Charles Manson died in prison on 19 November 2017. He was 83 years old. For many Californian residents, Manson’s death will mark the end of a particularly nasty bit of history for the state.
The full story of Manson’s cult and murders is as long as it in complicated.
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- March 23, 2020
In short, Manson was a cult leader with serious delusions of grandeur. Some experts believe Manson believed himself to be the reincarnation of Jesus.
A charismatic, if delusion, leader Manson built a harem of women around himself in the late 1960s. The jobless Manson acquired a guru status. Borrowing liberally from both the philosophy of Progress Church and Scientology, he convinced his followers that they were the reincarnation of Biblical Christians and the establishment were the Romans who would have them killed.
Travelling up and down California, he added members to his so-called Manson Family.
Working as a singer-songwriter on the edge of the Los Angeles music scene, he gained access to celebrities and their homes.
This included Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. Eventually, Manson came across The Beatles and their White Album.
He believed that the album told, in code, of an upcoming apocalyptic race war between white people and black people.
Manson convinced his followers that recent racial tensions across American were evidence of the upcoming war which he called the Helter Skelter, taking a name from White Album.
He convinced the Manson Family that it was their duty to maintain order after the war.
Manson believed that infighting between racist and non-racist white people would be the downfall of the white race. However, black people would only be triumphant in the race before they became subjugated by the Manson Family.
The latter group would survive the race war by hiding out in the desert in an underground city Manson wanted to build.
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His idea was that he and the Family would trigger the war by releasing an album full of songs with subtle code which would incite the war.
Eventually, Manson decided more direct action was needed to incite the race war. He and his followers committed dozens of murders of both white and black people, leaving evidence to suggest the other race had done the murders, hoping that attacks in retribution would spark the war.
They went on to murder at least nine people, including Sharon Tate, wife of Roman Polanski. She was eight and half months pregnant.
Creative works inspired by the crimes of the Manson Family
With such a complex and convoluted history, it’s no wonder that the Manson family have been a source of intrigue and interest from creatives around the world in the years that followed the murders.
Musicians and groups including Kasabian, Spahn Ranch, and Marilyn Manson have names inspired by Manson and the family.
The Manson and his cult have also been the subject of plenty of plays, films, and documentaries.
The Manson Family (Opera) by John Moran
Originally commissioned in 1990 by the Lincoln Centre For Performing Arts, this opera’s original recording featured Iggy Pop. It was also one of the first pieces of content ever to receive a parental advisory sticker.
Assassins (Musical) by Stephen Sondheim
Not technically about Manson, but one of his disciples features in the show.
The musical is something like a revue show where people who tried to assassinate US presidents sing tunes in the genres of popular music of their times.
Squeaky Fromme, one of the Family features for her attempt to assassinate US president Gerald Ford.
Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry
Bugliosi probably knows more about Charles Manson and the Family than anyone else in history.
After all, he was the prosecutor of Charles Manson in his 1970 trial for the murders.
Bugliosi’s true crime book explains the entire history of Manson and the Family. It is currently the best-selling true crime book ever written.
The Dead Circus by John Kaye
This one is a work of fiction, and doesn’t actually feature Manson himself. Instead, the plot tells of a man who becomes obsessed with the murder of a young rock star.
He learns that the answers to the young man’s murder can be found in Manson’s Death Valley hideout.
He and a former cultist team up to find the hideout and solve the murder.
The Manson Family (2003)
Half fiction, half docuemntary, The Manson Family deals with the violent crimes of the family through the lens of a fictional television series. The movie explores the early days of the cult and their crimes, rather than the court case itself.
The film is not for the faint-hearted though. It has been classified harshly in almost all areas it has been released in.
Leslie, My Name Is Evil (2009)
A fictionalised biopic of Leslie Van Houten, one member of the Manson Family.
She was aged just 19 when she was involved in the murder of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca at Manson’s behest.
This film got mixed to fair reviews but still, it’s an interesting insight into the mind of a cultist.
Helter Skelter (2004)
Technically a remake of the 1976 television series (which itself was an adaption of the 1974 book) this film focuses less on the murders themselves and more on the trial of Charles Manson and the family.
However, the distinction comes from the fact that this version focuses mostly on the life of cultist Linda Kasabian.
Charles Manson Superstar (1989)
One of the most thorough documentaries based on Charles Manson and his cult. This film contains one of the few recorded interviews with Manson after his imprisonment. The film also includes some of the music that the Manson family created for their album which had been intended to spark a race war.
Probably one of the most highly regarded documentaries about Charles Manson and the family.
This one actually got nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary category. The film contains interviews with Charles and the rest of the Manson family, including Squeaky Fromme, the cultist who went on to attempt to assassinate US president Gerald Ford.
In fact, the film was briefly banned in America due to that latter incident. The US district court felt that with the film in the public eye, Fromme wouldn’t be able to have her right to a fair and speedy trial.
Wolves At The Door (2016)
Another depiction of the final night of the lives of Sharon Tate and her friends before their murder by the Manson family.
While reviewers noted that this one was ably acted (with a starring role for Katie Cassidy from DC Comics’ TV universe) much criticism was given due to its insensitivity to the fact that it is based on a real life event.
Little explanation or backstory is given to the murderers or their victim. Thus, Wolves At The Door is quite a generic horror. Still, for those interested in the events of that night, it might be worth a watch.
Helter Skelter (1976)
The original adaption of the best-selling book, the two-part television drama won critical acclaim.
This version focuses more on the investigation and trial of Manson than the crimes he and his cult committed. Much of the film is very real.
The actual car used by cultist Linda Kasabian on the night of both murders is used in the film, much of the courtroom content is taken directly from the real courtroom transcripts, and the sequence at the LaBianca house was filmed in the actual place where the murders had taken place.
This cop drama set in 1960s LA is less about Manson than he is part of the backdrop.
The series described itself as ‘historical fiction’. It is largely about the Manson family and its crimes, but also contains fictional characters, storylines, and events. The show went one for two seasons before it was ultimately cancelled.
American Horror Story: Cult (2017)
Again, not so much a depiction of Manson or his followers as of cults in general. Still, in the series’ penultimate episode ‘Charles (Manson) In Charge’, Manson does appear and viewers see the Tate murders in graphic detail.
Quentin Tarantino’s Manson movie
Not due out until 2019, Quentin Tarantino’s Manson movie is sure to reignite public interest in Manson and the murders.
The ninth film from the veteran director will be his first in years with no involvement from the Weinstein Company. Instead, this film will be distributed by Sony Pictures. It’s also set to be a seriously star-studded picture (as Tarantino’s movies are wont to be.)
The movie will apparently star Margot Robbie as murder victim Sharon Tate, while Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Tom Cruise have all been approached to take two of the male leads.
As for the plot, Vanity Fair reports that Manson and the murders will only take a minor role in the film:
Set in Los Angeles in the summer of 1969, Tarantino’s upcoming movie, according to a source who read the script, focuses on a male TV actor who’s had one hit series and his looking for a way to get into the film business. His sidekick—who’s also his stunt double—is looking for the same thing. The horrific murder of Sharon Tate and four of her friends by Charles Manson’s cult of followers serves as a backdrop to the main story.
With that in mind, it seems likely Charles Manson will occupy a similar role to Adolf Hitler in Inglorious Basterds.
Tarantino has also boasted that the film’s script is apparently as good as Pulp Fiction. Safe to say, it’ll be a real treat for Tarantino fans!
In summary, there’s a lot of interesting creative work around Charles Manson and his cult. This insane, violent, deadly cult leader definitely left a serious mark on history. Perhaps his death might dull that legacy.