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MOVIE REVIEW: House of Manson (2014)

By Dixielord

The story of Charlie Manson and America's most dysfunctional family is one with which most of America is familiar. With documentaries, pseudo documentaries, feature films, and interviews, it is well trod subject matter. For me, the gold standard has always been the 1976 television film Helter Skelter. Likewise every Charlie since then, even the real Charlie Manson, is measured against the performance of Steve Railsback. Now we have a new movie dealing with the Manson family and the Tate-Labianca murders. Brandon Slagle's House of Manson goes back to the beginning, and chronicles Manson's rise from rock star wannabe to murderer.

House of Manson poster
Photo credit Micro Bay Features and House of Manson

House of Manson, told mostly in flashbacks, introduces us to Charlie (Ryan Kiser) in jail awaiting trial for the Tate-Labianca murders. Under questioning from his lawyers, we see what lead him to this point. Kiser is one of the best things about House of Manson. He plays Charlie as a charismatic, likable young drifter. Yet we see touches, glimmers of his anger and insanity slip through every now and then. It's a different, more mellow Manson than the one familiar to us, but it makes it easier to believe he could become a leader - a leader that people would commit murder to please. He's far from the hectic, erratic real life Manson we have come to know from interviews and TV specials.

Because it deals with the early days long before the murders, the first part of the film moves at a slow pace, but it never gets boring. Kiser's charm and smile draws you in just like Manson drew in his followers in the late 60s. The slow pacing is a deadly trap, though, because when we get to the murders, it gets brutal really fast.

Things do get mean in House of Manson
Photo credit House of Manson

Slagle manages to make the murders brutal and horrific while limiting what we actually see. It's not a gory, graphic blood-fest, and it's more effective because of that. It's not easy to watch the murders, especially the stabbing death of pregnant Sharon Tate (Suzi Lorraine). For those who think gore is disturbing, watch the frenetic stabbing death of Tate as she begs for her life. This is disturbing - all the more so because it happened. The murders play out very close to the actual events, as told by witnesses, and crime reports.

This could have easily been a exploitative, gratuitous look at the Manson crimes. Kudos to Slagle for holding back, for taking a less sleazy, more serious look at Manson's life and crimes. The lack of gore will possibly be a turn off to horror fans, but it shouldn't. Some may even argue that House of Manson isn't a horror film. I disagree. The story of Charlie Manson is a horror story. It's no less a horror film than Silence of the Lambs just because it's not fiction. Kiser's performance and Slagle's direction make it all the more horrific because it feels real. This Manson could be someone we all know. He could be real. He could be our friend. That's scary.

House of Manson is directed by Brandon Slagle, and along with Kiser and Lorraine, stars Tristan Risk as Abigail Folger, Reid Warner as Tex Watson, Erin Marie Hogan as Linda Kasabian, and Devanny Pinn as Susan Atkins. House of Manson is available on Video on Demand now.

Posted by Allen Alberson

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