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June 22, 2013

Movie Review: The Manson Family (Blu-ray, 2003)

Any filmmaker who's taken the time to put together a movie knows that it can be a painstaking process that can take a remarkably difficult toll on your stamina. Some give up, and some are persistent like Deadbeat at Dawn writer/actor/director, Jim Van Bebber. It didn't take a year, or even several years to complete his movie The Manson Family - the process took more than ten years for him to finish his second feature film. In 2003, Severin Films' David Gregory and partner Carl Daft came in at just the right time to help Van Bebber finish, and now, for fans of this ferocious take on the Manson Family we are now treated to a special edition Blu-ray of the movie with new extras that even include Van Bebber’s return behind the camera with the 16 minute short Gator Green.

The story of Charles Manson and his group of followers known as the “Manson Family” has been told before (Specifically in Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter) but the actual Manson Family hasn’t gotten the attention that thankfully Van Bebber gives the likes of Tex Watson (Michael Pitman), Leslie van Houten (Amy Yates) Patty Krenwinkle (Leslie Orr). 

In many ways these lost souls are much more interesting and frightening as Charlie himself. Leading up to the notorious Tate-LaBianca murders, we get to become a member of this group of psychotic lemmings - almost watching over the shoulders them as they commit these crimes. The structure is non-linear here but still contains a lot of facts from the case and an approach to filming that creates a nightmare unlike anything put forth in a true-crime based picture. Some of the visuals are absolutely ghastly, as they should be considering the content. 

(Minor spoiler)

The manipulation by Charlie on these folks is a powerful thing - with or without the use of the many substances passed around. In one of the more disturbing bits in the film the group to puts Manson up on a cross like Jesus while sacrificing a dog. They then cover their bodies with the mutt’s blood and proceed to take part an orgy. The energy of this group of actors is very evident here and throughout the film's running time. Van Bebber’s editing, various camera angles and the whole voyeuristic tone keep this scene effective and hardly titillating - even with the rampant sex on display. The murders of Sharon Tate and the LaBianca are also shot in a way to make the heinous acts really stun the viewer and not just pass off as another gore for gore sake scene. It’s true horror.

The performances are very strong - with Orr, Pitman and Van Bebber leaving everything out there with their intense portrayals. Some method acting apparently was utilized in during the filming which in this case brings realism to what you’re watching on screen that has rarely been seen in genre films of late.

Severin Films has packed this special edition release with a ton of extra features that include two almost feature length documentaries - one called The VanBebber Family and the other being some footage of the popular Fantasia film festival in Canada that includes a big chunk devoted to the director.

The VanBebber Family is almost as fascinating as the film itself as there really is no fluff here as it's a lot of honest behind the scenes recollections of the from the filming. Van Bebber also contributes a brand-new audio commentary that goes over some subjects not discussed in the documentary. Phil Anselmo's involvement is brought up. He was a huge fan of Deadbeat at Dawn and saw fit to offer some help with the production. Its great listen.

Speaking of Anselmo, Severin Film's was able to get the Pantera vocalist to talk about the film and gave his side of the story and how he gained interest in the project.

Possibly my favorite extra is without a doubt Van Bebber's newest short, Gator Green. Plenty of blood guts and laughs are packed into the 16 minute running time of this story of two insane Vietnam vets who enjoy feeding folks to alligators. Very entertaining stuff here, and it even features some gory gator grue from splatter FX wizard Marcus Koch (Bloody, Bloody Bible Camp, Brainjacked). Some deleted scenes are also included as is an interview from Charles Manson Superstar with the one and only Mr. Manson.

The Manson Family really looks and sounds excellent on this Blu-ray incarnation. Add the heaping amount of enjoyable supplements to go along with what is one of the finest "real" horror films of the past 20 years and you have an awesome release that should not be missed. Highly Recommended.

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