Cease To Exist- The Cultural Influence of Charles Manson

Cease To Exist- The Cultural Influence of Charles Manson

I woke up to the news a couple of days ago that Charles Manson had died. My gut feeling was one of loss.

Yes thats not the acceptable thing to say when a serial killer dies. And not just any serial killer but the capo of serial killers. A serial killer so conniving that he even brainwashed and groomed others to do the majority of the killing for him. Nice try, Charlie.

He was the person who caused the loss of many innocent lives, even the lives of victims not born yet (Sharon Tate was seven months pregnant when she was slaughtered). He also figuratively ended the lives of the members of his Family who still languish in prison after committing the crimes after being plied with LSD and coerced into committing these atrocities. Just as he set up an alibi for himself for the murders whereby he could demonstrate he didn’t kill anyone, he also tried to conclusively incriminate the Family members who actually did kill on the two nights of massacres.

And yet whilst he was utterly vile in action and deed, I experienced a strange sense of loss because he was and is so very interesting. His actions and deeds are now ingrained in American history and he is seen as ‘The Man Who Killed The 60’s.’ Yes, murder is abhorrent but with such a moniker, as Quentin Crisp observed about the serial killer Gilles de Rais, ‘its hard not to be impressed’. History is balance and Manson seemed to be a one man Yang to the flowers, peace and love of late 60’s America’s Ying.

His image on the cover of Life magazine was possibly the first time that the general public were given a glimpse of the man who had caused all of the carnage they had read about. It didn’t disappoint and perfectly captured who he was, what he had done and what he symbolised in American society. He was The Boogeyman and his iconic picture was enough to induce countless nightmares just like Myra Hindley’s infamous mugshot had a few years earlier over the pond.

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The reactions to Manson’s death in the media and social media only heightened my sense of loss regarding it. Lots of people were crawling out from under their rocks to type ‘R.I.P’ but taking the time to exclaim to everyone that this in fact meant ‘Rot In Pieces’. And then there were those (and there were many) who took great delight in saying what they’d like to have done to Manson. One sticks in my mind more than others- a Facebook user said that he’d like to ‘bring Manson back to life so that I can beat him to death again with my bare hands’. Nothing sinister or dark there whatsoever.

Within a film group that I’m a member of the news of his death was reported with the group’s admin asking ‘Who should play him in a film?’ Someone responded ‘NO ONE! Why would anyone want to see a film about that psycho nutjob? Why try to romanticise his life?’ In other words this person was wildly trying to virtue signal and say ‘Look everyone, I have higher morals than a serial killer! I’m going to demonstrate them now! When do I get my prize?’ Thankfully not everyone agrees with this dullard.

My initial pang of loss was due to the fact that Manson permeated and overlapped with so much popular culture that I have loved since my teens. Yes he was a serial killer, yes he was interesting in the societal and historical framework of America but also he was really good value for money!

There are numerous great documentaries on Manson and his followers but the one that had the biggest impact on me was one called Charles Manson: Then and Now which I bought on VHS in 1992. I’ve transferred it to YouTube and it can be found here. Note the presentation- an audio track that is so high that its distorted, references to Manson’s influence on exploitation/drive-in films and alternative music (note the picture of Genesis P Orridge from his/her Throbbing Gristle days), sinister horror film incidental music. This is the stuff of mondo culture and I lapped it up as a teen and continue to.

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After devouring this documentary I also picked up a copy of the excellent book Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi who was the prosecutor at the Manson trial. Thorough, exhaustive and amazingly researched. Also worth investigating is the book The Family by Ed Sanders (lead singer of the Fugs).

On a lighter note, a book that I picked up much later was this- yes, Columbo takes on the Manson Family. I’m still waiting for the Dirty Harry-Son of Sam crossover novel but it hasn’t materialised yet.

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Whilst there were many Manson inspired B- movies that were hurriedly made around the time of Manson’s trial (documented well in the above linked documentary), the best film is Helter Skelter which is more a biopic of Manson and his Family’s life. This was actually a TV movie back in the day and earned massive ratings as viewers couldn’t wait to watch the grisly events unfurl. And the Moral Minority still take the moral high ground and get all Mary Whitehouse about such productions even though they are massively popular.

