Charles Milles Manson was a notorious criminal and cult leader living a commune lifestyle in the peace and love era of the 1960’s. The Mason Family was his communal cult following that squatted in the outskirts of Californian desserts and self indulged in hallucinogens. Radicalized and dangerous, Manson exploited their unwavering loyalty to his radicalizing behavior of a hippie way of life. Filmmaker John Aes-Nihil, a collector and lionizer of all things Charles Manson, shoots a recreation of the daily activities of Mason’s cult members, filmed at infamous Manson locations that gave a taste of commune life while also providing shuddering atmospheric insights of kill spots. To Aes-Nihil, Charles Manson lived and breathed through interpretation of their, so called, home movies.
Filmed between 1974 to 1979, three years after Charles Manson was convicted of first degree murder, director John Aes-Nihil filmed his rather homage-life rendition of what he calls the “Manson Family Movies.” Not released until 1984, Aes-Nihil also brings legend to fruition of a rumor that Manson and his followers filmed much of their daily rituals and societal deviancies, giving “Manson Family Movies” more stigma to the already controversial obsession the filmmaker already made mania in such a short turnaround from Manson’s conviction finale. “Manson Family Movies” is also a silent film, a rarity for a late 70’s, early 80’s that was just in an industrial transitional point of visual special effects and larger than life performances; yet Aes-Nihil’s remains silent and crudely finesses his interpretative documentary with stage play performances and badly scrawled title cards that instill an engrossing affect of internal sliminess toward the already visceral nature.
The cast consists of many unknown faces who have come and gone even before “Manson Family Movies” was first viewed by the public. Their involvement begs the question of their pride for subject matter involving the brutal stabbing murder of a pregnant woman with the senseless and, almost, toying deaths of couple as their listed names are more than likely pseudonyms, credited as if themselves were a part of a hippie commune with names like Rick the Precious Dove as Charles Manson, Krista Meth (Crystal Meth?), Porn Michael, Miss Sheila Star, and Sister Audress just to name some of the more eye-catching credits. As aforesaid, performances are choreographed indiscriminately that much of the violence goes by the waist side, but as characters go, more than most look the part with the exception of some transvestism as some actors and actresses don multiple roles in the bottom of the money barrel feature. Other dime actors included Katie Lazarus, Knarly Dana, Mr. Jacquetta, Judy, Ms Mule, Danny, Lori, Miss Head, Ms Brad, Moka, Chucky, Rusty, King Mama, and The Cosmic Ray. Seriously…
Not much is first-rate about the “Manson Family Movies” aside from a couple of exceptions: 1) Cult Epics amazing two-disc re-release that’ll be covered later and 2) the fact that Aes-Nihil constructed home like movies using what looks like 8mm negative film complete with deterioration and defects, providing a desensitizing and demoralizing halo around the heavy material. “Manson Family Movies” won’t be many audiences cup of historical tea and many folks will probably point out that this is only an interpretation of events, but was the raid on “Pearl Harbor” accurately depicted by Jerry Bruckheimer or did James Cameron give every minute detail correct in “Titanic?” I think not. Not to compare apples to oranges to blue berries, but as base observation, Aes-Nihil did what any director would have more than likely done with an influential historical moment, a little embellished reenactment no different from the stud Hollywood filmmakers.
Cult Epics’ re-release of the “Manson Family Movies” is now presented in a region free, two-disc set complete with a slip illustrated with the same composited Charlie Manson head cover art by Brian Viveros and the same disc art by Charles Manson himself from the 2005 release. The film is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio with the black bars on either side of the frame and, as previously mentioned, the image clarity is marked by scratches, flares, and dirt. Surely, for visual stimulation. Billed a silent film, the dual channel mix of the redux and remastered score is resoundingly poignant and strangely vibrant with Charlie Manson and his Manson Family recorded music as the soundtrack. Plus, there are actually less aesthetically audio tracks from Sloppy Titty Freaks, Beyond Joy and Evil, Glen Meadmore, and some sampling of the Beatles from, you guessed it, Helter Skelter. Special features include John Aes-Nihil commentary track, outtakes with director’s commentary, last interviews with Charles Manson, the original LADP crime and morgue photos, and the second disc contains Sharon Tate’s home movies without an audio track. After watching “Manson Family Movies,” John Aes-Nihil comes to suspicion as perhaps one of Charlie’s commune followers as he depicts a chilling look into the past, through a window of ghastly sovereignty over impressionable young people, and champions a real home movie approach that makes the entire package, along with a invigoratingly haunting score, a black gem.