To The Batmobile… Matt Reeves Reveals His Ride.

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Start your engines! The Batman director Matt Reeves has just revealed his version of the Batmobile. And, well, here it is…

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There’s not much more to say at this point, except that it looks nicely slimmed down from recent chunky cinematic Batmobiles, and to this old Bat Fan’s eyes, it has something of the feel of both the 1970s comic book sports car versions designed by the likes of Bob Brown, Irv Novick and Dick Giordano and the sleek number designed by the late, great artist Norm Breyfogle, for his excellent run in the 1980s. And that’s a good thing.

Meanwhile, The Batman stars Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/Batman. The cast also includes Zoe Kravtiz as Catwoman, Paul Dano as Riddler, Colin Farrell as the Penguin, John Turturro as crime boss Carmine Falcone, Jeffrey Wright as Commissioner Gordon, Andy Serkis as Alfred and Peter Sarsgaard as Gotham City DA Gil Colson.

The film will be released June 25th, 2021.

Marvel’s Black Widow Teaser Trailer

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Things have been relatively quiet on the Marvel front post-Endgame/Far From Home, but now you can get your Marvel geek on again with the Black Widow teaser trailer…

…that looks like a whole bunch of fun.

Scarlet Johansson and Rachel Weisz are always good value, Florence Pugh is increasingly on my radar after Midsommar and, honestly, who doesn’t want to see David Harbour squeeze his dad bod into the Red Guardian’s costume (straight out of the comics, natch)!?

I’m sure we’ll be getting a more expansive trailer closer to the film’s May release, but honestly, I’m sold already.

Black Widow moves us fully into the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase Four on May 1st, 2020 and I am all here for it.

The Colour Of Madness – Exclusive Horror Movie Location Report

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Exclusive set report on a new horror movie filmed here in Norway, starring Barbara Crampton.

The mountains around Bjørke are extraordinarily beautiful, forming a soaring, jagged cradle around the small village in the rugged western fjords of Norway. But on the summer evening I visit the location, for the filming of a new British horror movie, The Colour of Madness, at the end of a cloudless and unseasonably hot day, that cradle feels somewhat more ominous.

Maybe it’s the décor of the cabin that the crew are holed up inside that helps create the atmosphere, a typical small wooden structure, with verging-on-kitsch late 1950s/early 1960s furniture. Look a little closer, however, and odd details begin to stand out; strange little betentacled knick-knacks, resembling unearthly octopi, and what’s that over the fireplace? Is that a grisly painting of one of H.P. Lovecraft’s Elder Gods?

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A mysterious looking piece of set design

Clearly, dark deeds are afoot on the sweltering, busy set, underlined by the familiar appearance of a petite, graceful figure: Barbara Crampton, the much-loved star of classic genre films such as Re-Animator, From Beyond and We Are Still Here. The actor stands behind the cameras and prepares to shoot a short scene but makes a point of introducing herself to me and Jon, who’s here with me to snap some behind the scenes photos. Then the cameras are rolling, and Crampton is consoling a distraught character played by Sophie Stevens (The Haunted), handing her what looked to me like a suspicious glass of water. I spent some time talking in detail with Crampton about her life and career, so look out for that in an upcoming piece.

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Star Barbara Crampton chats with Out of Dave’s Head’s editor

With Crampton’s shot in the can, the co-directors, Andy Collier and Toor Mian then busy themselves setting up a tricky POV shot from beneath a glass table, as Stevens’ character succumbs to unconsciousness, spilling the water she’s been drinking across its surface. I got the feeling water wouldn’t be the only liquid spilled during the film’s creepy storyline.

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Co-Director Toor Mian (right) watches a shot being filmed

Shooting reached a break and the cast and crew gathered outside in the cooler air, with the mountains looming over us in the gathering darkness.  I ask the directors what brought them to Norway? Had they always planned to film here? “Not at all,” says Mian, munching on some Norwegian-style bacalao, as part of a late crew dinner on the gently rolling hillside. “Originally, we set the story in Scotland, but honestly, so many productions have shot there recently, and we really wanted to avoid any kind of Wicker Man-feel, in terms of the look of the film. Plus, my Mum is Norwegian, so now here we are filming in the most expensive country on Earth!”

