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Byline: Bob Strauss Film Critic

WHEN THE MOST recent TV movie version of ``Helter Skelter'' came on, I commented to my wife that there was something morally questionable about exploiting the Tate/LaBianca murders committed by Charlie Manson's crazed followers without having the guts to show the horrible details of those thrill killings.

Well, after seeing the long-in-the-making docudrama ``The Manson Family,'' all I can say is be careful what you ask for.

Shot, appropriately, in a raw, red meat 1960s grindhouse style, Jim Van Bebber's labor of twisted love purports to tell the tale of L.A.'s favorite hippie maniacs from the cult members' own perspectives. This involves re-creations of all their key doings, as well as copious footage of nude romping, wild orgies and psychedelic hallucinations (the latter of which, lamely, tend to involve flashes of a horned red devil).

All of which is pruriently pleasant enough to watch before everything devolves into carnage. Unwilling to really let the story tell itself, Van Bebber ages up many of his uniformly lousy actors (including himself, as cult member Bobby Beausoleil) to play talking-head versions of the older, wiser Family members allegedly commenting on their youthful indiscretions.

But wait - there's more. All of the raping and stabbing and extended torturing that Van Bebber lovingly stages from the past should be enough for any cinematic blood feast. But he contrasts the '60s shenanigans with a bunch of modern-day punk pain junkies preparing to pay homage to their incarcerated hero by taking out a middle-age TV producer who's putting together yet another ooga-booga show on Manson.

Charlie (played here, not quite as deranged as he's usually portrayed, by Marcelo Games) still inspires violent devotion among the disaffected. Or maybe some comment is being made about the media's ghoulish fascination with the admittedly sensational, but by now thoroughly overexploited, depravity - and if so, Van Bebber is hardly one to point fingers.

Shot off-and-on for the past 15 years as funding sources came and went, ``The Manson Family'' represents some kind of crazed commitment of its own to slobbering cinema of the most relentless, unpleasant sort. And we can be assured, this won't be the last word on the subject.

Bob Strauss, (818) 713-3670


THE MANSON FAMILY - One and one half stars

(Not rated: no one under 18 admitted: extreme violence, sex, nudity, drug use, language, children in jeopardy)

Starring: Marcelo Games, Marc Piman, Leslie Orr, Maureen Allisse, Amy Yates, Jim Van Bebber, Carl Day.

Director: Jim Van Bebber.

Running time: 1 hr. 35 min.

Playing: Nuart, West L.A.

In a nutshell: Graphic, exploitative re-enactment of the hippie cult murder spree, allegedly presenting new information from the viewpoint of the Mansonites themselves. Somehow linked to contemporary punk/junkie/violence theme; it's really just about sex, sadism and blaming it all on Satan.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 29, 2004

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