I’ve been a true crime buff for as long as I can remember. Ever since I stumbled upon The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule (the true story of how the author met and befriended serial killer Ted Bundy), I’ve been obsessed with the real life psychos and sociopaths that inspire so many of my beloved horror movies. While I love learning about the twisted thinking of John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer and Aileen Wuornos, I’ve always had a soft spot for the charismatic narcissist Charles Manson. For the longest time, Helter Skelter (1976) was the end all and be all film on Manson… until now.
Brandon Slagle’s (The Bunnyman 2011) award-winning House of Manson made its debut at the Twin Cities Film Festival on October 18, 2014. Released through Micro Bay Features, the film stars Ryan Kiser (Truth or Dare 2013), Devanny Pinn (The Black Dahlia Haunting 2012), Reid Warner (Area 51 2015) and American Mary‘s Tristan Risk. This was Kiser’s second time portraying the manipulative killer – the first time was in the 2009 short Lie. Dead Sea‘s (2014) Adam Noya and E. Rex recorded the score composed by Alex Kasin (Ghost Trackers TV series). Alex Hill (Cradle 2 the Grave 2003) and Adrian Marcato (Hatchet III 2013) created the gritty, blood-drenched special effects.
House of Manson tells the story of the young boy, mistreated and neglected by his single mother, who grew up to be one of the most feared killers by proxy of all time. While in prison, Manson (Kiser) tells his life story to an interviewing defense attorney (Chriss Anglin), starting with his birth to the place he found himself in the late ’60s. This is a sympathetic retelling of the life of Manson. Although the facts are told objectively, Slagle tells the story in an understanding, almost compassionate light. The leader of the Family does not come off as a cruel loony and bloodthirsty monster, but rather as a charismatic, shrewd man who could sense need in the people around him and use that to his advantage. While this isn’t exactly Man of the Year attributes, it does make Manson seem more like an actual human being than a dictating psychopath.
The acting in House of Manson was spot on. Kiser managed to bring us a character rather than a caricature. He makes us see Manson as a passionate, musical soul with anger issues… the man may almost be relatable. Unfortunately, like Hitler after not being accepted to art school, Manson threw a narcissistic fit when his record deal with Terry Melcher and the Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson was broken that his followers were only too happy to indulge. Both men and women were enamored with him, being made to feel like the only person in the room when the man who called himself Jesus set eyes upon them. So, in the guise of starting a race war, Manson sent members of his family back to the house where Melcher and Wilson once stayed – only this time, the pregnant Sharon Tate and her guests were there, and they literally got the sharp end of the stick.
“People are dead, Charlie! They’re dead because you sent people to their house to take their lives. And why? Because you’re not a rock star!”
American Mary‘s Tristan Risk portrayed murdered coffee heiress Abigail Folger splendidly, conveying a sense of hopelessness and terror rarely seen outside of slasher films. Devanny Pinn was able to give Susan Atkins an intensity and fervor that made me question the girl’s actual sanity. Her high pitched giggles and glassy-eyed stare sent shivers down my spine. With the look of a young Norman Reedus, Reid Warner captured the devoted yet single-minded Charles “Tex” Watson beautifully. There was no doubt in my mind that a man like Tex would do the things he did for Charlie, and that all goes to Warner’s magnificent acting skills. When he uttered, “I’m the devil and I’m here to do the devil’s business,” I felt myself grow cold, realizing that the infamous line from Rob Zombie’s Devil’s Rejects was based on an actual quote.
I also want to commend Noya, Rex and Kasin for their outstanding score and music selections. Along with “Out Of Control,” the song from the trailer, House of Manson is full of both rock-n-roll and trippy psychedelia. There are a few tracks on here that I may just have to find on iTunes. The use of “Amazing Grace” over the slowed down arrest scene was ingenious – not to mention having Kiser sing “Sick City,” one of Manson’s own songs. While the blood itself was plentiful – especially in the final murder scenes – the gore and torn flesh aspect was pretty low. But that’s okay, since this movie wasn’t about the murders themselves, but more about what led up to them.
House of Manson is a love letter to Charlie and his Family, made to tell a story rather than cash in on an already popular subject. As a fan of all things true crime, I thought this film perfectly conveyed the charisma and attractiveness of Charles Manson. I was thrilled to see that this wasn’t just another slash-happy excuse to make a buck for Brandon Slagle. To any fans of Manson – or serial killers in general – I highly recommend you check this flick out. House of Manson is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.