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Directors Toor Mian & Andy Collier plot ghastly acts 

“But it really feels right to be shooting here,” Mian says. “Because there’s such a big connection in the story between the sort of Lovecraftian Cthulhu elements and all the water around us! Plus, you know, look at this place!” He finishes on this point, indicating to the breathtaking natural scenery. “We get so much bang for our production bucks!”

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Outside the cabin, on location in Bjørke, Norway

And how have they found filming in Bjørke? “Norway’s been great, not at all intrusive and really fluid!” Mian says. “And Bjørke’s been very easy to film in,” Collier adds. “We thought shooting in a tiny place like this might attract lots of local attention, but everyone has been brilliant. We were filming down at the harbour one day and this guy came in on his boat. He started asking a bit about the film, really interested in it all, but when he realised he’d be in shot he just said he’d move his boat somewhere else… and off he went!”

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The inhabitants of this cabin clearly shop at Cthulhu-R-Us

Watching them in cramped, hot conditions, I noted the two directors keep a focused but light-hearted set. How do they split duties? “I tend to be more technical,” Collier replies. “Working on DOP stuff and with the camera.” “While I usually work more with the actors,” Mian finishes. Does this lead to any kind of tension between the two of them, I wonder? They both laugh and simultaneously reply “Only sexual tension!” I get the feeling they’ve been asked this before.

I’d recently watched the pair’s previous film, Charismata, and noted the callbacks to Alan Parker’s 1987 psychological horror, Angel Heart, as well as the visual cues taken from David Fincher’s Seven. What could they tell me about any such inspirations for their latest work?

“Nicolas Winding Refn!” says Collier, without missing a beat, before Mian adds “I think Drive is a big influence on this film, in terms of the way we’re approaching the narrative.” “And definitely The Neon Demon for the visuals.” Collier finishes. The pair obviously enjoy working together, as they weave in and out of each other’s sentences.

“But another big inspiration is John Carpenter’s The Thing,” says Mian. “We’re going full-on with practical effects, loads of Cthulhu monster tentacles and all kinds of horrible stuff!” “Films like The Howling, those great 80s horror movies with all the practical effects, all very tangible, that’s really the essence of what we’re going for!” Collier adds enthusiastically.

And what can you tell us about the plot of The Colour of Madness? “Not much!” says Collier. “Or we’d have to kill you!” Mian jokes, or at least I hope he was joking.

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Barbara Crampton (right) practices some lines of dialogue in Norwegian

“One of our characters, Issac, played by Ludovic Hughes, returns to the remote Norwegian island where he grew up, after his mother dies,” continues Mian. “But on coming back with his pregnant wife they find things aren’t very welcoming and they quickly find themselves involved in a nightmare situation involving a Pagan cult, and, well… other things… ha ha.”

I wanted to move forward, to talk about what these two likeable creators have lined up for the future. “Well, there’s a film called Perpetual,” Mian offers. “That’s probably our next film.” I tell them I had read up about it and am intrigued by the potentially controversial plot, involving a small-town cop hunting a serial killer who leaves behind what seem to be Islamic terror calling cards in what’s left of his victims.

“Yeah, it’s a bit in limbo at the moment,” explains Collier, somewhat wearily. “We had some strong studio interest, but then they got cold feet over the subject matter. We’re quite prepped on it though, so as soon as the financing comes together, we’re good to go.”

“Plus we have a sort of medieval western we’re working on,” Mian adds. “The locations here would be perfect for that, so maybe we could even shoot that in Norway too.”

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Maybe someone should advise Sophie Stevens not to drink that water

“We learn from each of our films,” Collier concludes, as the actors are dismissed for the day and wander off in the now-inky black Norwegian darkness while the crew wraps and prepares for a long night shoot the following evening. “And we’re getting more confident. The Colour of Madness is a big leap from Charismata, and I think horror fans will find a lot in it to get excited about!”

