One of the most essential elements of any film is the ability to elicit a reaction from the audience, and this is even more key when the film in question is from that genre that resides so near and dear to our hearts, horror. If we’re all going to be honest and candid here though, a strong reaction is something that a horror film hasn’t given me in a long long time. Not a true one anyways. When I talk about reactions, I’m not talking about the oh-shit-that-dog-came-out-of-nowhere-and-scared-me lazy, jump scare kind of physical reaction garbage that’s so predominant now. I’m talking about making you feel ill and off-kilter, be it mentally or physically,through the use of editing, sound and imagery on film. Making you feel like something inside of you is changed when you exit that dark theater back into the safety of the florescent-lit “real world”. These days, more often that not, so called “good”, critically heralded horror movies are more the kind that make you toss your proverbial popcorn up in the air like you’re in a Looney Tunes cartoon and less the kind that make you question whether or not that guy that drives the bus is harboring some deep secret that would keep you up all night weeping in the fetal position. Fucking shameful.
We, and by “We” I mean a larger contingent of people who consider themselves “aficionados” of this genre than would ever admit it, seem to have forgotten that horror exists very much so in the REAL world and not just in a fantasy land filled with rubber masked monsters and wise-cracking killers. I recently had the pleasure (displeasure? let’s settle on experience) of seeing Jim Van Bebbers The Manson Family aka Charlies Family screened at the Housecore Horror Film Festival this past October and though it was inarguably one of the most uncomfortable experiences I’ve had watching movie recently, I both welcome and appreciate it for what it taught me.
The Manson Family tells the story of everyones favorite killer hippy and his gaggle of hangers-on and minions not from the point of the victims or investigators who pieced together the events post-mortem, but from the viewpoint of the members of Charlies inner circle, his “Family”. Shot in a documentary style mixed with narrative vignettes that show us first hand the events that tied the “family” together and eventually the climactic murder of the Tate family, director Jim Van Bebber manages to make you feel out of your skin and like something (or everything) can and will go horribly wrong at a moments notice from the first frames of the film right until the credits start rolling. Shot over the course of a decade or so, you can tell at times where the more modern footage ends and the late 80’s footage begins. Unlike some other reviews I’ve read, I don’t actually see this as so much of a negative point as others seem to. Rather, I feel it adds to the experience and atmosphere of the film, giving it a patchwork feel that fits the subject matter well. LSD does favor heavily into the narrative and history of the “family” after all and having the footage jumping eras only heightened this almost psychedelic experience of this film for me.
It’s not perfect by any means and there are some moments that the low-budget acting (and Jim Van Bebbers’characters fake mustache) takes you out of the fever dream that the film is very effective at producing, but overall I’d say this movie is far more hit than miss. Marcelo Games as Charlie Manson is, as he rightfully should be, a high-point of this movie. He comes across as equal parts filled with hippie crystal magic/free love mumbo jumbo and hair-trigger physically violent ex-con behavior flawlessly, switching in-between the two at a moments notice, as one would expect the man himself did.
If you have any interest in killer hippies, LSD-induced trips involving Satan, or (especially this one) need to renew your faith in a genre that is getting more and more watered down by the day, do yourself a huge favor and find a copy of Jim Van Bebbers The Manson Family. I can’t recommend this movie enough to anyone who considers them self a true fan of horrific, subversive cinema. Find it, BUY IT, and support true horror.