Joe Coleman’s portrait of Charles Manson
Here we are. Near the tail end of such an unsettling and horrific year, at least Charles Manson is dead. One of the nation’s most infamous criminals, Manson’s debated narrative has remained as one of America’s most controversial; that of a psychotic hippie cult leader who directed and guided the gruesome murders of at least seven people. A man who it is claimed single-handedly “ended the Sixties” and whose predicted race war presaged the revival of the white nationalism seen today. After 46 years behind bars, the madman has finally left the building. May he rot in Hell.
It was announced recently that Quentin Tarantino’s next film will focus on the infamous Manson Family murders of 1969. Sorry to spoil the questionably-tactless announcement, but there have been, like, dozens, possibly even hundreds of Manson films already made. Some are dramatizations, others pro-Manson conspiracy theories. My personal favorite is the loopy 1989 documentary titled Charles Manson: Superstar. Created by goofy occultnik Nikolas Schreck (author of The Manson File), Manson’s fragile psyche and fucked-up philosophy is presented through a rare and uncensored stream-of-consciousness interview taped at the San Quentin Penitentiary.
The film begins with an observation of the dates of Tate/Labianca murder dates, August 8-9th, described, in Schreck sprach as having “always been a magnet of savage purification.” Other grim and ironically coincident events that took place on these dates include the atomic bomb drop on Nagasaki, the first national congress of the Klu Klux Klan, the birthdate of the real-life inspiration for Psycho, the resignation of Richard Nixon, and even the opening of Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride. Could there be a correlation? Probably not, but just go with it.
One of four on-camera interviews that Manson gave in the 1980s, the 100-minute documentary displays the unfiltered and frankly nonsensical Charles Manson. Physically unbound from his shackles and momentarily free from the glare of the media, Manson attempts to describe his life’s details, his innocence, and his forever existence behind bars. Set to an eerie backing track (featuring several of your cult favorites), and masterfully edited to further enunciate the insanity, Schreck presents a bleak narration of Manson’s role in the world: that of a supposed visionary, a psychotic shaman and even a Satanic demon in human form. Other highlights include footage of a still-standing Barker Ranch, Manson’s attempt to play music on a trashcan, and those uneasy feelings when his underworld Pope ventures a little too close to the awe-struck filmmaker. The presence of actual madness and horror in this documentary is so vivid that it often exudes a level of discomfort similar to a particularly lurid mondo film.
Although it was rereleased on DVD in 2002, Charles Manson: Superstar has not found much praise outside of the underground due to its, um, strikingly “pro-Manson” stance. I mean, Schreck does refer to Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s notorious true-crime book Helter Skelter as a work of fiction. What else would you expect from a guy who is best known for his appearance on Geraldo Rivera’s infamously ridiculous 1988 Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground TV special?
Watch the spine-tingling 1989 documentary ‘Charles Manson: Superstar’ after the jump…