As Jon and I finished our visit and drove away into the night, we left feeling excited at what horrors these directors and their hard-working crew would unleash on the screen, and kept an extra-sharp eye out for tentacles as we drove past the nearby lake…

The Colour of Madness is now in post-production and will be released in 2020.

Words by Dave King/Pictures by Jon Harman

Set video by Jon Harman:

 

The Final Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker Trailer

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Okay, I know what you’re here for, so here’s the final Star Wars trailer ever…

Yeah, well, I lied, obviously. This isn’t the final Star Wars trailer ever, Disney have way too much invested into George Lucas’s baby for that, but it is the final trailer for the nine films which will comprise the Skywalker saga.

And in customary J J Abrams style, it looks beautiful, with some really stunning ‘trailer moments’. Let’s just hope he and the crew are able to pull this together for a satisfying film – it comes with rather a lot of baggage, of course, not least the ire of a lot of entitled man-babies who shed copious fanboy blood and fury blood over Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi.

Personally, I’m rather excited to see how this all wraps up, and now we’ll find out – after forty two years and eight previous movies. I guess I’ll see you in the queue for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker on December 20th…

Bollywood And Beyond: Mission Mangal

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Welcome to Bollywood And Beyond, our new regular column looking at the incredible movies coming out of Bollywood and Indian cinema, with our host, Chris Conway.

Mission Mangal (translated as Mission Mars) tells the true story of the Indian Mars orbiter mission, that was successfully launched back in September, 2014. It’s not an action film or edge-of-seat drama, like Apollo 13, but like Ron Howard’s movie, it tells the audience a story we know has actually happened.

Initially announced in 2013 and going into production as the real-life Mars Orbiter was launched, the film’s story is loosely based on the lives of scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation and focuses on the largely female team and their driven mission director, who all made it happen against incredible odds.

Director Jagan Shakti (previously a second unit or assistant director on films including Dear Zindagi, Holiday and Thupakki) put together a very engaging cast: Akshay Kumar (one of Bollywood’s most prolific actors) is perfect as the slightly eccentric director, and among the female team is the always excellent Vidya Balan (from films including Lage Raho Munna Bhai) struggling to balance work with being a mom and wife. Sonakshi Sinha plays a smoking, serial dating propulsion expert, Tapsee Panu portrays a soldier’s wife and payload expert. Add a pregnant woman, a separated Muslim woman, a nerdy young guy and an elderly man (at 59?) – and that’s quite a team.

The main story follows the mission’s beginnings and the problems faced by the team along the way, allowing us to get to know and empathise with the characters. This is greatly helped with the inclusion of some gently funny scenes, highly enjoyable as Akshay and Vidya are such likeable actors.

It’s all been slightly romanticised, of course – several times a team member will find something from everyday life which is the solution to a problem, and the film doesn’t really do science – in fact the team always use simplified terms, even in mission control.

The film even slips a song or two in there, this is Bollywood, after all. You’d be disappointed if there were none (certainly Indian audiences would be).

Shakti (along with fellow writers R. Balki, Nidhi Singh Dharma and Saketh Kondiparthi) makes sure the story is big on Indian patriotism – and why not? It is the first Asian Mars mission (and the cheapest!) – but if you’re not in a hurry with the plot everything carries you along to a nice ending.

In fact, if you’re looking for a word to describe the film, “nice” would fit perfectly.


Chris Conway is a Bollywood enthusiast who sees at least twenty Bollywood films a year, often at Leicester’s Piccadilly Bollywood Cinema. He’s also a jazz pianist, vocalist, composer and songwriter who is currently celebrating his thirtieth year of recording and performing. He also loves cloudy days and J-pop.

Bombshell Trailer Will Get You Talking…

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Let’s get to that trailer first…

Intriguing, huh? Just look at the cast of Bombshell; Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman play real-life TV journalists Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson, respectively, while Margot Robbie plays a fictional news producer named Kayla Pospisil (a composite of several real people).