Helter Skelter is available on DVD and well worth obtaining. It stars Steve Railsbeck who was in Turkey Shoot. If this doesn’t act as a high enough recommendation then I don’t know what will. He is Charles Manson.

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Manson also cast a shadow over the work of John Waters which I started watching when I was 13. In the film Multiple Maniacs, Lady Divine holds Mr David in check by continually reminding about that night in the Hollywood Hills and the people they supposedly killed- a reference to the Tate-LaBianca murders that at that time hadn’t been solved or attributed to Manson yet. Waters would later attend the Manson trials.

Also in the film Pink Flamingos Divine walks past a wall that is spraypainted with the moniker ‘Love Tex Watson xx’ Waters’ next film Female Trouble is even dedicated to Charles Watson. The story regards a criminal and eventual murderer, Dawn Davenport who equates crime with beauty and fame. She is encouraged to be even more extreme in her actions whilst keeping them in line with her beliefs after being groomed and brainwashed by Donald and Donna Dasher. This brainwashing is very reminiscent of Manson- in Female Trouble liquid eyeliner takes the place of LSD as a mind-altering lubricant for this grooming and puppetry. Also within this film there are the scenes in which Davenport disrupts court proceedings just like Manson did by screaming the word ‘Liar!’ at certain points. She also makes statements as to her own magnitude and her sense of self-worth.

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But Female Trouble’s most perceptive observations are regarding fame and crime. Theres really not much difference between Elizabeth Taylor being filmed and photographed by the press in an airport terminal and Charles Manson receiving the same treatment on his way to court. Yes, Manson was responsible for the murder of several people. Some people would say Elizabeth Taylor’s later celluloid forays were the artistic equivalent.

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Fame, fame, fatal fame. Theres not that many differences between being famous and infamous.

Waters later said that he regretted his flippancy regarding Manson and his Family in his films as he got to know Leslie Van Houten who hes now friends with and believes is now ready for parole. I’ve never seen Waters more serious in his interviews except when speaking of Van Houten who he says was just a pawn in Manon’s overall scheme- a disillusioned middle class girl who wanted to rebel and came into contact with Satan himself. Shes now free from the magnetic hold of Manson but serving life in prison for her involvement whilst briefly under the influence of a master manipulator. An account of Waters’ friendship with Leslie is a chapter in Waters’ book, Role Models (an amazing book. Highly recommended).

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John Waters with his friend Leslie Van Houten

Another aspect of Manson and his legacy that I found intriguing was his position as a countercultural icon. Once Manson’s face and crimes were well known his image would appear on all manner of merchandise to be lapped up by the darker components of the counterculture and those who wanted to stick two fingers up at authority. You’re an angry teenager who wants to shock all those around you and give Mom and Dad a coronary? Buy a Charles Manson t-shirt. This action was akin to the first London punks wearing a swastika. They might not have been Nazis but they wanted to shock and outrage.  The older generation who had used the ‘I fought the war for your kind!’ line would be apoplectic with rage at a fashion accessory like a swastika armband. Job done.

But there were also those in the counterculture who looked to Charlie as some kind of religious leader just like his Family members did. A major source of his twisted philosophy were his lyrics. Yes, Charlie was a singer, musician and lyricist. His songs are actually pretty good. But I’ve never subscribed to this ‘Charles Manson, philosopher’ schtick. Hes too much of a fucking nutjob for that.

So, Charles Manson has died. The end of the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970’s. Altamont, Nixon, Vietnam…Charlie’s place in this dark period of American historical events is assured.

Please don’t take the moral high ground by suggesting that reading and watching about Manson and his dark, warped place in American history is bad. Through examination and analysis maybe there are clues to the prevention of such a bloodsoaked chain of events ever occurring again. And if there aren’t signs as to this and you’re not a moralistic twat on Facebook then you’ll realise that its still just a really interesting topic, no matter how grisly.

It seems to me that its the people who try to suppress and prevent others from investigating the darker incidents from history that have more to hide and conceal themselves. After all, Fred West’s favourite movies were exclusively made by Disney as he didn’t approve of violence in films. And we all know how fucked up he was.

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Take The Red Pill. Do it now.

Take The Red Pill. Do it now.

As its International Men’s Day I thought I’d review a documentary that I saw a few days ago.

