In August 1969, the Tate/LaBianca murders committed by Charles Manson’s drug-crazed disciples carved a bloody exclamation mark at the end of the Summer of Love. Since then, the counter-culture mythology surrounding the beady-eyed jailbird-turned-failed-rock-star and self-deluding messiah has become inseparable from fact. Self-styled ‘underground’ film-maker Jim Van Bebber spent ten years shooting this ’70s-style ‘sexploitation’ shocker, and five more raising the money to edit it. Sadly, this long gestation did nothing to sharpen his insight. For all its kaleidoscopic mix of druggy psychedelia, occult orgies and repellent reconstructions of the infamous murders, Van Bebber’s vision is as much seduced by the Manson myth as analytical of it. He, therefore, sheds little light on how the pot-smoking, acid-dropping Spahn Movie Ranch commune plunged, helter-skelter, into canine blood-drinking, racist paranoia, apocalyptic cult worship and messianic mass hysteria. So, while his film wallows obscenely in the brutal slaying of the eight-months pregnant Sharon Tate, it offers no explanation of how the Manson followers’ early ‘creepy-crawl’ burglaries escalated into frenzied multiple murder.
The game cast, comprising mainly Van Bebber (who plays Bobby Beausoleil) and his friends, are not helped by the writer-producer-director’s stilted dialogue and flat dramatic scenes, which have barely improved since his 1988 debut ‘Deadbeat at Dawn’. Marcelo Games’ Manson is suitably runty and enigmatic; but like his stick-on swastika tattoo, Games’ portrayal of the stary-eyed Charlie is not even skin-deep.