Ask anyone of a certain age and they will tell you that the crime of the 20th century was the Tate-LaBianca murders carried out by Charles Manson and his cult like “family.” Some people, when they think of the phrase “helter skelter,” may be more likely to think of the Manson family than they are the Beatles song which inspired the turn of phrase. What some may not know is an old wive’s tale that back in 1969, the Manson family commandeered a number of super 8 cameras, even going as far as to steal equipment from NBC trucks, documenting some of their day to day lives.
Fifteen years after this alleged incident, John Aes-Nihil and a small crew recreated some of these events, as he interpreted them to have happened, recording the events on super 8 film to accentuate a grainy, aged look to the horrific communal living and killing the Manson family committed. With a soundtrack predominantly made up of tracks from the cult leader himself, the film is a collection of piecemeal would-be home movies, a silent film in Technicolor known simply as Manson Family Movies that is frankly ahead of its time.
The allure of the film comes from the prospect of the recreation of the Manson family life and crimes. If nothing else, the success of this movie lives and dies on it. To their credit, the filmmakers did use actual locations from the real-life events, but the fact that there is precisely zero diegetic sound involved is a weird facet of this film. There’s no dialogue, no speaking roles, only lip-reading if you’re able and paying close enough attention. I can see this deterring some viewers, but this is not a film for casual moviegoers by any stretch.
Normally I don’t like to include spoilers in movie reviews, but considering we’re dealing with one of the grisliest crimes of the twentieth century, if you don’t know now, you’re not going to. The scenes depicting the graphic murder of a pregnant woman are jarring enough to watch, let alone when a hardcore punk song plays over them. On one hand, the change in score marks the violent nature of the events on-screen. On the other, there’s something to be said about a song that repeats the phrase “die, bitch” as a woman with child is being slaughtered methodically. I understand that there are worse choices to be made in this production, but I digress.
The anniversary release of the film is a two-disc collection, which includes loads of bonus features, including a disturbing thirty-minute interview with Charlie Manson himself from 1994, in which he gives some interesting views on prison, war, and music. For those who are well-versed in true crime and the rise of serial murderers in the United States, there’s plenty to take in here besides the feature film itself, and while the production choices of said film are peculiar, it does stand out as something completely different from what most filmmakers would take on.