We gave it a B-
The Manson Family replays the story of Charlie, his girls, and their famous crimes in the form of a staged documentary, complete with a bushy-bearded actor (Marcelo Games) who looks like a refugee from Jesus Christ Superstar cast as Manson, plus ”interviews” with the killers recorded on faux?scratchy ’70s film stock. Much of the movie is crudely done: A luridly silly framing device glorifies latter-day Manson cultists, and the Tate/ LaBianca murders are played as ketchup-soaked scenes out of a Herschell Gordon Lewis blood feast. Yet the director, Jim VanBebber, who worked on the film for 15 years, nails one dimension of Mansonia better than anyone else has. He digs deep into the erotomania of life on the Spahn ranch: the orgies that escalated into violation and then violence. For Charlie, sex was power, and in The Manson Family the sexuality of his shiny angry hippie cult keeps intensifying. The film evokes how homicide became the ultimate orgasm for kids who had turned themselves into zombies of flesh. You can call Manson many things — monster, messianic devil — but to a certain punk sliver of middle-class America, he has always been cool. The cornerstone of the Manson mystique is the bizarro intensity of his personal power, and while nothing in The Manson Family can match the artistry of Jeremy Davies’ unheralded great performance in the CBS remake of Helter Skelter (he seethed like a wasp with a broken stinger), the film lures you inside its murder-with-a-smile extremes.