How did I learn of The Red Pill? Thats a journey in itself…Someone tried to bully me in my place of work for being openly gay (note the word ‘tried’. I fought back and have never seen myself as a victim. I’m a fighter). However, in the midst of what was happening to me I began to suffer from clinical depression. The panic attacks that I had kept at bay since the age of 13 were now out of control and I began to experience suicidal thoughts on a daily basis.

It was whilst suffering from all of this that I began to research the issue of suicide and learnt that 75-78% of suicides are male. This fact shocked me massively.

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And so from looking into male suicide I learnt about The Red Pill. The title is actually a reference to the movie The Matrix ”in which the protagonist is offered the choice of a red pill, representing truth and self-knowledge, or a blue pill representing a return to blissful ignorance”.

I knew that the film was seen as controversial to some people with some feminists wanting it to be banned.

So is this film about the Men’s Rights Movement a rancid cesspool of anti-feminism rhetoric, a film that only conveys views from rape enablers that are fundamentally anti-women? Of course not. The film is amazingly balanced with Men’s Rights activists finally given a platform as well as feminists on the same topics. I had never heard these Men’s Rights advocates speak before which is also very telling. The audience is granted a modicum of intelligence with which they can make up their own mind.

Topics raised and discussed include male suicide, the lack of funding for male health conditions such as testicular and prostate cancer, the custody battles that fathers go through, the male victims of domestic abuse…the list goes on. These are all issues in which there is no equality between the sexes with men coming out disadvantaged.

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The documentary itself is amazingly made by filmmaker Cassie Jaye. She presents a well rounded and perceptive documentary that is balanced, fact-based and free from hysterical amateur dramatics. The documentary flows effortlessly and you feel like you want to see more when it finishes. Thankfully there are uncut and unedited interviews from the film on YouTube. And whilst you’re on YouTube look up Cassie Jaye’s videos. Especially of note are the interviews given to the Australian media who had never even seen the film (they claim that Ms Jaye hadn’t supplied the film for them to see when in fact she had and several times. Ignorance is bliss, Andrew O’Keefe) but called it misogynistic and hateful. This is clear proof that they had never seen the film as The Red Pill is neither.

But it seems that others are also taking The Red Pill. Taste of Cinema had a list of their favourite documentaries on their website recently. The Red Pill featured in that list. And it fully deserved to be there.

I’ll finish this review by reiterating the fact I quoted earlier. 75-78% of suicides are male. 75-78%! These conversations regarding men’s issues need to be had before there are many more casualties. And I speak from very bitter experience. The Red Pill starts this process of discussion and discourse in a brilliantly balanced and intelligent way. Thank you, Cassie Jaye.

 

Day 30- 31 Days of Halloween- It Follows (2014)

Day 30- 31 Days of Halloween- It Follows (2014)

A young girl has sex with her boyfriend only to be informed that hes passed on a curse to her. From now on she will be followed by a supernatural entity. If the entity reaches her it will kill her. Only she will be able to see it. The only way to get rid of the curse is to have sex with someone else and pass it on.

Any modern horror film that isn’t a remake or reboot is a bonus. This film’s premise is innovative and imaginative.

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But I just didn’t connect with any character or care what happened to them. The film feels like a series of teenage dramatics that become tiresome after a while.

The film also feels like some update on the after school special which tackles an issue of the day. Don’t screw around or THIS will happen to you! Give me Jason Voorhees as the punisher of the teenagers who are doing the do before marriage anyday.

But, as I said before, at least this was an original idea- a rarity in the horror genre these days.

2 out of 5

Day 29- 31 Days of Halloween- Prom Night (1980)

Day 29- 31 Days of Halloween- Prom Night (1980)

A childrens game goes horribly wrong and a child falls backwards from the first floor window of an abandoned building and dies. The remaining kids vow to never tell anyone about what happened. Its now 7 years on and the children in the gang are preparing for their prom night. They one by one start to receive menacing phone calls…

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I first saw this and expected to see a C grade slasher movie- one of the many mediocre movies made in the wake of Halloween.

Boy, was I wrong! Theres loads to love about this movie. Firstly, Jamie Lee Curtis is in it. Shes such a great actress that if shes on the cast list you can expect a stunning performance. Not only is she another kick arse Final Girl but we also get to see her disco moves. She also has a great exchange with the school bitch. This features some fantastically camp lines (‘Its not who takes you to the prom. Its about who takes you home!’) Jamie wins and has the last word in this verbal volley naturally.

