Over the years, we have seen tons of documentaries, tv specials, and narrative films revolving around Charles Manson and his sadistic family of murderers. From the chilling interviews with Manson himself, to the world-wide coverage of the murder of a pregnant Sharon Tate, Manson has haunted and terrified multiple generations. To this day, his mark on culture still reaches a few individuals who want to carry out his work and pure evil. And with Jim Van Bebber's 'The Manson Family' film, we dive into a drug fueled, psychedelic, and bloody mess that is part mockumentary, part "archival footage", and part narrative. The result is sick, twisted, nightmarish, but ultimately extraordinary.
'The Manson Family' tends to go in a bit of a chronological order, starting with a young Manson in his hippie, guitar playing days as he starts to recruit other people and begins to take charge of the group. We see how manipulative and chaotic his life and his followers are. These scenes are interspersed with supposed "archival footage" and present day interviews with the people involved with the Manson family as they discuss their motivations and their thought process through their deeds.
Part of the overall story arc centers around a reporter doing a story on the Manson family who unknowingly is marked for the Manson family. This little piece of the puzzle is just an added bonus of the insight of Manson followers today. Other segments that are woven into this mind-bender are sequences of rape, murder, and blood orgies. It's definitely not for the faint of heart.
Van Bebber focuses more on Manson and his followers than their more famous exploits, such as the murder of Sharon Tate. Instead, the film showcases the trials and tribulations between members of the family, even if it means killing some of their own kind. We are literally thrown into the middle of their sadistic way of life as we at times witness their horrible actions, and at other times are a part of their rituals. It's all very off-putting, yet we cannot look away. It's very hypnotic.
'The Manson Family' is a film that your won't soon forget, even if you never want to see it again. Its warping visuals and various mix of structures will take its toll on you and can become quite confusing. And with all of the blood, guts, and rape, you might think you took a double hit of acid and are in the midst of a bad trip. But that's the whole point of this movie. It's to put you in this hellish and disorganize world of pure pandemonium, where a certain family of young women and men will promote love and music, but end up murdering, torturing, and starting a race war. This is one of the most disturbing films you will ever see.
'The Manson Family' has a very odd 1080p HD transfer presented in a rare 1.34:1 aspect ratio. If you are not aware of Van Bebber's motive for making this type of film, this video presentation might throw you for a loop. But, his vision was to make a very choppy and shoddy video as if it was made back in the late 60s on video, complete with "rare found footage". Van Bebber used some interesting techniques to get his images to look old and beat down.
Not only did Van Bebber physically mess with the print, but he also added some digital effects to hamper the image to what it looks like today. Most of the film has a thick layer of grain with specks of dirt and hair popping up all over the place. The image seems to even go off the reels at certain points, much like an old Grindhouse film might. In the newer footage that we see, the image is quite crisp and clear, but always has a thick layer of grain. Colors are heavily muted here as well. Van Bebber's vision of a documentary and found footage from late 60s comes across well here.
This release also has a weird lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix that sounds like you're in a carnival of horrors while on drugs. The clearest part of the audio track is the audio interviews, which is mostly clear and easy to understand, but due to the way Van Bebber made this film, it has constant cracks and pops in the track. The sound effects when we are in the drug fueled blood orgies and trip sequences make use of the surrounds, but it all sounds a little vague and muted at times.
The music and score comes out softly in the surrounds with the exception of the psychedelic sequences, where the sounds tends to amp up. There is not much for ambient noise here, and is mostly a front heavy track. The fidelity and dynamic range here is decent, but with this audio presentation, expect a shoddy and vintage sound experience.
'The Manson Family' certainly isn't for everyone. It's confusing at times, very violent and bloody, and involves rape and torture. I believe what Van Bebber went for here was to capture the psyche and thought process of the Manson Family themselves, rather than focus on their infamous murders. While the audio and video presentations were made to look like a broken down Grindhouse film, those aspects give the film a sense of realism that is all too scary. The extras are bizarre, but very informative. I hate to say it, but I definitely recommend this movie if you can take it.