In the summer of ‘69 members of Charlie Manson’s “family” stole an NBC-TV truck loaded with film equipment. Later on the truck was dumped and the majority of its contents given away, but Charlie kept one of the cameras. The Family also allegedly owned three Super-8 cameras which they used to produce amateur porn films. Based on this information and an interview with a one-time member of The Family which (rather vaguely) supports this, Ed Sanders speculates in his book The Family, that Charlie and his followers may have filmed their crimes and/or been involved in the production of “snuff films”. This was the first recorded use of the term snuff.
With Manson Family Movies, John Aes-Nihil has taken this material combined with the rumour that The Family also filmed re-enactments of their murders and produced a chillingly accurate portrayal of what these films may have been like.
The film opens with Charlie’s introduction to, then seduction of Sadie-Mae then cuts to some authentic street scenes on Haight-Ashbury complete with half naked stoned hippies, blacks being arrested, crazed homeless folk with Charlie in the middle of it all rapping with / recruiting some of his girls. For the next forty or so minutes we are witnesses to The Family going about their everyday activities and the events leading up to the Tate / LaBianca murders: drug-fueled orgies, naked fire dancing, mock crucifixions of Charlie, creepy crawl missions, group listenings of The White Album, an unsettling gangbang with ol’ George Spahn and the drug-deal-gone-bad scenario.
The second half of the film covers the murders. It seems kind of pointless to go into details here as I’m sure the majority of you reading this are well aware of the grisly facts. Suffice to say Sharon’s murder and subsequent “abortion” are particularly meaty.
Family Movies was shot on scratchy 8mm film stock and is silent aside from the soundtrack which is a combination of Charlie’s music, Aes-Nihil’s band Beyound Joy and Evil (which is of a similar folksy tone to Charlie’s), avant-garde electronics, backward voice loops & squealing sax during the more atmospheric parts. The film was shot a mere few years after the murders and uses all of the exact locations where the events happened. Aes-Nihil’s dedication and meticulous attention to detail here is beyond obsessive, right down to the precise spot where they dumped their bloody clothes after the Tate murders.
The gritty home movie quality coupled with the flawless soundtrack adds so much realism to the film that it almost looks and feels like the real thing. Part of this feeling of authenticity is also due to the fact that the cast is made up of a rag-tag bunch of Aes-Nihil’s hippie friends and people literally pulled off the street, some of whom were acquaintances of The Family – one of the actresses playing Squeaky pulled out of the film after shooting a few scenes because her apartment burned down and she suspected it was retaliation from Family members for starring in the film.
Seeing as the film is shot from the point-of-view of The Family recreating their crimes there is a sense of comedy here too – some members play two or three characters which infrequently leads to them being in drag, oftentimes the cast struggle to keep a straight face, particularly during the murder scenes, there are recurring in-jokes like Sharon Tate’s black maid constantly reading Nietzsche, an amusing nod to Valley of the Dolls and a hilarious moment during Tate’s prolonged murder scene when a discordant punk song suddenly erupts on the soundtrack entitled Die Bitch (courtesy of the Sloppy Titty Freaks). Also, in the commentary track the director notes the “actor” playing George Spahn was a seventy-year-old ex-art critic who was tripping on LSD for the first time.
All in all I can honestly say Manson Family Movies is the most authentic-looking and therefore enjoyable film I’ve seen concerning the “legacy” of Charles Manson and his Family. It’s obvious this was a highly personal project for John Aes-Nihil and all his care and attention to even the smallest of details definitely pays off. Buy it!
This DVD is released by Cult Epics and contains a rarely seen interview with Charles Manson.
- Directors Commentary
- Outtakes with Directors Commentary
- Last Interview with Charles Manson (30 min)
- The original LAPD Murder Photos
- Original Charles Manson Artwork
DIRECTOR(S): John Aes-Nihil | COUNTRY: USA | YEAR 1984 | DISTRIBUTOR(S): Cult Epics | RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes | ASPECT RATIO: 1.33:1 | REGION: 0 | DISCS: 1