Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Long live Manson film & TV
America’s most infamous criminal, Charles Manson, died back in 2017. The cult leader and convicted murderer has been a figure on the edge of American horror and serial killer stories since the 1960s. Quite a few films have focused on the Manson Family: some educational in nature, others offering a more exploitative look at the so-called family, taking macabre insanity to a whole new dimension.
Filmmakers continue to be fascinated with the madness that Manson represented; Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood even uses the Manson murders as background to a 1969 story about Hollywood.
Here’s FD’s short list of some great movies and TV about Manson.
Helter Skelter (1976)
An award-winning TV movie based on the 1974 book by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry, this film follows Manson’s race-war theory inspired by the Beatles’ song Helter Skelter along with the murders that Manson committed, along with his trial. Helter Skelter is a disturbing picture that was released in the afterglow of the Manson murders as the full horror unfurled, a real artefact of its time.
This documentary featuring interviews with Manson Family members is blood-curdling stuff. It takes you into the story of the Manson Family through the eyes of the perpetrators and cult followers, a strong attempt at trying to piece the puzzle together.
Inside the Manson Gang (2007)
Another documentary that explores the Manson murders, this time with all-new footage. A much more disturbing and fresh take that, decades apart, still gets a good glimpse at the raw horror Manson represents.
Life After Manson (2014)
This documentary focuses on Patricia Krenwinkel, who was involved in the Manson murders in 1969. It’s a character study about someone reckoning with uncomfortable past life decisions – a unique film.
David Duchovny (Californication) stars in this LAPD police drama that takes a simple cop into the thrall of Charles Manson. This TV drama flew straight under the radar, but it uses the past to predict a present that becomes rife with fear, horror, and collapse in a chillingly prescient manner.
Manson only gets a brief mention in this stellar series from David Fincher (Zodiac), but it’s nonetheless incredibly revealing and bone-chilling at points. The show follows the birth of serial killer psychology and a whole new way of classifying criminals. Mindhunter provides a real lens into the raw horror, a look into just how the madness operates.
American Horror Story: Cult (2017)
The seventh season of FX’s horror anthology series follows a politically charged horror story. There’s even a politician who gets possessed by Charles Manson. American Horror Story: Cult is quite a tonal rollercoaster of ridiculous horror kitsch, a real delight of a show constantly reinventing itself.