Manson Family (The)
R1 - America - Dark Sky Films
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (1st May 2006).
The Film

Some "horror" films approach their subject matter in a roundabout way; hinting at or suggesting sexual or violent content, while showing little graphic material. Others follow the opposite approach, and do not shy away from depicted somewhat shocking scenes.

To say that Jim Van Bebber's The Manson Family - pitched as being "based on the true story" of Charles Manson and his murderous followers - fits into the latter category is a bit like saying "fire can be a little on the warm side sometimes" or "giving her lack of talent, Paris Hilton is strangely overexposed" - the statement is true without really hinting at the extent of how true it is.

To put it bluntly - this might be one of the most graphically depraved films you'll ever see. To put it another way - how many other films have you seen where some of the protagonists kill a dog and then f*** each other while smeared in it's blood?

You've at least got to admire Van Bebber's film for its unflinching depiction of the Manson Family's depravity. But although the film may offer an accurate portrayal of events (I'm not familiar enough with the minutiae of the Manson murders to know if it does or not) it fails to offer any new insights into their motivations.

Manson (played by Marcelo Games) himself is presented as a somewhat elusive figure (who for that matter doesn't look much like his real-life counterpart), without a hint of the magnetism that must have been required to induce his followers to commit their grisly acts. Despite this, you still get the impression that the film is somehow glorifying The Manson Family, which left a somewhat unpleasant taste in this viewer's mouth - possibly even more so than the uncomfortable and confrontational imagery on show.

Van Bebber began shooting the film in 1988, but for various reasons (funding among them) took around 15 years to complete it, only finishing the post production due to an injection of funding from a DVD distributor. Nevertheless, the film achieves a surprising consistency, if you can call it that, in its look - the somewhat fractured framing and use of a variety of different film stocks is carried throughout the entire picture, which helps to disguise the fact that the actors will have aged rather more during The Manson Family's filming than on your average feature.

There are some merits to the movie - stylistically and in its general approach you can see the makings of a truly impressive film. But ultimately The Manson Family seems pointless, other than an exercise in shock and exploitation.


Presented in a 1.33:1 non-anamorphic full screen image, this transfer is all over the place, some digital video, some film almost all of which is manipulated in some way to look archival. Some of the film is sharp, while other aspects are faded and scratched, washed out and dirty. In terms of the overall look and style the filmmakers did a reasonably good job in making it look damaged however ultimately distracting and showy often looking like a disjointed music video.


Two audio tracks are included here, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround as well as an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its 5.1 track, was quite a number. It sets the tone and atmosphere perfectly making use of the surrounds with creepy dialogue and sound effects. The track although utilized the sound space and certainly dynamic was surprisingly lacking in overall depth, it achieves a sense of atmosphere well however only scratching the surface.
Optional subtitles are included in English only.


Aside from the film being on this disc we also get two theatrical trailers the first runs for 1 minute while the second runs for 2 minutes.

A stills gallery follows that and includes:
- Production stills are 61 images taken during the production of the film over the last 15 years.
- Behind-the-Scenes includes 51 images taken of the cast and crew on the set of the film.

This second disc is where the majority of the extras are housed; here you’ll find the first of two feature-length documentaries. The first one is entitled "The VanBebber Family" and runs for 77 minutes 20 seconds. This is a comprehensive making-of chronicle that interviews the entire major cast and crew; it covers the genesis of their careers and the project to the filming and the subsequent 15 year odyssey that would eventually transpire. The doco also looks at the influences and inspiration for this film, how it originally started out as a small exploitation film and developed into this larger beast. The cast discuss filming with the director and the personal pain and suffering they went through during some of the scenes. It also looks at the real Manson and his mystique.

Following that is the In The Belly Of The Beast" documentary that runs for 73 minutes 16 seconds. This was shot at the 1997 Fant-Asia film festival in Montreal, Canada and covers a behind-the-scenes experience of some filmmakers (including Van Bebber) during this festival and the screening of their films. We learn about the filmmakers and the struggles of making low budget independent films.

Rounding out the extras is an interview with Charles Manson running at 10 minutes 9 seconds, Manson doesn’t come off as the most sane individually ever, in this creepy and fascinating clip. Easily the best extra on this DVD, Manson rants about the unfairness of his trail in his own lecturing style, and also talks about music being his outlet and god and the devil.


The Film: D Video: C+ Audio: B Extras: B Overall: C+


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