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MPI Home Video presents
The Manson Family (Unrated SE) (2003)

"I came to you with all the love in my heart, and you slaughtered me."
- Charles Manson (Marcelo Games)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: April 28, 2005

Stars: Marcelo Games, Marc Pitman, Leslie Orr, Maureen Allisse, Amy Yates
Other Stars: Jim VanBebber, Carl Day, Michelle Briggs, Nate Pennington, Don Keaton, Tom Burns, Mark Gillespie, Samuel Turcotte, Marita Clarke, Valerie Hatt
Director: Jim VanBebber

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for sexually explicit material, graphic violence, drug use
Run Time: 01h:35m:17s
Release Date: April 26, 2005
UPC: 030306766195
Genre: epic

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+B+A- B+

DVD Review

Much has been written about the depravity of Charles Manson and his "family", their drug-fueled lifestyle, the horrific violence and the messianic stature and control of a long-haired Jesus wannabe. The Manson Family tells the story from a slightly different angle, from the inside, shot with elements of a mock documentary crossed with a dizzying crosshatch of visual styles, much like Oliver Stone did with JFK, only here with an excess of sex and violence.

Directed by Jim VanBebber (My Sweet Satan), The Manson Family rockets around like a 1960s exploitation film in spots, only to switch gears before lurching forward and backward in time, into an explosion of images that reflects the acid-dropping mindset of those involved. It's a big stew of visuals: scratchy filmstock, black-and-white, color, herky-jerky movements (recalling VanBebber's rock video directing days with Skinny Puppy), all strung together in a well-crafted bit of unpredictability.

It's Manson-history lite, glossing over a litany of facts with a remarkable pared down retelling of what went on with Manson (Marcelo Games), his followers and their time at the Spahn ranch, all leading up to the Tate/LaBianca murders. VanBebber balances his look back at the 1960s with a modern day subplot about a television reporter putting together a piece on Charles Manson, and the way it attracts the unwanted attention of a new generation of Manson devotees.

Free love and lots of sex are the order of the day for much of VanBebber's film, as Manson's happy little world begins its axis tilt toward hatred and murder as his music career takes a nosedive. The sex and nudity is frequent, but there is quite bit of violence here too, presented with a lurid, blood-soaked exploitation approach that breathes with the same kind of unsettling ugliness found in a film like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Be warned that the sequences detailing the Tate/LaBianca murders are extremely violent and bloody, and even for a seasoned gorehound like myself they were rather uncomfortable to watch.

Made on a very modest budget, the financial restraints are evident, but only seem particularly apparent in a few spots (a couple of bad fake moustaches and bald-head appliances that look awful). VanBebber carefully works his way around the monetary limitations by telling the story with so many different visual styles that some of the forced minimalism actually ends up fitting in fairly well more often than not.

With its abundance of sex and violence, this definitely isn't for everyone. It is, however, a remarkably creative film that wears its ugliness proudly.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: VanBebber's film has been issued in 1.33:1 fullframe, and it's a solid transfer of a project that is made up of a number of different visual styles and effects that try to make things look purposely scratched, blurry or sometimes out-of-focus; Colors have that faded 1960s exploitation hue to them. It's difficult to gauge if there are any unintentional blemishes, and I imagine that even if there were they would seem like they were supposed to be there.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Audio choices come in two flavors, a satisfactory, but rather ordinary 2.0 stereo track and a really first rate offering in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround. It's rare when a low-budget indie sports a notably encompassing audio mix, and this time it's not just a matter of active rear channels. The presentation, which rivals audio tracks I've heard on bigger budget features, seems to be in near constant motion, and mimics a 90 minute acid trip with secondary voices and sounds that move and swirl around in unexpected patterns; dialogue remains clear and understandable at all times.


Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Scanavo variant
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Galleries
Extras Review: Oddly enough there's no commentary track (those almost seems second nature these days) on this 2-disc set, but what's here is good. Nothing extraordinary on disc one, which houses the film, as well as a pair of theatrical trailers and a couple of photo galleries, with upwards of 100+ images.

The good stuff, with regard to supplements, kicks in on the second disc, anchored by a full-length making of entitled The VanBebber Family (01h:16m:09s). Far removed from the typical EPK, this making-of lets VanBebber to explain things like the need he had to include the modern-day 1996 footage as a subplot, while also allowing supporting cast and crew to offer their insight on the production. The runtime on this doc might seem like overkill, but it moves along at a quick pace, sandwiching film clips, behind-the-scenes and interviews into a tight package that stresses VanBebber's stab at capturing a particular creative vision, and not to just make an exploitation flick. Excellent stuff.

Next up is In The Belly of the Beast (01h:13m:17s), which covers a 1997 Montreal Film Festival where VanBebber had a showing of the then-titled Charlie's Family. This isn't just about VanBebber, but the whole school of low-budget indie filmmaking, from a variety of sources. The quality is a bit sketchy, but the information about the struggle of the indie filmmaker speaks a ton.

The second disc ends with An Interview With Charles Manson (10m:21s), featuring a rambling series of babbling comments from the real-life Manson, who once again proves he has the ability to talk a mile-a-minute and make absolutely no sense. The inclusion of this footage serves as a thematic knot to VanBebber's project, coming off not as simply gratuitous, but as essential to pointing out how accurate the storytelling was.

The disc is cut into 20 chapters, with optional English subtitles.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Jim VanBebber's The Manson Family is a dark, scary and inventive acid-trip, a film that is not content to visually rest for any length of time on any one style or technique. The familiar story has been told before, but VanBebber injects a creative rush of adrenaline that makes this a powerful and disturbing experience.

Highly recommended.


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