Arts+Movies » Column

How do we reconcile Charles Manson's influence on Hollywood?

Murder He Wrote



Like most hypocritical people, I have an intermittent fascination with the sensationalistic true crime-y network shows that evaporate after a brief epiphany of how wrong it is to be watching said shows. Personally, I love works that explore the darkness and depths of a warped psyche. Where would art be if it didn't take its inspiration from the admirable and the despicable?

During one of many squirm-inducing scenes in Rob Zombie's second film, The Devil's Rejects, one of the psychotic protagonists, Otis Diftwood, has bested a pair of men trying to escape his clutches. With his makeshift weapon — a bulky tree branch — in hand, he stands over one of his victims, chiding the man's religious beliefs. With his long gray hair whipping against his blood-drenched face, Diftwood slowly pulls his hair back and matter-of-factly states, "I am the devil and I am here to do the devil's work," before killing the man on the ground. That's some cold-blooded shit to say to a motherfucker before you pop a cap in his ass.

When I initially saw this film in 2005 with a couple of friends, we were pretty astonished by what we saw. I'm pretty sure one of us said "holy shit" as the credits floated on the screen. The film was a gleeful, unapologetic throwback to the profane, nihilistic grindhouse classics of the mid '70s. At the risk of sounding like someone who needs to be put on a list, I was fascinated by every aspect of the film from the cinema vérité photography to star turns by B movie royalty like Sid Haig to the rampant profanity to the abstract use of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" during the film's guns a-blazing final scene.

It wasn't until a few years ago that I would wincingly learn that the cold-blooded announcement by Diftwood in The Devil's Rejects was inspired by, "I am the devil and I'm here to do the devil's business," words Charles "Tex" Watson spoke to Voytek Frykowski before murdering him and four others in 1969 during a killing spree spearheaded by Charles Manson. Zombie's film also featured a cameo by Steve Railsback (an actor who came to prominence when he portrayed Manson in the 1976 TV movie, Helter Skelter) as a local sheriff. In my opinion, The Devil's Rejects, like Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, was fictional exploitation that doubles as introspection and confrontation of the monsters we help create and sensationally celebrate. (Check in with Rob himself and it's likely he'll say, "Nah, you're reading too much into it man. I just wanted to make a messed up movie.")

Manson in August 2017 - CDCR
  • CDCR
  • Manson in August 2017

The aforementioned TV movie Helter Skelter did very well upon its airing. Many films, including most notoriously, Jim Van Bebber's The Manson Family, have recreated the horrifying events with varying degrees of truth and fiction. Cruise through most horror-related websites and you'll likely find a shirt with Manson's swastika-tattooed wild-eyed face staring back at you. Websites, radio stations and shows were littered with the news of his death recounting the sordid details and replaying snippets from his multiple rant-filled interviews. Supposedly, Quentin Tarantino's next film will use the 1969 event as a backdrop. In a quick turnaround from Manson's Nov. 19 death, Reelz premiered the documentary, Charles Manson: The Final Words. The trailer for the recently released documentary has talking heads detailing how horrible/insane/persuasive he was while Rob Zombie himself morbidly narrates bloody re-enactments on screen.

Two years before Coca-Cola co-opted flower power for their own gain in their "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" ad from 1971, Manson would do the same with sinister intentions. He led the charge for a murderous rampage that, along with the Vietnam War, assassinations, and political upheaval, would bring an ugly tone to the early '70s. Everyone knows the names of the murderers but rarely do we remember the names of the victims. Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, Gary Hinman, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, Steven Parent, Jay Sebring, Donald Shea, and Sharon Tate were no different. All the infamous "glory" was given to Manson.

Everyone who has even been tangentially fascinated by, created shows and films about, or written pieces devoted to Manson (including the guy hand-wringingly writing this piece) is essentially's word of the year. We're complicit, feeding the ego of a cruel troll that delighted in creating distress and pain.

Based on the trailer, I don't think I can watch a documentary — under the guise of illumination — that gives a dirtbag like Manson the attention he craved. Then again I should never say never because I just might.

That being said, to paraphrase Bette Davis when commenting on the death of her co-star/rival Joan Crawford: "You should never say bad things about the dead, only good." Charles Manson is dead. Good.

Comments (4)

Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

Add a comment