documentary of the 1997 Fantasia Film Festival (I found this hard to sit thru, watching so many young, egotistical and pretentious film makers act like their film is the second coming) and Van Bebber's new short film, Gator Green. But it's The VanBebber Family that is the highlight of the blu ray as actors and crew members talk about the long and often strange film shoot with actual drug use taking place as well as one of the actors performing oral sex on one of the hired strippers for the blood orgy scene!

While not for everyone, fans of Van Bebber's work (if you haven't seen Deadbeat at Dawn, please do so ASAP) and those interested in the Manson murders will likely not be disappointed. And with a great blu ray transfer as well as some jam-packed special features, The Manson Family is highly recommended.

[Rating: 4]

No comments

Brought to you by Zergnet