Director: Lawrence Merrick       
Cast: Charles Manson, Vincent Bugliosi, "Charlie's Angels"

Manson isn't the worst movie I've seen, but it's pretty damn close. Certainly, it's the worst documentary I've seen. I am utterly amazed that this cheap, badly directed and edited excuse for a feature got an Oscar nomination. All I can conclude from that is that the pickings that year were few, and that the unnominated documentaries somehow were even worse than this 83 minutes of agony.

Scanning my notes that I took while trying to stay awake, I found that I had written only 1/3 of the amount I usually write when watching a movie for review. And most of these notes are about the incredibly amateurish production work. That's because, quite simply, there was not really anything of interest or insight to write down. If you knew nothing about Manson or the Manson killings, you'd be utterly lost. The movie is a mishmash; it jumps around the timeline, telling us irrelevant facts about the players and few details of the events.

The opening scrawl tells that "there are no actors in this film." - maybe the filmmakers are making an excuse for the participants' recollection, for during this they are not even convincing as themselves. After reporting of the sentences for the participants (almost all were on death row at the time of the movie), we meet prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi. In the surprisingly short time he's on screen, the director has him jumping all over the place, waving his arms, opening a briefcase full of "a million dollars" (to show the cost of the trial). He mentions that he thought the killers were "far out and unusual."

After that, the documentary quickly collapses. The grainy, faded footage, with endless split-screening, and jumping around made this an endurance test. Former cellmates and family members reveal nothing of interest. We see endless footage of the "family" making Manson's coat. We see endless footage of the gang skinny-dipping. We see endless footage of the family driving around in dune buggies. Endless footage of horses. Interviews with the girls, with nothing of interest or insight, aside from them suddenly singing Badfinger's "Come And Get It", and one of the girls mentioning she planned to kill Tom Jones while making love to him.

The box proclaims, "Banned in California!", and the movie was only given a limited run, and has remained hard to see with poor distribution and bannings elsewhere. It's the first time that this kind of treatment to a movie has provoked a reaction in me that's not one of disapproval.

You'd be a lot better off entertained/informed renting the made-for TV Helter Skelter, even though it took a few liberties with the facts.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
Check Amazon for Charles Manson's music (CD)

Also: Confessions Of A Serial Killer, The Untold Story, Video Violence