The film, based on the true story of women associated with Fox News who went public with allegations against the network’s late founder, Roger Ailes, also stars John Lithgow (as Ailes) Malcolm McDowell (as Rupert Murdoch, no less), Mark Duplass, and Alice Eve. It’s written by Charles Randolph (co-writer of The Big Short) and directed by Jay Roach (the Austin Powers films, Meet The Parents and Trumbo), so this is quite the intriguing array of talent.

Add that to a sizzler of a real-life story (Ailes was a media consultant to  Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, and for Rudy Giuliani’s first mayoral campaign, and served in a similar capacity for Donald Trump, and became embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal in 2016), and we’re looking at something that could be a whole lot of fun.

I’m a big fan of all three of the lead actors, so I’m getting a big box of popcorn ready (actually, I’m not a fan of popcorn, I’ll be tucking into my usual Norwegian treat of Sursild – I’ll let you look those up if you don’t know what they are – but you get my point).

Bombshell opens December 20, 2019. Better start spreading the word.

Avengers Assemble At Disney Parks

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Marvel’s The Avengers want you to Assemble. Strictly speaking, they want your credit card to assemble, but they’ll welcome you along for the ride.

The previously announced news that Marvel’s characters would join the famous parks was confirmed at today’s D23 expo, where they gave more information on the upcoming super-hero lands.

The Disney Parks blog announced:

“When guests visit Avengers Campus, they will become part of an interconnected, global story that spans from California to Paris to Hong Kong with the Avengers recruiting new extraordinary people to join them.”

Avengers Campus will open at various Disney theme parks in California and Paris, joining the just-opened Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction to lure in geeks. They will will incorporate the existing Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! and a new Spider-Man attraction that will invite “new recruits to “suit up” alongside Spider-Man with the Worldwide Engineering Brigade (WEB).”

The first phase of the Anaheim Avengers Campus is expected to open in 2020, so you’d better start saving your pennies or deciding which part of your soul you’ll hand to Disney now.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood -Tarantino’s Fairy Tale Triumph

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Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, is his masterpiece. There, I’ve said it.

It almost feels glib to make such a bald, bland statement about this often breathtakingly complex work, but if this is to be his penultimate movie (and his tenth and final film will be “epilogue-y” as the director recently stated), then he has left us with something that not only stands as a brilliant expansion and culmination of his cinematic style and obsessions but also as arguably the most intricate and layered film in his body of work.

It’s a beautiful and elegiac love letter to not only Hollywood but also international filmmaking, it uses a potentially troublesome real-life tragedy and gives it catharsis in the most surprisingly touching and tender way, and it presents a simple bromance that eventually reveals itself as something deeper.

Set across two brief moments six months apart, Tarantino shows us a Hollywood in transition, beset by television, the dying embers of the studio system giving way to the bright flames of New Hollywood, the encroachment of international films and indeed, of the death of the 1960s as an ideal, we’re introduced to fading star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman-cum-personal driver-cum-gopher, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).

As the two weave their way through dwindling career opportunities, we meet their mirror opposite, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), whose star is on the ascendant and ready to burn brightly. As Al Pacino’s Hollywood producer offers Dalton a lifeline in Italy to feature in Spaghetti Westerns and Euro-spy movies, Tate glimpses the wonder of her craft and the two threads play out with some of Tarantino’s most perfectly measured storytelling since Jackie Brown (now my second favourite film from the director), all the while magnificently slowly building towards the tension and violence of the era-ending and personal tragedy we know is about to unfold.

DiCaprio continues his run as a driven, fearless performer, handling every level of Dalton’s movie star bragadoccio and insecurities with ease, never failing to find the most human of reactions, while Pitt further reveals himself to be the character actor in a movie star’s body those of us with more attuned tastes have always known him to be. His role could easily have played as unlikable or even offensive, but he strides across this with his easy going charm, leaving us with an arresting and enjoyable ambiguity.

