By Brad Laidman | October 17, 2001

When I was eight or so, I used to check out my parent’s books and look through the pictures and read the captions. The most freaked out I’ve ever been was looking through the book Helter Skelter about Charles Manson and his murders. I was looking for pictures of scenery or whatever and found graphic pictures of randomly murdered bodies, where the killers seemed to have stabbed everybody about as many times as humanly possible and then wrote a bunch of offensive words in their blood. Please God let your children watch “Terminator 2” if they have to but keep them away from a hard back copy of “Helter Skelter.”
Later when I was maybe fifteen, I woke up in the middle of the night and only managed to catch the last thirty seconds of this movie where Charles Manson is rocking autistically in his cell and then on the beat turns his head and gives the most frightening glare in the history of cinema. Steven Railsback looked amazingly like Manson and again I was spooked to the core. There should be a law against showing this movie at night.
Forget “Silence of the Lambs,” forget “Carrie,” forget “Night of the Living Dead.” This is the drop dead scariest movie of all time. It contains bloody stabbings and shootings, orgies, racism, insanity, drugs, and a bunch of giggling, brain washed, head shaven, amoral girls willing to do anything for a grimy looking creepy psychopath with a messianic complex. The fact that it’s true leaves you drained with every ugly, random, low and base fear you ever had. Manson was a failed musician (He tried out for The Monkees), but he should have just published some kind of primer about how to pick up chicks and perhaps thirty or so lives would have been saved.
This TV movie is essentially just a fairly well done Law and Order episode. The guy that plays prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi (George DeCenzo) even looks and sounds a lot like that show’s equivalent played by Michæl Moriarty. The Manson case probably should have been Tipper Gore and the PMRC’s exhibit number one, as Manson converted LSD, The Beatles’ White Album, Christianity, Scientology, and a song about an amusement park slide into a race war of biblical proportions that would eventually leave him ruling the world from his Dune Buggy in the desert. How can you take The Road Warrior seriously after running into this arbitrary dementia? These guys even killed one of their defense lawyers. All the girls are these random zombies and every one of them seemed to have like eight aliases. If they got around to it they were going to knock of Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra, and Steve McQueen. Manson was probably right when he decided the best way to knock the tar out of the American system was to start going after rich celebrities. The trial took longer than any in the recorded annals of American crime, which was a pretty amazing feat for the objectionist stalling lawyer Irving Kanarek, Manson’s defender, whose name is changed here. The thing lasted forever, the defense didn’t really argue anything, and the jury probably made up their minds about thirty seconds after seeing Manson enter the court room.
The big question as I see it is why? Not why they committed the murders. Why should you watch this stuff or read the book? Is there a valid reason for our morbid curiosity? Do we gain anything by spooking ourselves beyond belief? I suppose the whole purpose of the horror genre is to be a bit cathartic, and I sure prefer Wes Craven and those other madmen with vivid nightmares making movies instead of plotting world domination. Actually, it’s amazing more people in the world don’t get fed up with their poverty and anonymity and start knocking off a few pigs themselves. I guess that’s why we have the Jerry Springer show now. If I ever have kids, they’ll get to see South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut about 700 times before I let them near this stuff, and I don’t care how rich I get, you won’t be finding me with a house in the Hollywood Hills.

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