Related Articles: Movies, All

The Manson Family

Something Wicked This Way Comes

The Manson Family is the product of a 15-year labor of love by cult horror director Jim Van Bebber, who more than once exhausted his resources attempting to translate his grisly vision of the family's exploits into a blood-splattered, Roger Corman-style exploitation film. The result is one of the most revolting, disturbing, ugly spectacles to come along in quite some time. But then, that's the point.

To be sure, Van Bebber's Family is eerily effective, meticulously chronicling the clan's descent into savagery, beginning with a series of petty house thefts and culminating, ultimately, in a series of 1969 murders, the most famous of which claimed the life of Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski. The sequence depicting the massacre of Tate and her houseguests is unrelenting, 15 seemingly interminable minutes of terrified shrieks and agonizing close-ups of the victims, whose ravaged bodies are mutilated long after they've ceased to resist. It is vile, nauseating theater, shot in such grainy, low-budget fashion as to seem like a snuff film.

At other times, the Family is a wild, darkly psychedelic ride, a collage of frenzied orgies, drug-addled surrealism and faux, documentary-style interviews with Charles Manson's former running mates, all confined to prison cells, only some expressing remorse. There's Tex (Marc Pitman), Sadie (Maureen Allisse), Leslie (Amy Yates) and Bobbi (Van Bebber himself), and they're a motley crew, naively following the mercurial, manipulative Manson (Marcelo Games) into a hell of his own creation.

Manson is a failed singer whose pose as a flower-power philosopher quickly gives way to a murderous rage, and his master plan -- to send his underlings on a series of killing sprees, blame the killings on the Black Panthers and begin a race war from which he hopes to profit -- is, to say the least, deranged. But The Manson Family doesn't seek to condemn Charlie so much as document his mayhem. It's the ultimate exploitation film, a throwback to the carnal camp of Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and its ilk.

Is it fun to watch? No. It's a unique, heady and flawed exercise in style. It is a disgusting experience that leaves viewers with indelibly haunting images, making even the goriest fiction -- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left, to name but two -- look tame by comparison. But again, that's the point.

Consider yourself warned.

Stars: 3 out of 5