Pitt and DiCaprio make for such an impeccable screen teaming that if it wasn’t so all-fired perfect here already, I’d be begging to see more. But their transition from employer and employee to deep friendship is so beautifully bittersweet that I can’t see any other, future pairing as anything more than anti-climatic.

There has been much criticism of Tarantino’s handling of Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate, with many saying she is underused. This is, of course, complete nonsense (as is the storm in a tea cup over Bruce Lee’s role in the story, which willfully misunderstands the nature of the film). Tate is the joyful glue that binds the film, an even more impressive feat of both writing and acting considering many of her scenes see the character playing not off others, but reveling in her life, by and for herself, in the moment before her Hollywood stardom explodes.

Robbie, the writing and direction of her, gives us a wonderful character and a heartfelt tribute to the real life actress. The scene of her watching herself on a Westwood cinema screen, delighting in not only her own performance (made even more multi-faceted by the fact we see the real Tate) but also in the reactions of the audience around her, has instantly become one of my favourite Tarantino sequences from all of his films. Rather than marginalize the actor, Tarantino has the confidence in his star to let her carry this all out wordlessly.

It’s a scene which also stands as one of two moments in particular (though I suspect further viewings will reveal more) which startlingly play with perceptions of how, and perhaps even why, we watch films in ways I’m still trying to unravel, but this and DiCaprio’s incredible address to himself in his mirror where he instead makes perfect eye contact with the audience were genuinely spine-chilling.

The playful blending and juxtaposition of films in our real world and films in Tarantino’s reel world is also sure to leave film lovers with examination and critique that will no doubt reward, infuriate and entrance for decades to come.

Tarantino’s films all pay off with multiple viewing, but this is a genuine treasure chest which unfolds to reveal multiple levels of jewels which will catch the light to reveal themselves the more we look into it.

Standing as a love letter to Hollywood and an ode to that town’s ever-changing tides of filmmaking, as an ode to the end of an era, as the reclamation of a terrible real-life crime and celebration of the life of the woman involved in that event, as a charming buddy movie examination of the changing dynamics of friendship and as an investigation of cinema and our relationship to it, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood really is Tarantino’s most emotionally mature and singularly impressive work.

It’s also the first Tarantino film to bring a tear to my eye, with a quite beautiful, and delicate closing scene which perfectly encapsulates what the film is: a Hollywood fairy tale, with all the romance and darkness of the very best fairy tales.

In fact, it’s his masterpiece. There, I’ve said it again.

*You can read more about the cinematic legacy of Charles Manson here.

The Haunting of Sharon Tate – All In The Worst Possible Taste

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the infamous Tate – LaBianca murders and, much like waiting for a bus, along come three movies to mark the date in various ways. I’ve yet to see Mary Harron’s Charlie Says and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, but I think it’s safe to assume that if The Haunting of Sharon Tate set out to be the worst of the three then it can be considered a rip-roaring success.

It’s pretty tough to figure out what was going on in anybody’s heads in their efforts to make this movie. Hilary Duff, who could most charitably be described as awful, runs the gamut from cloying to annoyingly hysterical (not in the humorous way either), playing Tate as little more than a blank slate.

But then the script she has to work with gives her no help whatsoever, keeping the characters character-free and running fast and loose with the unsubstantiated real-life rumour that the actress had a premonition of her own death. In doing so, it attempts to turn cult leader Charles Manson (who instructed four of his followers to kill the inhabitants of 10050 Cielo Drive) into a Freddy Krueger boogieman-type apparition, and that’s probably the least boneheaded element of this truly wretched movie.

Following the real events, Duff’s Tate arrives back at the home she made with her film director husband, Roman Polanski (off in Europe working on the script for Day of the Dolphin, as the script leadenly points out), with her friend and former lover, Jay Sebring (Jonathon Bennett) and three other friends who are looking after the house.

