Very few films fit into a category all alone. Jim Van Bebber’s The Manson Family is one of those oh so rare films. Is The Manson Family a docudrama meant to scare the shit out of audiences so they realize the gruesomeness and depravity of the slaughters committed by “the family?” Or is The Manson family a mockumentary about the brainwashed idiocy that Charles Manson indoctrinated his loyal followers with? Or even more to the point, is The Manson Family a film to have fun to and watch while stoned on weed and/or intoxicated on alcohol? In my humble opinion, I believe the film to be whatever you make of it. It seems that director Jim Van Bebber does not have any serious or concrete ideas as to why he made this cinematic masterpiece of
Jim Van Bebber makes no lie that real sex and drugs went down during the filming of The Manson Family. While watching the film, it is apparent real-life hedonism was to the realist advantage of the film. Despite how silly and goofy some of the family members seem in the film, I certainly felt that the actors lent a certain authenticity that most films about “true crime” lack. The Manson Family also has a psychedelic feeling that allows the viewer to become pseudo-disenchanted with reality and in tune with the nonsensical world of The Manson Family. I once screened the film for a bunch of young drunk rednecks and they became so agitated with the film that they aggressively made me turn it off. It was apparent that while watching The Manson Family, that these rednecks saw something about themselves they didn’t like. Keep in mind that these young men were both drunk and stoned.
Of course, like virtually every other film ever made, The Manson Family has its flaws. The most glaring being the added subplot of contemporary Manson fans and their unnatural obsession with Sex, Drugs, and “Rock N Roll.” Even many of the actors that played The Manson family members were disappointed with this added group of bottom feeding losers. The subplot of contemporary Manson fans conspiring to kill a “piggy producer” just comes off as a stupid (and hopefully unintended) message about Manson’s negative influence on American young adults. If I wanted to find about that, I would read Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter. I figure that Jim Van Bebber added the new and unimproved footage so that The Manson Family would be at a longer running time.
I believe that The Manson Family is Jim Van Bebber’s masterpiece. Honestly, I don’t see the guy topping this film. Heck, I don’t know if I can even see Jim Van Bebber completing another feature length film. When I watch Van Bebber’s exciting and very unconventional action-packed film Deadbeat at Dawn, I see a promising director that looks like he will eventually make headlines in the future. Sadly, however it seems that drugs and alcohol have consumed too much of Jim Van Bebber’s life for him to put his “all” into filmmaking. Honestly, after each time watching The Manson Family, it does not surprise me that it took two decades for Jim Van Bebber to complete two modest budget (but superb) films. Maybe if we take a bowl hit in tribute to Satan, that might change things?