Review: Brandon Slagle’s HOUSE OF MANSON

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SHOCK reviews the fascinating indie exploitation drama HOUSE OF MANSON.

It would be easy to think a  film about Charles Manson and his “family” of followers would be the perfect opportunity to cannonball into the deep end of the exploitation film swimming pool, yet Brandon Slagle‘s artfully directed, still unreleased in the US 2014 film HOUSE OF MANSON, chooses to heat up in the sauna instead.

This isn’t a party, it’s a slow burn. 

Slagle (THE BLACK DAHLIA HAUNTING) cleverly wrote this film in a way that is less about the infamous historical atrocities and more about the people and events that led up to them. 

Ryan Kiser delivers a powerful performance as Manson.  His portrayal of the free-spirited lover of life and manipulative monster are perfectly balanced onscreen.  He manages to carry the larger-than-life persona of Manson with ease.  He never lets it become the cartoon it could easily be.  This isn’t the insane, creepy, wacky-faced Charlie we’ve seen in interviews, behind bars for decades.  The Manson Kiser brings to the screen is less creepy and more controlled than many portraits that have come before.  He comes off as a suave, likable yet manipulative young man, who is able to sell the bullshit to his followers hook, line and sinker.

The film opens as we watch the Manson Family being captured.  From there, the story is told as a series of interviews and flashbacks that allows us to see the group members as they begin to shape the friendships and free-spirited communal lifestyle they are known for.

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Throughout the film, Manson‘s self-centered tendencies are subtly mixed with his constant preaching of peace and love, as he manipulates his band of followers into ultimately, a hive-minded cult of bat-shit crazy killers.  Along the way, his struggle to be the rock god he believes he is destined to be is also chronicled and Kiser delivers a great cover of an actual Manson song, “Sick City”.  To be fair, I’ve heard the original Manson track and Kiser’s version is far superior.  There is a reason the real Charles Manson was a failed musician.  His music was mostly shit.  The Beach Boys did cover a couple of his tracks thanks to Dennis Wilson, but Manson‘s own recordings, sound quality aside, are abysmal.  In a way, it could be said that his lack of talent caused the spiral which ultimately led to multiple gruesome murders.  Had Manson not become so hyper-focused on revenge against Terry Melcher, the producer who declined to sign him to a record deal, maybe things would have worked out differently for Tate and the others who fell victim to his followers.

As far as onscreen violence, don’t be fooled by my earlier description, the gore hounds among you will be glad to know the tragic murders of Sharon Tate and the others who lost their lives that night are by no means softened or glossed over onscreen.  The killings are as intensely brutal and hard to watch as they should be.  With the gore and blood not taking center stage for pure shock value but instead being used as a necessary storytelling device, when we do finally see it, it is all the more powerful.

Let’s be honest, there is little that I can say about the story itself.  We all know the history.  We have read it and seen it all before. 

So, what makes this version worth taking an insane murder ride through the Hollywood Hills?  What I found refreshing, is that this is one of the few true-crime biopic indie films to roll out in a long time that doesn’t feel like simply an excuse to make a  film, cashing in on the name.  The acting and overall look of the film is as top shelf as any indie film you will find these days.  Ultimately, what it amounts to is a long, deep look inside the mind of an evil man who sees himself as a tragic hero or demigod.

Out now on DVD across the pond in the UK (where it’s simply called MANSON) with a US release pending.