Almost immediately, Tate begins hearing noises, gets spooked by cupboard doors creaking open and windows being left ajar (to the point where you’re screaming at the screen: “JUST CLOSE ALL THE GODDAMNED WINDOWS, ALREADY!”) before playing a kind of Ouija board game that adds nothing to the mix and having a quick conversation about destiny. Oh, and dropping as many expository factoids about Polanski and Tate into six or seven lines of dialogue as humanly possible. Its even more irritating than it sounds.

Then the interminable music (by someone possibly wisely named only as Fantom) which wallpapers every scene SUDDENLY GETS REALLY LOUD AND SCARY as a hippy turns up at the house looking for the previous owner, music producer Terry Melcher. That’ll be Charles Manson then, folks. Or maybe it’s Freddy Krueger. Tough to tell from that music.

From then on, Tate’s unease turns to full blown hysteria as we see the murders play out as her nightmare and she imagines blood pouring out of the bath taps while the audience starts wondering if Hilary Duff might return to her singing career soon because that would be marginally less painful than sitting through the rest of this film.

Just when you think the movie can’t get any worse it goes and exceeds expectations by getting much, much worse: Tate is turned into a gun-toting Linda Hamilton clone, seeing off Manson’s followers with great vengeance and furious anger, as she reimagines taking charge of her destiny (foreshadowed in her earlier conversations about, well… destiny, geddit?).

And, uh… that’s it… 94 minutes of something utterly ghastly, filled with a billion beauty shots of the Hollywood sign and surrounding hills (you could certainly never be unclear where this film took place), would-be portentous dialogue and a hilarious shot where Duff’s Tate is sitting by the pool reading a book titled REINCARNATION, in nice, big friendly text. Oh, and the vaguely rotten aftertaste that The Haunting of Sharon Tate is indulging in a little victim blaming by suggesting that the ill-fated party might have lived if only they’d been resourceful enough to fight back a little harder. Or they’d had Linda Hamilton to hand.

Bad taste can be invigorating, thrilling and hilarious or it can just be bad taste. This is definitely the latter, and is nowhere near clever enough to realise just how obnoxious it is.

It would be a real cheap shot to say this film is truly Duff, but fuck it, it doesn’t deserve anything better.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – The Manson Legacy

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Out Of Dave’s Head is proud to publish our first article by another writer; welcome aboard Jon Harman, celebrating the release of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood with a look at the cinematic legacy of the real-life horror haunting the movie.

Charles Manson has been a defining Hollywood story for 50 years, ever since the fateful and brutal killings in August 1969. With Tarantino returning to this arena in his latest offering Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, we look at the impact and legacy of the Manson Murders in cinema.

The Manson Murders took place in the summer of 1969 and were the culmination of activities by a hippy cult lead by Charles Manson, an unemployed ex-convict who had spent more than half of his life in correctional institutions. Manson’s dreams of becoming a singer/songwriter had been snubbed by Beach Boys record producer Terry Melcher and he was suffering delusions of grandeur that he was the new messiah. He was also obsessed with the Beatles, particularly their 1968 self-titled album, and was allegedly guided by his interpretation of the band’s lyrics. He adopted their song, Helter Skelter, as the text to describe an impending apocalyptic race war.

On August 8th of that year, Manson instructed his followers, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel to go to Melcher’s house in Cielo Drive in LA and murder the inhabitants, who were film director Roman Polanski’s pregnant actress wife, Sharon Tate, her hairdresser Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger and her boyfriend Voytek Frykowski. The following night he instructed them and Leslie Van Houten and Steve Grogan to perform a copycat killing of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca at their residence.

Manson occurred at a defining moment for counter-culture and Hollywood, starting a transition to a post studio system, as Peter Fonda’s Wyatt uttered the immortal words “we blew it” in Easy Rider, the love affair with hippiedom was over, but the kinetic, youthful and independent style of Easy Rider was opening a door to a new cinema. Then on August 8th-9th the brutal slaying of the Tate party in Cielo Drive ensured Hollywood and violence were fused together in a thematic way that has permeated US cinema for decades, with constant reference to the perfect boogeyman in Manson. 

