Manson Review: Infamy Lives On

August 10, 2009 by  
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MANSON: Monday 10th August, Channel 5, 10pm Alert Me

On the night of August 9 1969, a group of hippies broke into a house in an up-market area of Los Angeles and slaughtered the inhabitants in brutal fashion.

The apartment on Cielo Drive belonged to Roman Polanski, and among those to be murdered was Sharon Tate, his pregnant wife.

During the following evening they killed Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in similar fashion.

The murders shocked America and cemented the name of Charles Manson as an icon for infamy. This slice of film-making remains the definitive edition for those hoping to understand the manipulative, delusional and psychotic parts of the man himself in magnetic fashion.

Yet what stays with us is the pieces ability to take us on a journey through the human psyche. Manson himself was never convicted of murdering anyone, yet he had managed to enthral a group of flower children to such extents that they were willing to carry out his darkest orders.

In the year before these murders took place, Manson had been lecturing his family on the race war that he believed was about to commence – at one stage he even convinced them he was the second coming of Christ. As it turned out, the murders were meant to trigger ‘Helter Skelter’, Manson’s name for the Armageddon that was about to ensue in which white America would be overthrown.

He had taken the name from a song by The Beatles, and with no little irony it seems that many decades later, his image will be one of the few that might endure beyond that of the fab-four in America’s collective memory.

The role of Charles Manson is skilfully captured by a dead-eyed Jeremy Davies, who puts in such a mesmerizing performance as the narcissistic cult-leader that recalling him as Spielberg’s nervous corporal Upham in Saving Private Ryan seems impossible.

If ever evidence was needed that we are both fascinated and titillated by history’s most macabre figures, this is it.

In the late sixties, and at the height of hippydom, a 32 year-old Manson was living on Spahn Ranch, an old film set about 30 miles from LA. At its peak there were nearly 50 people – including children – living on-site.

We see events through the eyes of Linda Kasabian, who fled from the ranch in the wake of the Tate/LaBianca murders. Kasabian was present at both homicides and was used as the star witness for the prosecution of the family members who carried out the killings.

In return for her testimony she received legal immunity, and her accounts of the events are spliced effectively into the action, adding to the already significant gravitas of the piece.

If you are familiar you already have an interest in Manson, this is definitely a must-see. If you are new to the family, prepare to be interested.

Sean Marland


If he hadn’t been so busy organising bloody murder, Manson might have been able to set up a church. Oh well. Religion founded in honour of Shia Lebeouf

jly says:

Just a correction: Manson was not played by Davies in this film, he was played by the fantastic Adam Wilson.