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Case Number 25859: Small Claims Court

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The Manson Family (Blu-ray)

Severin Films // 2003 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // June 21st, 2013

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All Rise...

Judge Patrick Naugle has since removed "Helter Skelter" from his iTunes rotation.

Editor's Note

Our review of The Manson Family: Two-Disc Special Edition, published July 12th, 2005, is also available.

The Charge

Welcome to Crazy. Population: Charles.

The Case

Charles Manson has become synonymous with unadulterated evil. Mention Manson's name to most people and they immediately conjure up a maniac with intense eyes, crazy facial hair, and a swastika tattooed in his forehead. The Manson Family follows the exploits of Manson's murderous "family," a group of drug fueled, sex addicted hippies who find themselves in the history books by orchestrating multiple mass murders (including actress Sharon Tate) around the southern California landscape in the late 1960s. The film shows in chilling detail the rise of Charles Manson, the hold he has over his demented followers, and the consequences of their unfathomable actions.

The Manson Family is a film I never, ever want to sit through again. My frustration is in the form of expectation; I was anticipating this to be a linear narrative about Charles Manson and his followers. Instead, it ends up being a psychedelic acid trip with imagery straight out of Hell, skirting the line of pornography with orgy scenes that show everything but actual penetration. Most of the movie is made up of quickly edited scenes featuring the actors having weird sex, creepy spiders, colored bubbles, grainy film stock, chintzy stage blood, and talking head interviews. I got a headache only twenty minutes in and wanted nothing more than to turn the infernal thing off.

In some weird way, The Manson Family comes very close to offering viewers the experience of what it must have been like to be around the Manson clan. Much like his mindset, this film is all over the place. There are moments when it pauses to become an actual narrative feature with cohesive dialogue and mildly appropriate acting (never more than passable). Then it suddenly shifts into a different gear and spends an inordinate amount of time on people having sex in a field while groovy music plays in the background. It's as if the filmmakers never knew just what kind of movie they were making. A probing look into the mind of Charles Manson? A late night Skinemax flick? A crime thriller? If the director doesn't know, you can sure bet the audience won't either.

I'd rattle off the name of the actors who star in The Manson Family, but honestly I don't know who was who. If I saw the actors naked, it'd be easier to describe them by their pubic hair. The only discernible performance was Marcelo Games as Charles Manson, who somehow channels Manson's manic persona. To that end, the film is successful in making this guy a truly frightening figure to be reckoned with. The scenes of the infamous killings—including the LaBianca and Sharon Tate murders—are graphic and intensely staged, while still looking rather low rent.

Apparently, it took over a decade and a half to make The Manson Family. The film had been in gestation since 1988 and was made on and off on weekends by director Jim Van Bebber until it was finished in 2003. It's clear the experience spans decades. Sometimes the footage looks new, other times it's old and worn. Or maybe that's just what Van Bebber was going for. Either way, The Manson Family is a truly ugly, borderline pornographic, and downright unpleasant experience. You've been warned.

Presented in 1.33:1/1080p high definition full frame, it's a bit puzzling why Severin felt the need to release this on Blu-ray. The transfer is often grainy, dirty, and filled with blurred images, so it's likely this is the best The Manson Family will ever look. Much like the visuals, the Dolby 5.1 Surround mix is none too impressive. Dialogue, music, and effects all sound good one minute, and not so good the next. Bonus features include a commentary track by director Jim Van Bebber, an interview with musician Phil Anselmo (of the band Skinny Puppy), two featurettes on the making of the film ("The Van Bebber Family," "In the Belly of the Beast"), a chilling real-life interview with Charles Manson himself, a short film entitled Gator Green by Van Bebber, some deleted scenes, and a theatrical trailer.

The Manson Family may be a truly moving experience for some viewers, though I don't want to come into contact with any of them.

The Verdict


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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 45

Perp Profile

Studio: Severin Films
Video Formats:
• Full Frame (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English (SDH)
• Spanish
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Bad
• Blu-ray
• Crime
• Historical
• Horror
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Deleted Scenes
• Featurettes
• Short Film
• Interview
• Trailer


• IMDb

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