There are the biopic, literal tellings of the Manson story over the years, but there are also countless films that channel a Manson theme within. Very early on, numerous exploitation films captured the salacious nature of the crimes like Angel, Angel, Down We Go (1969) which was retitled as Cult of The Damned (1971) to feed off the ever growing notoriety of the case, not to mention the bizarre attempt to add two minutes of footage to Sign of Aquarius (1970) to suddenly make a Mansonesque blaxploitation flick, Ghetto Freaks (1970) which was a fusion of too many themes to comprehend).

As the investigation played out in 69 and 70, aspects were already fusing into the lexicon of cinema, such as John Waters’ Multiple Maniacs (1970), which had Divine running a circus freak show as a front for robbery and murder and convincing her husband that he killed Sharon Tate in a drug induced haze. Waters was obsessed with the case and wrote references into his film as the case unfolded, later dedicating Pink Flamingos (1972) to “Sadie, Katie & Les” (Manson’s nicknames for Susan Atkins, Linda Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten, the main perpetrators of the murders). Waters has spent years advocating the release of  Van Houten, describing her as his friend.

The first attempt to bring the actual Manson story into cinema was The Other Side of Madness (1971) which itself was later retitled as The Helter Skelter Murders, a strange curational mix of documentary and re-enactment footage filmed in some of the actual locations whilst never actually using any of the names from the crime. The hippie noir depiction of the crime scene is both brutal and exploitative for a film of its time with strong mondo undertones leaving it a curio in the Manson legacy. At the same time, exploitation duo Michael and Roberta Findlay jetted down to Argentina to make The Slaughter (1971) about a Mansonesque death cult resulting in a film with either very limited or no distribution until independent low-budget distributor and sometime producer, Allan Shackleton picked it up and added a notorious murder scene as the finale and calling it Snuff (1976), spawning an entire urban myth strand of modern cinema about the existence of underground snuff films in its own right (which is another whole article by itself). 

Likewise in 1971, fledgling writer/ director Wes Craven was typing out his script for what would become The Last House on The Left (1972). Whilst being an American retelling of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960), it had a Manson Family undertone in its brutalism and striking similarities of character with it’s female villain “Sadie,” played by Jeramie Rain, cast just after playing Manson family member Sadie Mae Glutz in the off Broadway Manson musical 22 Years the same year. 

The zeitgeist of the Manson Murders was permeating new cinema as much as the raging Vietnam war at the time, which conflated in a later movie. Writer Peter Biskind, in his 1998 book, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls saw Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz in his compound in Apocalypse Now (1980) as: 

“another incarnation of Charlie Manson, the scourge figure who had gone native and now, unchallenged, ruled over his family. The compound was his Spahn Ranch” 

The sense of crime family, hippies, war and brutality also infused the zeitgeist of Tobe Hooper’s film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), in particular the opening prologue directly cites Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s description of the crimes as “the most bizarre mass murder case in the annals of American crime” to add weight to the false claim the film is a true story. 

1976 saw the release of CBS made for television film Helter Skelter, which depicted both the crimes and the trial in detail, based on Bugliosi’s book of the same name. Steve Railsback defined the persona of Manson for the viewing public (though retrospectively, this comes across as being quite histrionic and the film comes off as a weird episode of Perry Mason tonally), to the point he never really escaped its impact and stunting his fledgling acting career. The film reached an estimated 50 million Americans on release and thus defined much of the Manson story. CBS later remade Helter Skelter (2004) with Jeremy Davies playing a more subtle and realistic Manson, though not as eerie, this time the film focused more on the persuasive nature of Manson as guru and the lead up to the crime. 

Always lurking in the exploitative realms of cinema, Manson re-emerged in an early found footage piece that built on the earlier legacy of Snuff (1976) and ran with an assertion from Ed Sanders book The Family (1971) that they stole an NBC film crew truck and used the equipment to make snuff films. The imagined output is surreal. Manson Family Movies (1984) which is all filmed from the perspective of the family on super 8mm film and dwells on mondo-style, exploitative gore once again to entice the salacious viewer disturbed by the ever winding myths around Manson.

