‘Inside the Manson Cult’ – One big, happy, murderous family
Fans of true crime will want to check out a new special airing this week that looks back at one of the most shocking and grisly series of murders in American history.
“Inside the Manson Cult: the Lost Tapes,” airing Monday, Sept. 17, on Fox, recalls the “family” of Charles Manson, a group of more than 100 individuals living in a commune near Los Angeles in the late 1960s who were responsible for a number of murders, among them “Valley of the Dolls” actress Sharon Tate, at the behest of their charismatic, persuasive and messianic leader.
This new two-hour special looks at the Manson cult from the inside, culling more than 100 hours of home movies shot by cultists and combining it with new interviews with surviving members to paint an unsettling portrait of people who appeared to be leading fairly normal and happy lives but who were being brainwashed to commit heinous crimes.
The original tapes were shot in 1969 by Robert Hendrickson, a filmmaker who visited the Manson commune at Spahn’s Ranch to make a documentary, but the film saw limited release and the tapes disappeared. They were unearthed after Hendrickson’s death decades later by Simon Andreae, this film’s producer, who found a treasure trove of surprises, among them that Tate may have not necessarily been an intended victim.
Manson, an aspiring musician and songwriter in his younger years, harbored a grudge against the record producer who rejected his work, Terry Melcher, who at one time lived at the house where Tate and several others were slain.
“The film suggests, actually, that what he’s really doing is he’s taking it out on … the privileged, rich, white show biz people who’d rejected him,” Andreae explains. “But number two, that house on Cielo Drive used to have been rented by Terry Melcher … who had rejected Manson as a singer.
“So you hear in the lost tapes that Manson was very, very agitated and excited about (getting revenge on) Terry Melcher … . So it’s quite possible that the murders occurred in a sort of emblematic revenge in the place where Terry Melcher … once lived. So he may not have been after Sharon Tate at all.”
The tapes also show the cultists talking about their lives, their love for one another – both spiritually and carnally – and for Manson, for whom they said they would do anything, including murder.
“As far as I know, there are little to no instances where you can observe the brainwashing of a set of regular whitebread individuals and see them transformed from peace-loving middle class kids into potential suicide killers,” Andreae says. “Now the psychological trajectory of that journey – think about the world we’re in now, of course – is very contemporary. As far as I know, this is the only instance where you see it happening on film from the inside.”