Monday, March 7, 2022

James VanBebber's Manson Family

James VanBebber's Manson Family is not for the squeamish. Consider that your trigger warning. 

Roger Ebert titled his review, "Disgusting but undeniably powerful." I don't know how to say it better. This film is gory art. I expected to watch ninety minutes of nonsense, make a few screen caps, type a bit of gallows humor, and move on. I could not have been more mistaken. 

Patti Smith lyrics rushed through my mind during the parts of this movie my eyes refused to watch. 

"I'm an American artist and I have no guilt. I seek pleasure. I seek the nerves under your skin." 

You will find the film online in two seconds. I tried to buy a copy on Amazon but was unsuccessful. Van Bebber began the project in 1988. Ebert's review was published in 2004. 

Links to a few VanBebber interviews are located below my screen caps. His great sense of humor comes through in his work. Severin Films released a DVD/Blu Ray combo in 2003. I've also included a few pages from a book on the film. 

Let's go to the screen caps. First up, Brenda McCann. VanBebber plays Bobby and maybe steals his own show. Maureen Allisse as Sadie also maybe steals the show. The cast definitely works. I could list most of them as show stealers. 

Let's Go George!

Clem and Bruce are combined into Clem Davis lol.  

Leave. Something. Witchy. Marcelo Games is a memorable Charlie. 

VanBebber takes Hendrickson, Helter Skelter, and other well-known interviews with the inmates, etc, runs it through a Pettibon Book of Manson filter, and adds an Olympic-size swimming pool amount of blood to his exploration of young people and their continuing infatuation with Charles Manson. The result is pop culture at its darkest. 

Film club, tell me what you think. 


VanBebber interviews:

Decibel Magazine part one and part two.

* Thanks to my homie, Al, for the page photos. Secret agent Deb also helped with this post. I'm grateful to both of them. Jimmy VB, if you Google yourself and end up here, that's me in your inbox begging for an interview.  

** We have a couple of new writers joining the blog and experienced a little mixup over who was posting today. I was holding this post back for Friday but hopped in when I discovered the confusion. Real writers will be back with actual research next Monday, although I might return first this Friday with more of my nonsense. 

I'm your kind. I'm your brother. 

And I claim weekends as my own. +ggw


G. Greene-Whyte said...

No Pooh or Ivan in this one. Tanya gets top baby billing.

shoegazer said...

I have come to realize that I have no real recognition of the Manson phenomenon as a cultural catalyst. I'm absolutely not saying that it is not, just that somehow I'm not on that wavelength.

The Cielo part really and truly does play out with a mood similar to Day of the Locust, written in the late 20s, I think. That there could be a house up there, behind a gate, is just as weird as the "camp" Earle and Miguel have set up in the undeveloped hills above Franklin.

The ambiance with Sebring hunting down a particular prostitute is like Mrs. Jennings' call girls, and her "classy" stag films.

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Shoe, check your email.

And was that you who mentioned Mencken the other day? Fante writing him letters from a hotel room will remain forever burned into my brain.

TabOrFresca said...


I posted the following about 10 days ago in your ‘HS TV movie’ post in response to a poster’s question. More fitting here.

The “colonel” gave a thumbs down to this (in the early days of his blog) but I like it with reservations and if the cost is low.

The link is a response I added to another blog. You need to be registered to see it. I have pasted it below the link.

I recently watched the film “The Manson Family” by Jim Van Bebber. I was able to get the 2 Disc version using the local public library system.
About 3 minutes in to the film, I said “What the hell is this crap”? But I continued to watch and it wasn’t bad. Not essential but better than some of the other movies and documentaries.

The second disc contains a documentary about making the film. This independent movie was started in 1988 with very little money. It was filmed in Ohio using college students (and a handful of strippers for a couple of scenes). About half of the movie was filmed in 1988, much of it over a couple of long weekends. Then they ran out of money and the guy playing Manson bolted. It would take about 15 years to complete.

From watching the movie and documentary, you can see that Van Bebber was familiar with the writing of Ed Sanders and Tex Watson; and the Hendrickson-Merrick documentary, “Manson”. He also didn’t portray Manson as the boogieman.

The filming in 1988 focused on life at Spahn and the crimes (other than TLB) such as: recruiting Tex; a garbage dump run; the Simi Valley Sherry rape/forced group sex; swimming in a stream; scenes showing babies; dancing naked in a field; group sex at night that includes taking LSD, dancing, reenacting a crucifixion, sacrificing a dog and drinking blood; Manson hitting a recording engineer; Sunshine Pierce saying he was leaving; recruiting Kasabian; the Crowe shooting; the Hinman murder; the Shea murder.