Another great feature of this film is that its actually very scary in the appropriate scenes. The killer ringing the teenagers one by one is a scene so threatening and jarring that its a sequence that is one of the scariest I’ve ever seen in any horror film. The simplicity of the scene (just a hand, a pencil, the school yearbook, the list of names and the phone) is extremely effective and downright chilling.

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The film is also brilliantly chilling as it touches on the subject of paedophilia- a local sex offender is known to the police and they think he is the reason for the dead little girl. They hound him to such a degree that he crashes his car which bursts into flames. The police had no evidence that it was him but hey, hes so disfigured that he now can’t commit anymore crimes and is placed in an asylum.

And there are the actual kills and the scenes they are contained within which are directed with aplomb. These are very tense and unnerving. OK so this certainly isn’t John Carpenter’s Halloween but these scenes are still very good for a slasher movie.

With Halloween being a major influence on this film there are also the atypical scenes of the female characters talking about, y’know, girls things- boys, hair, going to the prom etc etc. In fact in the book Blood Money it has been suggested that there were two types of advertising for this film- one that dwelt on the themes thought to be more appealing to a young female demographic (the disco music, the relationships and drama within the film) and one that dwelt on what was thought to appeal to the guys- namely the tension, suspense and kills.

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The film really does feel like a cross between Halloween, Carrie (the prom setting and the potential for carnage in this setting) and Saturday Night Fever- this film has disco stomps and a brilliant disco soundtrack that strangely provides a brilliant and sinister backdrop to the murders.

Another great feature is that of the character of Slick. Just like the bawdy British comedies of the 1970’s featured the most unlikely candidates for male eye-candy who somehow get the women, so does this film. Slick thinks hes a modern day babe magnet. I’ll leave it up to you to agree or disagree with his self perception.

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This movie also has one of the most hilarious characters in horror history- look out for Mr Sykes played by Robert Silverman (he would also appear in Scanners and Jason X). Is he the killer or a far too obvious red herring?

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Prom Night is far too good than a Halloween rip-off slasher movie deserves to be. If Halloween is A+ then Prom Night is B+

If you’re going to buy this film please look out for the Region 1 Blu ray from Synapse Films. The best transfer and bonus features I’ve ever seen for ANY Blu ray title. Stunning.

4 out of 5.

Day 27- 31 Days of Halloween- The Sadist (1963)

Day 27- 31 Days of Halloween- The Sadist (1963)

Three schoolteachers stop at a garage on their way to a baseball game at Dodgers Stadium. Their car isn’t running properly and so they need to look at it and maybe try to fix it. But thats not their biggest obstacle- they come face to face with Charlie Tibbs and his girlfriend- a couple of killers who are accused of murders in Arizona and are on the run. Charlie has a gun and insists that they work on the car so that he can get away in it.

This film is like a play that has been filmed- there is primarily one main setting (the film reminded me of Cujo in that respect). But this doesn’t mean that the film is static and boring. The one setting is used innovatively and this means that the film is directed with verve. There is also a sense of ‘us versus them’ with the schoolteachers in their Sunday best (shirts, ties or a nice conservative dress) whilst Tibbs is looking every part the juvenile delinquent in his denims and sporting a greasy quiff. Tibbs is obviously based on real-life serial killer Charles Starkweather.

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This film is brilliant- will the teachers get away, when and how? The film ramps up the tension and suspense and never lags- theres no scenes that feel unnecessary. The film is also very extreme for its time. It was even rejected by the BBFC when it was submitted for classification in 1964.

Arch Hall Jr in the lead gives an extraordinary performance as Tibbs- the Sadist in the title. His face and facial expressions are almost other-worldly and supernatural as is his portrayal. Quite extraordinary.

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Watch out for the poignant scene in which the schoolteachers hear on the radio the baseball game they should be at instead of fighting for their lives.

Theres also some innovative direction within the film- it almost feels like Tibbs’ gun in the first half of the film is an actual character.

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I didn’t know about this film until recently. I’m glad I do now. Why isn’t this more widely available on DVD and Blu ray?

Apparently this film is a favourite of director Joe Dante’s- a seal of approval anyone would be proud of.

