• Manson Family Movies (Cult Epics) DVD Review

    Released by: Cult Epics
    Released on: August 13th, 2019.
    Director: John Aes-Nihil
    Cast: John Aes-Nihil, Rick the Precious Dove, Katie Lazarus, Knarly Dana, Krista Meth, Mr. Jacquetta
    Year: 1984
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    Manson Family Movies – Movie Review:

    This is a tough one to grade. There isn’t really a plot to go over and the whole thing functions as more of a replicated found reel of home movie footage rather than an actual narrative film. As such, it plays up to the legend that Charles Manson and his family filmed some of their exploits and this is, in essence, director John Aes-Nihil’s interpretation of what those movies might have looked like if they had ever been uncovered or ever existed in the first place. The film does manage to give us a fly on the wall look at how things might have gone inside the inner circle of Manson and his family members and while it does have some very serious flaws, it’s at least an interesting idea even if it isn’t completely successful.

    We see, through this footage, all sorts of ‘day in the life of’ clips from the Spahn Ranch where the family holed themselves up. Not only do we get the more exploitative and cinematic elements like the much talked about sexual experimentation that Manson encouraged between family members, and of course, the murders themselves, but we also see a lot of clips of grubby looking hippy type sitting around not doing much of anything either. It’s an odd mix, but it’s probably at least reasonably realistic in that it shows the downtime between the craziness as well as the craziness itself. To further recreate the ‘home movie’ feel of the footage, it’s completely silent. Characters talk on camera but, as with a lot of older home movies of the era before home movie cameras had sound capability, we can’t hear them.

    With a lot of the movie making absolutely no sense, and with serious continuity flaws and problems such as different characters being portrayed by different actors (at least three different girls play Sadie as the footage plays out and at least three different women play Mother Mary), you’d think that Manson Family Movies would be an unwatchable piece of garbage, right? Right. But somehow it sort of transcends what it is and becomes a living, breathing document of one man’s obsession with Manson and his family. John Aes-Nihil must be obsessed – it’s the only reason why this material would exist if he weren’t. It’s a very passionate piece of work and despite the fact that a lot of the effects don’t work at all and that there are the aforementioned casting issues that jump out at you in certain scenes, it’s obvious that Aes-Nihil and company were absolutely trying to make a serious recreation of something that has never been proven to exist as it relates to something he and/or they are completely and utterly fascinated and taken with.

    Unfortunately, the biggest problem with the material is that unless you’re as expert in your knowledge as John Aes-Nihil appears to be, you will have a lot of trouble following the events and putting them into context. Having a read a few books and seen a few movies on the subject, this reviewer figured he’d be okay in that regard, but nope, I was confused as Hell during certain scenes (at least the commentary is there to help explain a lot of it – see the extras section for more on that). This material was very obviously made for a small niche audience, and not personally falling into the demographic it is a difficult task to put this all into a reasonable context but it is definitely fair to call Manson Family Movies flawed but interesting and inspired, and therefore find some value in it.

    It all leads up to the infamous events that took place in the wee hours of the morning on August 9, 1969 when Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail "Gibby" Folger, Woijech Frykowski and Steven Parents, William Garretson and Tate’s unborn child were all slaughtered by Manson and his followers. This wouldn’t be much of a Manson project if it didn’t touch on the events that made him a household name and recreation of those events as interpreted by Aes-Nihil is an interesting look at how it could have all gone down. Despite the fact that the actress who plays Tate is obviously not pregnant and simply has something like a ball stuff up her shirt and despite the fact that her murder by stabbing is incredibly phony looking, it’s still a creepy sequence.

    Manson Family Movies – Blu-ray Review:

    All of the material presented in the home movie section of this disc was shot on 8mm and as such, it isn’t on par with a 35mm production but it does effectively recreate the home movie feel of the era. Anyone who grew up in the years before camcorders were a reality will remember sitting down with their family watching grainy, scratching prints of mom and dad on vacation or something to that effect, and that’s the kind of quality we get here. It’s not particularly good in comparison to modern productions but it perfectly suits the material and it works in the context of the project. This material definitely looks like a reel of 8mm film that was found in someone’s basement or something, so on that level, it’s perfect.

    The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is fine, but all it needs to worry about is the music as there are no sound effects and there isn’t any dialogue. The music, much of which is Manson’s own material, sounds decent enough here – it’s not going to win any awards but it’s clean and clear and doesn’t suffer from any hiss or distortion issues.

    John Aes-Nihil provides a pretty interesting commentary track of the replicated home movie footage that goes a long way to explaining just what the Hell is going on with this material. He tells how the project was completed over the span of a few years which explains how at different times throughout the movies certain characters are portrayed by different actors but sadly fails to really deliver much more than that in terms of why this project exists in the first place. John Aes-Nihil also provides optional commentary over a selection of deleted scenes from the feature. There’s fourteen minutes of this excised material provided here, and again, John Aes-Nihil’s narration more or less simply explains what is going on in them (which is a good thing) and why they ended up not being used. Most of this is footage of the family in the desert or on the road but there are some brief extension bits in here that are kind of keen, as well as a bonus BJ scene that was a bit of a surprise to discover!

    The best of the supplements comes in the form of a thirty-minute video interview with Manson himself, conducted by Bill Stanlon Murray (who you can just barely hear, as opposed to Chuck himself, who is very audible). Hearing the man in his own words is a pretty serious trip, and it’s pretty apparent that he’s just as whacked out now as he was in the sixties as this discussion bounces all over the place and makes very little sense. That doesn’t stop it from proving to be an interesting listen, however, and his take on music and his own personal recording career are pretty amusing.

    Rounding out the extra features are a gallery of Manson’s own personal artwork, and a grisly gallery of photos from the LAPD archives that detail the atrocities committed by Manson and his ‘family.’

    This reissue of Manson Family Movies comes with a second bonus DVD that includes fifty-nine-minutes of Sharon Tate Home Movies. It’s unclear what the source was for this but it’s interesting material. Presented silent (save for some hiss and crack on the soundtrack), we get a look at the lovely Ms. Tate lounging about her home in a black and white polka dot dress, playing with a dog, walking on the beach with a man and a child, frolicking in the woods and generally just relaxing and hanging out with friends and family. There’s also footage here of her on set dressed like a nurse, hanging out with Polanski, getting made up before a shoot, posing for a photo shoot, hanging out with Dean Martin on the set of The Wrecking Crew and more.

    There isn’t any context provided here for the material on the disc but it’s interesting to see Tate in the different environments that she’s presented in here. There’s a gracefulness to all of the material, she seems very relaxed and laid back and, apart from her obvious physical beauty, she just radiates in some of this footage. The video quality is less than perfect but it's still very cool to see this stuff.

    Also worth noting is that the first 1000 copies of this release come with a collectible slipcover.

    Manson Family Movies – The Final Word:

    Cult Epics delivers a truly bizarre package with this one. I’m not sure what it all means or why it exists in the first place but Manson Family Movies is a morbidly fascinating collection of genuinely oddball cinema.