Chilling story of the investigation and trial of Charles Manson, leader of a strange cult which under his direction and 'control' committed numerous murders. Written by
Jerry Milani <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Despite a hokey opening prologue by a narrator who talks directly to viewers, this three hour made-for-TV docu-drama provides a generally good overview of the real-life Tate/LaBianca murders that occurred in the summer of 1969, and the subsequent trial of Charles Manson and his "family". Based on the book "Helter Skelter" by Manson Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, the film has a dragnet or prosecution tone to it, as it describes events from Bugliosi's point of view. That is okay, except that the script minimizes the crucial role of Tex Watson, one of the actual killers. After the murders, Watson fled to Texas, and was initially beyond Bugliosi's prosecution reach. Later, Watson was extradited back to California.
The film's first half is confusing because it presents so many Manson family names; this part of the film is somewhat hard to follow. The film's second half concentrates on the courtroom trial and is therefore more straightforward. The film's pace tends to be slow. There are several long speeches. And some scenes are either unnecessary or overly long. One scene in the second half goes on for some ten minutes. Overall, the film has a made-for-TV look and feel. Production design, costumes, and makeup are credible. As Manson, Steve Railsback's performance is ... intense.
What makes this film worth watching is that it is a true story ... and a powerful one. Manson had no qualms about killing innocent people. And he sought to sublease that evil to weaker personalities, like Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, Leslie Van Houten, and other members of his hippie clan. And that power over others in turn fed his megalomania.
Manson was a cultural scavenger, a junk man without conscience. He and his "family" subsisted on food from dumpsters behind supermarkets. And at one point in the film, he even says he wouldn't mind prison chow; "it's better than (eating) garbage". What a statement. It says a lot about him and about his followers.
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