In the same vein, Jim Van Bebber’s The Manson Family (2003) takes a transgressive view on the subject matter and relishes in the hyperbole of cult and barbaric murder. Famously taking 15 years to produce and finish, for many murder groupies, this is seen as the definitive film of Manson. Van Bebber firmly asserts that if you cover this story, you have to cover it warts and all in an NC-17 way. The film does successfully channel a late sixties, early 70’s aesthetic in its tone and thus has a further authenticity of Manson as cinema, rather than cinema about Manson. Van Bebber has a certain connection with the Manson psyche as a film-maker, and is somewhat reminiscent when ranting to distributors about film to DVD transfers of his work too.

From this moment on, Manson as myth and cultural icon becomes a touchstone to regurgitate in direct to DVD movies or sleight of hand references in TV series. Manson, My Name is Evil (2009), House of Manson (2014), The Wolves at the Door (2016) and The Haunting of Sharon Tate (2019) all carbon copy the salacious aspects of the case, water down the nuance and add to the myth-making of Manson, whilst never really tackling anything new and can be largely dismissed for wrapping themselves in Manson iconography with little substance. It is also  difficult not to see the Family fingerprints all over most home invasion horror films of recent memory, invoking the horror of being disrupted, held hostage and murdered by some counter culture creepy crawlers, they set the narrative template for this modern American horror fable. 

Manson has also continued to guest star in such shows as American Horror Story: Cult (2017) Aquarius (2015)  or Mindhunter (2019) illustrating he is still a strong cultural bogeyman in the American psyche that people want to explore and visit. Films like Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene (2011) nicely explore the phenomenon and psychology of cult radicalisation with strong nods to Manson, without getting caught up in all the salacious aspects of the case. Equally, Charlie Says (2018) explores the indoctrination psychology and less salacious aspects through the eyes of Manson’s disciples and here we see (former Doctor Who) Matt Smith play Manson in a more subtle and believable incarnation as oppressive seductor rather than histrionic mad man.

There will of course always be room for such oddities as Live Freaky, Die Freaky (2006) – a stop motion musical comedy about the Manson crimes, or Troma’s Honky Apocalypse (2014) – that imagines an alternate universe where Manson’s proclamation of a Helter Skelter race war comes true in typical Troma, independent trash cinema style. 

It is inferred in the trailer for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) that we may actually only be getting more the guest star in cultural context of Manson this time around and possibly revisionist takes on the myth whilst delving into the transitioning movie business in 1969, illustrating how much Manson has become synonymous with Hollywood either as protagonist or background player. The film opens here next week, so we’ll know more then.

We’ve even seen one of the stars of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, Brad Pitt, do his own modern day interpretation of Manson in Tyler Durden, of course. Rewatch Fight Club through the lense of cult radicalisation and guru instructed mayhem, compare Tyler’s speeches in the film to Charlie’s real-life speeches and you see much synchronicity.

Charlie changed Hollywood, Manson is a Hollywood story, myth and bogeyman that perpetuates to this day in so many aspects of our popular culture.

It was only natural for Tarantino as the pop culture maestro to visit and explore, having ditched other Hollywood arch manipulator Harvey Weinstein. Tarantino’s obsession with killers in his work, with numerous nods like having written Daisy Domergue in Hateful Eight (2015) as “a Manson girl out west, like Susan Atkins or something” was leading him here. Indeed what was Charlie if not the ultimate director manipulating and coercing players to act out his Hollywood scene like a doting Hollywood entourage, whilst he laps up all the attention? And we’re still talking about it 50 years on.

Jon Harman is a film producer, director and lecturer. Producing work from web series to feature films, documentaries and mind numbing live pop fare for Disney. Jon has the media bite mark scars on the leg that Quint and Hooper would drunkenly argue over. Jon also contributes to Cinema Under The Stairs podcast on Spotify. His trailer homage to Lucio Fulci and Man Bites Dog “Cool Clyde” (made when 16) is hidden on Youtube somewhere as a special easter egg.