4 out of 5

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Day 25- 31 Days of Halloween- Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Day 25- 31 Days of Halloween- Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

This film was actually made in 1986 (although I’ve read it was actually shot in 1985) but not released until 1990 as there were censorship problems as to the graphic nature of the film’s proceedings.

The film is loosely based on the lives of real life serial killers Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole.

Henry lives with Otis. They both met in prison when Henry was serving a sentence for murdering his mother. Otis’ sister comes to stay with them and instantly falls for Henry. Peppered throughout the film are random victims of Henry shown in differing locales and killed using differing methods. Henry continues to kill but we start to see the involvement of Otis. There is even a scene in which Henry passes down his wisdom regarding serial murder to Otis. Henry now has a new partner in crime. Or does he?

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The first time I heard about this film was on a TV review show which had celebrities talking about new media. Malcolm McLaren was chosen to watch and talk about Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and had said that it was so shocking that he hadn’t slept since seeing it! The ultimate recommendation for a horror movie.

The first time I actually got to see the film was when it was released on video in 1990 in the UK. However Henry’s butchery wasn’t the only I was to witness but also that of the BBFC. They had a massive issue with the scene in which one of the random victims is shown to be a dead naked woman sat on the toilet with a broken bottle in her mouth and the home invasion that Henry and Otis not only commit but also film on a camcorder. The film is now uncut in the UK and common sense has prevailed.

Henry feels more like a grimy, gritty documentary which was shot by a silent conspirator rather than a glossy, polished Hollywood film in which the police arrest the assailants at the end. There are no police in Henry as the transient main character moves on and the killings seemingly continue.

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The arrival of this film signified a major new hallmark in the horror genre as this film was so brilliant executed (pun not intended), directed and acted. I can’t imagine anyone else inhabiting the role of Henry other than Michael Rooker. He performs the central character with a very strange, very unsettling disconnect and utter lack of emotion, almost like he has a forcefield around him. Tom Towles needs mentioning also as the sleazy, rat-like Otis. Try and watch his performance without your skin crawling.

A perfect film that was in fact lauded by critics including Siskel and Ebert (yes you read that right! They praised the film whilst taking the opportunity to further criticise the Friday the 13th films. Bore off!) I remember at the time of GoodFellas reading a Martin Scorsese interview in which he said that the film had seriously disturbed him too and that it thought it was amazing. The film was so loved by critics that it was a film which helped with the introduction of a new classification for the MPAA. That classification was NC-17 (it had been suggested that the new certification would be A for Arthouse- films that were felt to be of artistic merit but somewhat violent and/or sexual). However NC-17 replaced the old X rating and the stigma remained. Some cinemas still won’t show NC-17 films, some newspapers won’t advertise these films either.

The film has now been restored with the gorgeous looking and sounding 4K print being released on Blu ray. Now thats karma. Lets hope theres a similar karma when it comes to the MPAA’s ratings system.

An outstanding film. 5 out of 5.

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Day 23- 31 Days of Halloween- The Savage Bees

Day 23- 31 Days of Halloween- The Savage Bees

The other half of a double-bill in UK cinemas with the other film being the far better The Incredible Melting Man. This was actually made for television in America.

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Killer bees have flown into America and are claiming their first casualties disturbingly close to New Orleans when their Mardi Gras is due to kick off. A bee expert (of course) and a guy who isn’t quite a coroner yet (so he isn’t taken seriously) are on the case but come up against obstacles in the form of sniffy officials who don’t want to see Mardi Gras cancelled- at any cost (hints of Murray Hamilton’s character in Jaws here).

We learn that the bees don’t like noise and the colours black and red. The first human victim is a coloured girl in a red dress blowing a toy horn. Not her lucky day.

The finale involves Ms Bee Expert being nudged into a sports stadium in her red Beetle which the bees have covered as she was earlier using the horn near them (doh!). The temperature of the Super Dome is then lowered as the bees die when temperatures reach below 35 Degrees Fahrenheit. This sequence is very unexpected and works well with tension being ramped up as the temperatures come down (we see this on huge displays which show the actual countdown).

This is an above average TV movie which received a video release in some territories. There aren’t enough action sequences and some of the more talky bits are quite pedestrian. But when it gets going its quite exciting. Because I saw it on TV when I was a small child and loved it then it will always hold a special place in my little black heart.

Look out for the scene in which someone in fancy dress tries to take on the bees with a sword. Yes, a sword!

2 out of 5

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