Starring: Marcelo Games, Marc Pitman, Leslie Orr, Maureen Allisse,
Amy Yates. Rated R.
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
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? Not even
a little bit. 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.