The Manson Family DVD Review

Written by Steve Pattee

DVD released by Dark Sky Films

Written and directed by Jim Van Bebber
2003, Region 1 (NTSC), 253 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on April 26th, 2005

Marcello Games as Charlie
Marc Pitman as Tex
Leslie Orr as Patty
Maureen Alisse as Sadie
Amy Yates as Leslie
Jim Van Bebber as Bobby
Tom Burns as Clem
Michelle Briggs as Linda
Carl Day as Jack Wilson
Freddist as Mars
Valerie Hatt as Simi Sherri


1969. The Vietnam “conflict” was raging on the far side of the globe, and hormones were raging on this side.

1969. The Summer of Love — or so it’s been called.

1969 was also the summer of the Manson family.

During two hot summer nights in August of ’69, Charlie’s “family” brutally murdered seven people, gaining international notoriety.

1969. The Summer of Love — or so it’s been called.


I first heard of James Van Bebber when a friend suggested Van Bebber’s first film, Deadbeat at Dawn, to me.

I was not impressed.

Explosive and raw as it was, I could not get around the cult status that surrounded it. So when the hype started building around The Manson Family — Van Bebber’s 10-plus-year project — I was only mildly interested. And, admittedly, it was the Manson part that interested me. Van Bebber — or the hype surrounding him — already disappointed me once, and I would give him another chance, but I wasn’t about to jump on the bandwagon.

I shouldn’t have waited. I should have bought Family the day it was released.

Filmed as part pseudo-documentary and part movie, Van Bebber does an outstanding job depicting the fucked-uppedness that was the Manson family. He also captures the feel of the late ’60s exquisitely. Admittedly, I was not born in the ’60s, but there is a certain feel you get from watching movies from that era — such as Woodstock — and Van Bebber seizes that feel, puts it in a bottle and sells it to you like patchouli oil.

From the wild nights of orgies and drug binges, to not just the Tate/LaBianca murders, but the killings that led up to those fateful nights in August, Van Bebber and friends take you there.

Every. Bloody. Step.

What makes this Manson film different from the others is the half-documentary, half-movie style of mixing interviews (from after the arrests) in with what is happening in sort of a flashback mode. It is as if you are watching the moment leading up to the crime and reminiscing about it at the same time.

The performances are damn decent as well, but the standouts are Marc Pitman as Tex Watson, Carl Day as reporter Jack Wilson, and Leslie Orr as Patty Krenwinkle.

Pitman is terrific as the outsider who just kind of rolled with Manson. Never really a follower, Tex seemed to be just hanging out for the drugs and sex. When needed, Pitman seamlessly changes from laid-back dude to angry killer.

With his stage presence and incredible voice, Carl Day is absolutely perfect as Wilson, the man who is producing a documentary of the murders. I simply cannot imagine anyone else in his role. While his role was smaller than the others, he certainly left a high mark.

The true star of this film, however, is Leslie Orr. She is incredibly spooky with her portrayal of the frenetic Patty. Her performance is so great that, at times, she is utterly unnerving. I hope this DVD release helps her get more roles.

Marcelo Games’ performance as Charlie is completely believable at times, and a little over the top at other times. Fortunately, he’s never too hokey, so it’s never distracting. The movie focuses more on the family than Charlie, so it works out. On the flipside, anyone portraying Manson will be compared to Steve Railsback’s performance in Helter Skelter. Considering what he was up against, Games did admirably.

The only downside to Family is the side story the film hints at throughout its running.

It centers around a group of kids that don’t like the fact that Wilson, the reporter, is planning a documentary on their iconic hero, Charlie Manson. So, the whole movie, you see flashes of them preparing weapons and running around naked, among other insignificant things.

I get what Van Bebber was trying to do with this side story — trying to show the power Manson holds over the disenfranchised youth, even to this day. He even goes into it a bit more on the documentary offered on disc two.

However, this side story is nothing but a distraction and it hurts the film.

Yet, overall, The Manson Family is a disturbing, bloody look at the murderous rampage, and what led up to it, during the Summer of Love.

Video and Audio:

Family’s 1:33:1 full frame picture is soft and grain laden — and I’m not talking about the documentary side of it, whose grain is intentional. However, it is hard to say if the picture quality is done purposely or not, but, either way, it works for the film because it just adds to putting you in the ‘60s mood.

Manson’s offered 5.1 Dolby Digital kicks in before the opening credits. With excellent use of the sides and rears, the audio sucks you right into this trippy world of the late ’60s. Obviously a money issue, it is truly unfortunate Van Bebber didn’t have any popular music of the ‘60s to throw on the soundtrack.

English subtitles are also offered.

Special Features:

Disc one of the two-disc SE contains a photo gallery and the main feature.

On disc two, there are two documentaries and an interview with Charlie Manson himself.

The first documentary, “The Van Bebber Family,” is fairly in-depth, covering topics from how the money was raised — which included Van Bebber selling his own blood for this film — to what drugs were being taken on set (for method acting, of course). Much of the cast and crew are interviewed, so there is a lot of information presented. It also covers why it took over 10 years to finish Family — including issues of funding and post-production woes. Running at just over an hour and 16 minutes, it is an informative and wonderful watch.

The second documentary, “In the Belly of the Beast,” is a behind-the-scenes look at the 1997 Montreal Film Festival — where Family premiered in an unfinished form. Its intention is to show various aspiring directors trying to make a name for themselves and the problems they faced getting their movies made. However, it ends up coming across as an hour and 13 minute whine-fest, which gets old rather quickly. The first documentary is so good, watch it twice and skip this one altogether.

Lastly, and certainly not least, if you have never seen a Manson interview, buy the SE for this alone. It is 10 minutes of classic Charlie.

A one-disc edition is also available, but don’t bother. The two-disc SE is well worth the couple bucks more.


Movie: 3.5 Stars
Video: 4 Stars
Audio: 3.5 Stars
Features: 4 Stars
Overall: 3.5 Stars – Both the movie and the overall grades would have been a star higher, if not for the side story.


Overlooking its biggest flaw, The Manson Family is a must purchase for fans of true crime and a must rental for fans of the horror genre. It’s a hellish ride from beginning to end, but well worth the price of admission — either way.

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