Manson Family Movies DVD Review
Written by Robert Gold
DVD released by Cult Epics
Written and directed by John Aes-Nihil
1984, 87 minutes, Not Rated
Released on August 13th, 2019
Rick the Precious Dove as Charlie
John Aes-Nihil as Tex
Katie Lazarus as Sadie Mae Glutz/Voyteck
Mr. Jacquetta as Patricia
Luscious as Linda/Abigail/Leno
Ms. Mule as Mother Mary
Porn Michael as Bobby
Miss Star as Leslie/Sharon
In August 1969, Charles Manson and his followers effectively ended the good vibes that grew over the Summer of Love with a series of brutal murders. In the aftermath came a high-profile trial that was full of compelling reports of Manson’s eccentric behavior as leader of a family of followers eager to do his bidding. After their convictions, Manson stayed in the spotlight with a series of bizarre, rambling interviews. At some point during this media circus, a rumor spread that Manson and his family had stolen camera equipment and filmed their exploits around the Spahn Movie Ranch where they had taken residence in the time leading up to their crimes. Did these films include footage of the murders?
Inspired by the possibilities, filmmaker John Aes-Nihil (The Drift) took an 8mm camera and assembled a “greatest hits” collection of stories about Manson and his followers as told by family members during the grand jury trial. The activities are recreated through a series of short films shot over a five-year period (1974-1979). Aes-Nihil wrote, produced, directed, co-starred, shot, edited and scored what would eventually become Manson Family Movies (1984). The scratchy, silent footage is set to music of the era, including recordings by Manson himself. Lending further authenticity to the material is footage taken at many of the actual locations where the Manson family lived and also outside the crime scene houses.
Manson Family Movies is an interesting idea that works as a short film but overstays its welcome as a feature. The micro-budget project faced an ongoing set of problems during production, namely an unreliable cast of non-actors and an extended shooting schedule. As a result, some of the participants play multiple roles – sometimes swapping genders, leading to some confusion. For example three different women play Sadie Mae Glutz and the actress playing Linda Kasabian also appears as Abigail Folger and swaps genders to play Leno LaBianca. Fortunately there is only one actor playing Manson, and Aes-Nihil pops up in the film as Tex Watson. There is an opening series of shots of cast members holding up signs with character names, but the footage is too dark and grainy to get a good look at their faces.
We see Manson and his followers at the Spahn Movie Ranch and around various California locations playing music, taking drugs and hanging out in the desert. The film recreates various crimes building to and including the Tate -LaBianca murders in graphic detail. There are a few handwritten title cards that appear on occasion for famous quotes like Manson instructing the girls to “Do something witchy” or Tex Watson’s infamous “I am the Devil and I’m here to do the Devil’s work”. There is something fascinating about the material and Manson Family Movies is an admirable effort but is ultimately an exercise in bad taste. I can recommend this title only to those with an extreme interest in all things Manson, but casual viewers will do better avoiding this one.
Video and Audio:
Presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the 8mm film is grainy and scratchy by nature and is occasionally difficult to see clearly. The footage is competently framed and shot but detail is limited by poor lighting during filming.
A Dolby Digital 2.0 track preserves the original sound recordings. The footage is silent, but there is a musical soundtrack that is free of hiss, audio pops or other distortion.
John Aes-Nihil’s commentary track is interesting and informative albeit a bit slow. He narrates the material and the clarification of what is going on is quite helpful. He provides context and background to the scenes, which remedies some of the confusion caused by rotating cast members.
A montage of deleted scenes (14 minutes) with director’s commentary consists primarily of footage originally set to follow the murders at the end of the film. There are a few other scene extensions and quiet moments that were cut for pacing.
An interview with Charles Manson (31 minutes) shot in 1994 offers viewers a sample of some of Charlie’s notorious rambling paranoid rants. The audio is bit muddy, but he is understandable.
A collection of LAPD crime scene and morgue photos of the murder victims has been included.
Also included in this package is a bonus disc of actual home movies of Sharon Tate (59 minutes). The silent footage is in surprisingly good condition and provides viewers with a look at the late actress relaxing at home and on the beach. We also see her hanging out with friends and at work on a movie set with actor Dean Martin.
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