It’s no secret that America is fascinated with serial killers and other true crimes. While I’m not sure where this fixation comes from, I can’t deny that I, too, am intrigued by all of the sociopaths walking the face of the earth. There are countless documentaries, made-for-television movies, and TV series telling these true tales of terror, but there are none that are quite like the Manson Family Movies directed by John Aes-Nihil.
Many believe that Charles Manson and his notorious “family” filmed their various exploits throughout their active years. Manson Family Movies is the re-creation of what is believed to be on said home movies, depicting numerous events leading up to, and including, the eventual Tate-LaBianca murders.
I must admit that the Manson Family Movies turned out to be something totally different from what I anticipated. John Aes-Nihil’s 1984 film, marketed as [the re-creation of] actual Manson family home movies, is in essence a silent film.
There is no dialogue throughout the film’s 84 minutes, and it is quite frankly difficult to follow at times. The family members, and presumably Manson himself, are shown lounging around, smoking, drinking, dropping acid, playing with various bladed weapons, cleaning up horse manure, ripping apart a broken down vehicle with their bare hands, and committing various random acts of violence.
There is, of course, no way of knowing what the actors are saying, although it is evident that their mouths are indeed moving more often than not. The only actual vocals we here at any point are the screams of murder victims and the smooth calming singing of a folk rock soundtrack, songs similar perhaps to what Manson was known for writing and performing himself.
This folky score is only broken up by low droning squeals at the culmination of the film, which is without a doubt the infamous murders of Sharon Tate and company. This part can do a number on one’s nerves if too much attention is paid to the aural violation, as opposed to the heinous events actually unfolding on screen.
I generally make note of things like acting performances, special effects, lighting, and more, when it comes to my little film reviews, but Manson Family Movies makes it difficult for me to do so on all accounts.
The acting seen throughout is rather silly, not much actual acting at all; the practical blood effects are impressive at times and lackluster during others; the piecemeal home movie approach doesn’t lend much in terms of real cinematography… you see where I’m going with this.
Manson Family Movies is not for everyone. It is, however, an interesting attempt to make something different and I’m actually quite sure there are many out there that would find this type of project quite entertaining. Unfortunately, I am not one of them.
Instead, I believe the ones that will have the best time with this are those most familiar with the real life individuals being portrayed here.
Anyone familiar enough with the grisly details of the crimes will pick up on things that I perhaps don’t know enough to even pay attention to.
According to a quote from filmmaker John Waters (Pink Flamingos, Serial Mom), Manson Family Movies does a great job at re-creating even the most obscure, “fetishy details.” Because of this and the fact that I am quite ignorant to any real details of the family’s crimes, I cannot justifying say that this film is bad in any way, shape, or form.
Perhaps the most noteworthy tidbit about Aes-Nihil’s long-lost [before now] 70s/80s film is that it was actually shot at various real-life locations inhabited by the Manson family cult — the Spahn and Barker Ranches, the Hinman and LaBianca residences, and many more.
This awesome feat alone is enough to make this feature stand out among the myriad of other material floating around on these horrific crimes and those involved in them.
Cult Epics has done this film great justice with a newly released limited edition two disc DVD set, equipped with a bonus disc, which contains the Sharon Tate Home Movies.
In addition to this remarkable bonus disc are a myriad of other supplements, including audio commentary with director John Aes-Nihil himself, outtakes and bonus footage, original Charles Manson artwork, and a full 30 minute interview with Manson from 1994.
If you were ever interested in Manson Family Movies at all, there is no doubt that this is the home release that you need to own. It will never get better than this definitive collection, I am sure of it.
I give the film only 1 samurai sword out of 5, but the home release and overall package certainly deserves nothing less than 5 out of 5.