Charles Manson is the king of cults. Absolutely no one captivated, and terrified, the public like he did during his “family’s” murder sprees in the 60s. Like it or not, he is an icon. A weird, spooky icon. Brandon Slagle’s House of Manson attempts to dig deep into Manson’s past and explore the beginnings of the infamous man. More often than not, House of Manson bounces between mediocre and highly amusing. Sometimes it feels like a bad straight TV movie, while other times it’s so over-the-top and crazy that it kind of works.
Slagle definitely make a good choice when he cast Ryan Kisser as Manson. I was really skeptical at first, but Kisser’s performance won me over. He has a fantastic manic energy and he does Manson’s trademark wild eyes so well. Devanny Pinn is also perfectly cast as Susan Atkins. She is so intensely crazy and creepy throughout the film, especially when she is being interviewed by the police. I really wish both of them would have had more screen time together, since no one else in Manson’s family seemed as genuine. On the other hand, Suzi Lorraine was a very average Sharon Tate and the lawyer who interviews Manson was downright robotic.
House of Manson is at its best when it lets loose and really gets wacky. The murder scenes are simultaneously over-the-top and emotionless, but the dissonance really works. Whenever Manson’s family is doing absurd cult nonsense, it’s entertaining. Whenever the film starts to get a little serious, it begins to fall flat. Manson’s conversations with his lawyer are disjointed and awkward. These scenes are supposed to move the plot along but they felt clumsy. Also, for the first half of the movie (before the cult stuff really begins) Manson almost comes off like a sad pickup artist. A little too much time is spent on his uncomfortable love life.
The film did it’s best to portray the story behind the infamous Charles Manson, but it didn’t always hit its mark. Whenever it stopped holding back on the insanity, it was really fun. When it tried to get serious, more often than not, it failed.
House of Manson screens Friday, February 27 at 9:20 p.m. at the US Naval Heritage Center. Buy tickets here!