Besides dramatization of Life at Spahn and the crimes, most of the rest of the film was later day flashback interviews with the Killers: Watson, Beausoleil, Atkins, Krenwinkle, and Van Houten.

Many years after starting filming, they finally filmed the TLB murders.

Overall the content, filming, and acting isn’t bad. However I didn’t like that the Watson, Atkins, Shea, and Beausoleil characters looked so different than the real life characters.
Some people may not like the amount of nudity and simulated sex but it didn’t bother me.

The part I didn’t care for the most was a couple of scenes that show a later day group/cult that worship Manson, listen to Jim Jones, and take heroin. They kill a news anchorman who speaks negatively about Manson. Van Bebber said this killing was inspired by Merrick being killed. They actually used a real anchorman, from Ohio, in the film.

There are a couple of funny things in the movie. Crowe is depicted having an afro and Rosina is tied to a radiator. When Kasabian is recruited, Tanya is in a playpen and a mouse is in there with her. When Shorty is killed, they show him being shot in the head.

The end credits list most of the Manson Family girls, but it’s nearly impossible to know who was who unless you’re familiar with what they are quoted as saying; and even that doesn’t hold true in some cases. I doubt Hendrickson was aware if this film for parts of the film dramatize RH’s “Manson”. The guy playing Paul Watkins even uses Watkins mannerisms- as was depicted in RH’s documentary.

While this is not an essential work, it does show that someone with a small guaranteed budget could make an interesting Manson film that doesn’t rehash HS. The documentary on making the film was pretty good with funny stories.

G. Greene-Whyte said...

ToF - Oh my gosh. I read that and completely forgot you wrote it. Col needs to explain what sucks about that movie.

Your review is better than mine. Please consider writing the next one. I'm a member on that forum. I've lurked everywhere man, I've lurked everywhere. Apologies to Johnny Cash.

Did you notice Simi Valley Sherry supposedly disappears but she's one of the actresses dancing around the fire?

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Simi's rape scene was tough to watch. Sent my Tex Watson hate-o-meter into the red zone.

Jay said...

I agree that the actress playing Sadie stole the show on this one. For being a low budget flick, this one wasn’t bad. Some of the facts might be distorted, but it does kind of capture a certain feel. I personally try to go with the feel of a movie like this one, versus hoping it will be factually correct.
I have a feeling no one will ever get it quite right- there are so many tropes surrounding the subject. It would take a director/writer willing to go beyond HS, and really dig deep into the psyches of the people involved. I have been waiting to see a good fictional portrayal of the girls as other than spacey hippies or crazy chicks. We need a Manson portrayal that goes further than fidgety lunatic.
I have to try to track down the screenplay book.

G. Green-Whyte: love the Fante reference.

Shoegazer- appreciate the Day of the Locust comparison.

I look forward to having discussions on some more Manson related films.

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Hi, Jay. Repeating incorrect facts and all that really gave the film almost an alt timeline feel. The unreliable pop culture narration was super effective in creating a fractured lenses imo.

I never thought writing about movies would be hard but I was wrong. Ebert was a genius. People trying to improve their writing skills have a free master class waiting for them on his website. Short little doses too.

I suppose we should back up and start at Helter Skelter next. Yes?

Col - Where are you? Why does this movie suck? Did you receive my screenplay for Hawthorne but with shapeshifters? I've got a banjo detonator that explodes six giant construction cranes to smithereens in the harbor at night for the big finish.

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Hundreds of harbor lights.

Jay said...

Helter Skelter- the 1976 and 2004 versions each have their own strengths and weaknesses. A comparison of the two would be interesting.

The Van Bebber movie definitely has a different feel to it- kinda weird and trippy at times. Some of the actors did a better job than others, considering they were basically amateurs to varying degrees. The fact that strippers were used at times kind of adds to the gonzo vibe of the whole production.

J-Dog said...

