aka: Massacre in Hollywood
Director: Tom Gries
Starring: George DiCenzo, Steve Railsback, Nancy Wolfe, Marilyn Burns, Christina Hart
Based on the best selling book about the capture and murder trial of Charles Manson
On July 25, 1969, Bobby Beausoleil, Mary Brunner and Susan Atkins, members of “The Manson Family” help Gary Hinman captive and threaten his life if he did not give up an inheritance they believe he recently had received. Charles Manson, the leader of the family showed up after to days and cut Hinmans ear off with a sword. The rest then stabbed Hinman to death and wrote the word “Political piggy” on the wall with Hinman’s blood and also drew a panther paw, a common symbol for the Black Panthers at the time.
On August 8, 1969, Charles “Tex” Watson, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel entered the house of Roman Polanski and massacred his pregnant wife and celebrity actress Sharon Tate, her friend Jay Sebring, screenwriter Wojciech Frykowski and his lover Abigail Folger. The word “pig” was written in blood on the house’s front door.
The very next night, the same four from the previous night in company with Leslie Van Houten, Steve “Clem” Grogan and Charles Manson murdered supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary LaBianca. The word “war” was carved on the man’s abdomen. The words “rise”, “death to pigs” and “healter skelter” was written in blood on the walls and refrigerator.
Helter Skelter is a TV movie that is based upon the book by prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi and writer Curt Gentry. The movie takes the view of the prosecution and starts right after the grizzly murders have occurred. The story is told from Bugliosi’s point of view, which means that we get little background of the people in Manson’s family and most of them are just seen as complete slaves of their master Charles Manson. The last of the three hours plays out mostly in the courtroom.
Helter Skelter gives a very black and white portrait of the main characters. George DiCenzo (Back to the Future, Gypsy Eyes) plays Vincent Bugliosi as a hero, a good man who got high morals and is out to do the right thing. Steve Railsback (Nukie, Ed Gein)plays Charles Manson, here portrayed as a crazy, loony guy with intense stares. Manson’s main girls are represented by Nancy Wolfe (Journey from Darkness, The Intruders) as Susan Atkins, Marilyn Burns (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Future-Kill) as Linda Kasabian, Christina Hart (The Mad Bomber, Dead of Night) as Patricia Krenwinkel and Cathey Paine (Image of Death, The Fifth Floor) as Leslie Van Houten.
While Leslie is portrayed as a remorseful woman since she is the prosecutors star witness, the other three are portrayed as childish maniacs. It would have been nice to have had some more layers on the characters and I believe this is the biggest downfall of the movie. We also don’t get any sense of why these people would follow Manson since he acts like a lunatic here without any charm and charisma, something that he must possess in order to get “control” over such a big group of people.
The director Tom Gries (The Glass House, The Connection) did a great job of making this movie feel realistic and alive. He gets great performances out of his actors, even the ones that have smaller parts and the film looks great.
Helter Skelter is a very good and intriguing TV movie about the trials of Charles Manson. There are other movies that focus more on the family, but regardless of your previous knowledge about the case and people involved you should find this enjoyable.