HELTER SKELTER. (2004) THE STORY OF THE MANSON FAMILY MURDERS REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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HELTER SKELTER. (2004) A RE-MAKE OF THE 1976 MADE-FOR-TV MOVIE. DIRECTED BY JOHN GRAY. BASED ON THE BOOK OF THE SAME NAME BY VINCENT BUGLIOSI WITH CURT GENTRY.

STARRING JEREMY DAVIES, CLEA DUVALL AND MARGUERITE MOREAU.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This film, based on true events, will give you the willies. At the moment of writing this, I’m about one third of the way through the book on which it’s based, and the book tells you- and shows you- all the things over which the film, of necessity, has to draw a veil of discretion. The film tells the story of the dreadful events which are collectively known as the Manson Family Murders, and it’s told from the point of view of a young girl called Linda Kasabian.

In 1969, the teenaged Linda breaks up with her husband, who basically abandons her and their baby daughter Tanya. Linda, already used to commune life, is invited to join one located on the Spahn movie ranch in the hills outside Los Angeles.

The head of the commune is Charles Manson, a scrawny little beardy weed of a guy who, for the members of his ‘Family,’ has come to represent God, Jesus Christ, the Devil, good and evil, Heaven and Hell. He is the heart and particularly the Soul of the Family.

Charlie Manson tells Linda Kasabian exactly what she wants and needs to hear at this time. ‘No-one will ever throw you away again,’ he assures the emotionally insecure young girl who has already admitted to him that her husband and stepfather have both made her feel ‘disposable.’

They have sex- Charlie has sex with all the long-haired hippy girls, on whom he also bestows aliases- and soon she’s pregnant again. I don’t think the Family feel kindly disposed towards contraceptives and the notion of keeping oneself safe from sexually transmitted diseases!

Life on the commune is weird, man. Everyone has sex with everyone else and the babies and children are communally cared for, although, in some cases, it would seem like they were communally neglected, ie, left out in the sun all day to burn, stuff like that. Women are indoctrinated into believing that their function is to have babies and look after them and their men.

The guy who plays Charlie here does a terrific job. You can well imagine abused or needy women lapping up his freaky-ass nonsense, silly maxims like ‘No sense makes sense’ and ‘Come to the Now, man!’ He loves the sound of his own voice, which is probably why he founded his own cult.

I could never personally buy into his ridiculous notion that you’re doing people a favour by killing them because you’re ‘bringing them to the Now,’ and it’s hard to imagine how anyone ever did, but they did and that’s how the murders were able to happen. 

Linda is taken out at night by Charlie and various other members of the cult for what they call ‘creepy crawls.’ They wear dark clothing, break into rich peoples’ homes and disarrange stuff so that the occupants of the house will wake up and be freaked out to find that everything’s different.

The ‘creepy crawlers’ all carry knives. If any one of their victims had had the extreme misfortune to wake up during one of these night raids on their homes, I feel confident in saying that murder would have been committed without compunction by the culties.

In August 1969, the ‘creepy crawls’ get really real. In the house known as 10050 Cielo Drive in Los Angeles, five horrific murders are committed one sultry night. The victims are as follows: Sharon Tate, the beautiful, eight-months-pregnant actress wife of director Roman Polanski, who’s away filming in London when the murders happen; Jay Sebring, thirty-five, Sharon’s ex-boyfriend (they’re still good friends) and head of an international men’s hairdressing corporation; Abigail Folger, the heiress to a coffee fortune, and her Polish lover Voytek Frykowski; and finally, poor Stephen Parent, a young guy who was only visiting the caretaker of 10050, Cielo Drive, William Garretson, in the lodge house that night to try to sell him a clock radio. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

By the time Manson’s besotted followers had done their leader’s dirty work, the house and gardens at 10050 Cielo Drive resembled a slaughterhouse. The following night, a rich businessman called Leno LaBianca, who owned a chain of grocery stores, was brutally murdered in his own sitting-room along with his attractive wife Bianca. The two sets of killings were soon being referred to as the Tate-LaBianca murders, and it wasn’t too long before the hippies out at Spahn movie ranch were squarely in the frame for them.

Linda Kasabian ran away from the Family after she witnessed the murders and was utterly sickened and shocked by them. Unlike the other girls, whom Charlie controlled through sex and drugs and the undeniable power of his words, Linda still had a reasonably unskewed sense of right and wrong.

‘Death to piggies’ might have been Charlie’s and his sick-in-the-head followers’ raison d’être, but it wasn’t Linda’s. Although she ran away from the cult, initially without her daughter Tanya so as not to arouse the suspicions of the other cult moms, she came back of her own accord, to tell the police what she knew.

I’ve been reading in prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s book about failed musician, Beatles’ fan and ex-pimp Charles Manson’s disadvantaged upbringing. The child of a teenaged prostitute with no father to speak of, he had spent most of his life before the murders in and out of institutions, from juvenile detention centres to adult prisons. Well, that’s no excuse for any of the things he did. Ted Bundy had only a single mother for a parent too and he never did any of the things… Oh wait, he did. Sorry, bad example, lol.

I must tell you about something absolutely mad that’s referred to in the film but which the book explains in a bit more detail. Before they were all arrested for the murders, the Family were planning en masse to follow their crazy-as-batshit leader out into the desert because there was a ‘hole’ in Death Valley which, if you followed it deep down inside to the very centre of the earth, would lead you to an entire civilization, all apparently living and thriving away underneath the earth. It’s straight out of Jules Verne, is that.

Only Charlie knew where this hole was, and the Family were going to hide out with this other civilization while ‘helter skelter,’ the race war to end all wars, played itself out above ground.

I have only one word to say with regard to this ‘plan,’ which is worse than Homer Simpson’s plan to take his whole clan to live with him under the sea when the heat from his sexual harassment suit becomes too much to bear. (Remember? There’ll be no accusations, just friendly crustaceans, under the sea…!) What is this one word? Well, in a nutshell… Cuckoo…!

Manson, in the end, was sentenced to death for his part in the excessively brutal killings but had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. That was fifty years ago this very year, and he only died recently there, in 2017. Same year as Moors murderer Ian Brady. He was probably still a nut-job when he passed away, a basket-case, a fruit loop.

That’s nearly fifty years that he was living at the American taxpayers’ expense, and every year he remained on earth was probably another slap in the face for the loved ones of the people he ordered his culties to murder in cold blood, simply because they were rich and ‘rich whites’ represented the ‘establishment, the ‘man.’

Oh well. He didn’t live forever, contrary to the impression he might have been trying to give his brainwashed followers. One day he too, the great Charlie Manson, had to answer for his crimes before a higher power, like we all will have to some day. Only then would real justice have been done.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

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