Dear Whytie:
When I first saw this post, I thought oh no, not that shitty movie I saw 15? years ago, when VHs was a thing and I was able to get a copy, I believe, at the late lamented Video Oasis in newly gentrifying East Cambridge, MA. Right next to the "Live Chickens, Fresh Killed" place.
Oh boy, digressing already.
Anyway I was mid progression in coming out of my Hollywood narrative" brainwashing and I hated it, the amateurish quality spelled NOPE for me.
After reading your post, I decided to re-visit. My feeling now is of high admiration for the tenacity of the dedicated low budget film maker to tough it out for years and finally produce his or vision. Although I see Van Bebber ultimately had help from Anchor Bay and Blue Underground.
I find the production values limited, naturally, and the acting sketchy.
But to the point, I feel this movie is most effective in portraying the horror of the murders compared to the rest of the Manson genre. What is most disturbing is the sound of the screaming during the kill scenes, in which I do believe I can here animal squeals in the mix also. And then the sound of the knives penetrating flesh. I'm a veteran of Giallo and Horror moves, though not a gorehound, and I have known real violence but I had to turn my earbuds off and look away. Credit to the sound people.
Also, right after Sheri's rape scene, there is a brief shot of a B&W TV screen of a young woman. She is LungLeg, a possibly disturbed young woman, the subject of Richard Kern, NY 80s punk scene, and beyond, photo and videographer. Richard Kern was also the co-director of Sonic Youth's 1st video with Lydia Lunch, and also featuring Lung Leg, called "Death Valley 69" just to bring this full circle. (Kern's credited in the Van Bebber film). It's on YT.
Finally, the sound bite at the end, "Im your father" and the monologue over the closing credits is Rev. Jim Jones and I believe from the devastating death speech of 1978, adding to the pervasive sense of doom and gloom.
footnote: I'm empathic as the next person, but really sensing what the fear and absolute terror must have been like for Sharon and the rest. Too much real world, time for a break from all this.
I know I went on too long, too bad.

G. Greene-Whyte said...

J-Dog, thank you. I actually wondered in the JVB film if the girl on the tv was supposed to be Sherri as an adult. Here's a link to the video for anyone interested:

The sounds of the knives going into the victims' bodies (in the film) was too much for me at times. Same for the pig noises when Tex fell upon Abigail on the Cielo lawn. The Sherri rape scene interspersed with a perfect portrayal of Watkins in Hendrickson perfectly show what a POS Mayor Watkins was when he walked this earth. I wonder if his daughter likes that scene in Hendrickson?

I am both a Kern and a Carr (Leg Lung). Today, I shall pretend they are my more talented distant cousins. I also found the Butthole Surfers song LL is part of but don't see her in any of the videos.

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Sorry. That's a link to the Kern video. I left that part out.

D. said...

Major piece of garbage. I used to like VanBebber and had a copy of this movie when it was just a workprint called Charlie's Family years and years before it came out. I still like Deadbeat at Dawn, but this movie is shit and VanBebber is a moron. I especially lost respect for him when he said "they really did that" in regards to them killing dogs.

grimtraveller said...

My 1993 copy of Ed Sanders' "The Family" has a foreword by Jim VanBebber and all the photos in the book are from "Charlie's Family", which I've long found weird.
Back in the late 90s and/or early 2000s, I used to buy books galore from a shop called "Helter Skelter" and in it, I recall, though very vaguely, some posters advertising this film. I wasn't really interested at the time.

G. Greene-Whyte said...

D and Grim, you'd both be characters in my animated series on the Manson world for sure. Maybe animation like in Ed Edd n Eddy.

This is dumb to say since we have the context of watching the humans get killed in the film, but I never like it when someone takes an opportunity to hurt an animal in a film. Especially the ones we consider pets. That might just be an homage to Sanders but I was not a fan.

VanBebber had some shocking moments in there. The mimicry of Little Paul and the horror of Sheri's rape at the same time, served with a side of baby Tanya watching, I thought that was pretty powerful.

Doug said...

Hilarious that you mention E,E,& E

Danny Antonucci is a friend. Such an underrated animator and writer. A legendary series...full of subversion and tiered levels of comprehension and meaning!

Great guy!

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Amazing show. My kids grew up on it. Please pass along my thanks and ten million Green Points. It's the largest award anyone's ever won. I'd give more if I had them.

Doug said...

I will probably see Danny tonight at a mutual friend's art show opening.

I'm even painted and, included in the show

10 mill = RAD

Jay said...

I forgot to mention that the murder scenes had kind of a 1980s splatter movie feel to them. That kind of worked with the overall vibe of the film.
This one is definitely different than some of the more well known Manson related films.

G. Greene-Whyte said...

Jay, I was entertained. Definitely thought LL was supposed to be Sherri tho lol.