Wednesday, September 4, 2013

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Film Reviews

FILM THREAT #16 1988

When Charles Manson and various Family members landed in jail, they left behind more than just a coroner's nightmare and a hefty dose of public outcry.  Movie exploitation has never known grace, and Manson's was a story of seemingly endless cinematic possibilities.  His life sentence may end soon as the pseudo-Christ has recently become plagued with cancer.  Here we present the most complete filmography of Manson influenced films.

MANSON (1974) is still banned in California, Robert Hendrickson's and Laurence Merrick's objective documentary is somewhat preoccupied with the Family more so than Manson himself.  Various free members talk openly about the goals and structure of the Family in between Charlie stalking the courthouses.  There are brief home-movie excerpts taken on Spahn Ranch, mostly shots of horseback riding and partying.  Towards the end a miniscule excerpt from an interview with Manson by Jerry Rubin is added, if just to fulfill the title's promise.  Those who have read "Helter Skelter" or "The Family" will get a refresher course here; others, however, might get a jolt.  Film was released on a limited run in
New York with Polanski's "Macbeth".  Music by Paul Watkins and Brooks Posten.  Available on World Wide Video.

HELTER SKELTER (1976) was a natural for film after the success of the book.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), TV grabbed up the rights and the result may be the grand daddy of 70's play-it-safe exploitation, a truly ridiculous film made compelling by over-dramatization in the wrong places, stereotypical characterizations, and an awful fake Beatles soundtrack.  Following the book straight, as TV allows, the dons a sterile (albeit opinionated, re: con) view and turns Manson into a caricature of Menace.  Steve Railsback as Manson gives a glassy eyed performance of Peter Lorre on mescaline.  As Susan Atkins, Nancy Wolfe chews the scenery via catatonic dementia that reaches the cosmos of pop entertainment.   Suffering from a logbook of facts, dates, figures, places and people serving as its scenario, the film rarely breathes life or depth into the most obvious places.  George DiCenzo, for example, plays the straight role of Bugliosi as a grey-area, a navel picking nimrod who'd never be invited to anyone's party.  Key Video version runs 120 minutes;  original TV version clocks in at 194 minutes.


BEYOND VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970)  Russ Meyer and co-author Roger Ebert were not entirely influenced  by the Manson case for their screenplay of the comedic, in-name only sequel to Jacqueline Susann's trashy novel.  Their script covers all exploitable angles- quite successfully.  The character Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell (played by john LaZar) is a wild illusion of Manson, while the murders in the film smack of tabloid sensationalism.  More interesting is the film as a whole, perhaps the biggest, brashest, most colorful and expensive exploitation film ever made, thanks to 20th Century Fox giving Meyer artistic freedom on the basis of his past films (notably Vixen and Cherry, Harry and Raquel).
I DRINK YOUR BLOOD (1971)  Amazing, plenty weird effort from writer/director David Durston (Stigma) and producer (Grimm's Fairy Tales For Adults).  "Satan was an acid head!"  exclaims the leader of a hippie-devil-cult before sending a dog to the slaughter.  His troupe, residing in the woods od upstate New York, are an eye sore for the locals.  After the youths pester an old man, his grandson injects the blood for a rabid dog into their food.  The devil worshipers start foaming at the mouth, take over the town and kill anyone in sight.  One girl turns into a rabid nymphomaniac, is laid by a few dozen hard-hats who, in turn, become rabid killers, too.  Not to be missed.

THE DEATHMASTER (1978) Robert Quarry, late of the Count Yorga films, stars as a Manson-type guru to hippie following.  Basically a tired vampire flick.  1950's screen idol Ray Danton directs.
BLUE SUNSHINE (1978)  Stanford University radicals are bummed out when the acid they just swallowed fails to take effect.  10 years later they're middle class stiffs with homes and families and insurance premiums, and WHAM!, the supercharged, delay-reaction LSD goes full throttle.  Paying homage to the Family's Yul Brenner phase, the victims lose all their hair, then go on a bloodlust/killing spree.  Writer/director Jeff Leiberman creates a good atmosphere in this staple of late night TV.  Leiberman also makes a terrific worm-conquest film called Squirm.  Zalman King stars with Robert Walden (of TV's Lou Grant), Mark Goddard (Lost in Space, General Hospital), and Alice Ghostley (Bewitched).
INVOCATION OF MY DEMON BROTHER (1969)  An embryonic version of Lucifer Rising (1974/82), both made by Kenneth Anger.  Bobby Beausoleil stars as Lucifer in this colorful fairy-tale set in the outer limits of ordinary narrative.  In 1967, the footage for Lucifer Rising was stolen by Beausoleil; legend has it the film was handed over to Manson, who, with Beausoleil, proceeded to bury it in the desert.  Shot in San Francisco; 11 minutes, music by Mick Jagger.
MANSON FAMILY MOVIES (1984)  The video box claims "The Manson Family has rumored to have filmed their activities.  This is what those films, The Family movies, may have looked like." 

The key word here is may.  Manson Family Movies is nothing more than poorly done super 8 that is almost unwatchable.  Over quoted John Waters however, has this to say, "Manson Family Movies is a primitive, obsessional, fetishistic tribute to mayhem, murder and madness.  Enough to appall even the most jaded VCR."  The company that distributes this vid, AES-NIHIL carries many other Manson related items including audio tapes, video tapes, articles and interviews.  AES-NIHIL Productions.

THOU SHALL NOT KILL.... EXCEPT (1986)  The best action feature based on the Manson murders, writer-producer Scott Spiegel, who co-wrote EVIL DEAD 2 mixes a little humor into it.  Three Stooges antics meet great sleaze and gore.  Directed by Josh Becker with Sami Raimi as the cult leader, Manson and his gang have to fight off a group of Rambo-esque marines just back from Vietnam.  surely this is the most entertaining.  Recently available on video from Prism Entertainment/Film World Distributors.