A fter 50 years of movies, books, TV programs and posts, we know just about all we will– or need to– about Charles Manson EPIX’s Helter Skelter: An American Misconception makes up for its general familiarity through remarkable comprehensiveness. Plunging into the minds of its notorious subject and the drugged-out acolytes who carried out the August 1969 Tate/LaBianca murders on his orders, director Lesley Chilcott’s six-part docuseries is a canny and engaging portrait of the madman and the myriad individual and social forces that created him– and caused the disaster that shocked the country and cast a pall over the period’s peace-and-love counterculture.
Premiering Sunday, July 26, Helter Skelter marries generous archival product to brand-new interviews with previous Manson Member of the family Catherine Share, Dianne Lake and Stephanie Schram, along with authors, reporters, associates, prosecutors and jurors, to craft a grand sense of its enduringly interesting tale. Also blessed with old and current audio commentary from Manson and fans Bobby Beausoleil (who remains behind bars for the murder of Gary Hinman), Susan Atkins (one of the Tate killers), Brooks Poston, Barbara Hoyt and Harold True, Chilcott leaves no stone unturned in conveying the linked elements of Manson’s life and criminal activities. Shrewdest of all, the director fixates on Manson without glorifying him; rather, the fiend appears in many images and quiet film clips, and is heard singing a few of his awful songs, but is only rarely seen speaking on-camera– a deliberate strategic tack that casts him as the specter hovering over these proceedings, and yet likewise sidelines him from the celebrity spotlight he so frantically yearned for.
The desire for popularity (primarily as an artist) was central to Manson’s mission, and Helter Skelter captures the various ways that music and movies are wrapped up in this saga, be it Manson’s unlikely relationship with Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, his use of the Spahn Cattle Ranch (an Old West film set) for his Household head office, or the fact that his supreme victim, Sharon Tate, was a rising Hollywood actress wed to well-known director Roman Polanski, who later pleaded guilty to illegal sexual intercourse with a minor
Imagine making it big were continuously on Manson’s mind, and as more than one speaker clarifies, his guitar tunes (together with LSD) were the essential to luring damaged, lost souls into his orbit. According to him, his supposedly imminent stardom was the lorry by which he ‘d share his new-world-order gospel. When those plans broke down (due to lack of talent and interest from manufacturers Gregg Jakobson and Terry Melcher), Manson relied on wild tales of an impending race war to keep his grip on his followers. To prove that such cataclysmic concepts were in the air, he claimed that the Beatles’ White Album— and specifically the tune “Helter Skelter”– contained subliminal messages about the chaos to come.
Much of this has long been comprehended about Manson, but Helter Skelter gain from an accompanying feel for the 1969 society in which Manson flourished, loaded with race riots, anger and disillusionment over the Vietnam War, and a hippie and guru movement (centralized in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury location) that permitted his craziness to find a captive audience. It likewise helped that Manson was a charismatic con man, having learned how to deceive individuals throughout an early lifetime invested mostly in jail, where he took to Dale Carnegie’s self-help book lessons about ingratiation through fake smiles. As director Chilcott lays out in exhaustive information, those abilities, in addition to his fantastic memory and distressed upbringing with a strictly spiritual granny and a rebellious, incompetent-criminal mom, rapidly made him an angry, bitter and precariously unhinged individual.
Helter Skelter shuns a simple chronological structure in order to both tantalize audiences with its most spectacular elements, and to create a layered impression of how Manson became– and to seduce numerous into his hareem. The portrait painted here is among a psychotic leader preying upon the weak and vulnerable in conventional cult fashion: appealing wayward individuals with pledges of love and approval, then isolating them from the world, and finally committing abuse to even more damage resistance to his authority, along with to make his fans stick even tighter to him. He was a small, nasty man with little education or artistic ability, and yet Chilcott’s docuseries persuasively contends that he was the figure ideally fit to exploit this specific late-’60 s minute to horrific ends– the essential part of a “perfect storm” that ended in mess up.
“ The picture painted here is among a psychotic leader preying upon the weak and vulnerable in traditional cult fashion …“
Though Share, Lake, Schram and others provide first-hand accounts of their experiences along with Manson in Helter Skelter, they’re seldom asked to address the madness of their previous actions or beliefs, and the program’s failure to put them on the area– about their gullibility, their criminality, and their continued support of Manson even after it was clear he had actually masterminded his atrocities– tends to grate. Share can just muster the admission that, when she reflects on her experience, she discovers it all “sad,” which is at when a laughable understatement and a revealing confession that she still doesn’t quite get it. The evidence damningly speaks for itself, and the eventual snippets of Manson chatting at courtroom desks and in corridors further underline the lunacy of his ethos and behavior, and the pitifulness of those who chose to buy into it at any point along the method.
While Helter Skelter‘s non-traditional timeline technique to its material means that it sometimes doubles back on itself– thereby suggesting it may have managed its story in five instead of 6 installments– the series proves about as definitive as one could expect. Additionally using old interviews with Polanski, gruesome criminal activity scene snapshots, and input from Manson’s childhood neighbors, it covers a lot of interconnected features of this headache that it offers a breathtaking view of the whole unstable age. More than that, nevertheless, what ultimately emerges is an idea of Manson as both an amazingly magnetic charlatan and a puny, pathetic wannabe, one who benefited from dupes in order to inflate– and keep– his own self-importance. He may have considered himself as both Jesus and the devil, a reflection and personification of society’s ills, but what he looks and sounds like in Helter Skelter is less an endlessly remarkable monster than a dime-store cultist most notable for damaging the age of innocence in which he ran.
Helter Skelter premieres on EPIX on Sun. July 26, 10 p.m. ET/PT.