Manson Family Movies

| February 12, 2006

Not since the Jack the Ripper murders has one criminal mind captivated the American audience more than that of Charlie Manson. Following the Tate-LaBianca murders, and the capture of the “cult” that perpetrated them in 1969, there have been countless films, books and Crime Drama TV episodes dedicated or inspired by the fear instilled by Charles Manson and his murdering “family.” And it seems that with each telling of the sordid tale there seems to be another twist added; some new grotesque detail that makes the whole crime that much more revolting or astonishing. With Jack the Ripper, there were rumors and investigations that the killer was connected to the Royal Family. Likewise, with Manson, there came the claim (made by Ed Sanders in his 1972 book The Family) that the Manson Family had actually filmed their exploits, including the murders and their drug-induced orgies, with a super 8 camera. There is no hard evidence that these reels actually ever existed, but filmmaker John Aes-Nihil created the Manson Family Movies as his own interpretation of what these super 8 films would reveal.
Filmed from 1974-78, in many of the actual locations haunted by Manson and his followers, Manson Family Movies follows Charlie Manson (played by Rick the Precious Dove – yes, that’s the actors name in the credits) as he seduces his young Hippie followers from the groovy streets of Haight Ashbury, and takes up residence on the Spahn Ranch. Life at the ranch is an endless orgy of drugs, sex and idol worship, but soon things turn dark. When the drugs dry up and the sex turns ugly, Charlie opens a new bag of tricks. A bag that involves mass murder.
Pseudo-documentaries are a dodgy breed. Though there is no account that Aes-Nihil had remotely intended to fool the viewers into thinking that they were seeing the actual Manson home movies (the actors only vaguely – if not at all – resemble their counterparts), the viewer will no doubt try to dissect the fiction from the fact. If he was trying to pull a fake job, then, although the filming is intended to be amateurish super 8 home movie quality, the acting is highly suspect. During the murder scenes it looks like real knives are being used by the players, but several times the actors are caught trying to feign the stabbing by tucking the blade under and shielding it with their body before pretending to plunge it into the victim’s belly. But then there are scenes where – since the film is silent (the soundtrack is music) – there are comic book dialogue balloons taped to the walls nearby the actors who are having a conversation. After seeing these ploys, it becomes evident that what we’re watching is a bunch of prankish kids who are just making pretend with a movie camera.
What Manson Family Movies ultimately turns out to be is a fanatical Grand Guignol mockumentary. No hoax intended. What Aes-Nihil succeeds in doing is cleverly satirizing the older generation’s new found fear of their own free-spirited, sometimes rebellious, offspring (this theme is quite prevalent throughout 70s and 80s horror movies, such as The Baby, The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, It’s Alive, and A Clockwork Orange) by having the young generation make like their parent’s idols Andy Rooney and Betsy Boothe and go down to the barn to put on a good ol’ fashioned play… this one, of course, being about a bloodthirsty, devil worshipping, killer cult.

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