Film Review: Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile (dir by Joe Berlinger)


Early on in the new Netflix film, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile, there’s a scene in which Liz Kendall (Lily Collins) and her sister, Joanna (Angela Sarafyan) go to a bar.  Through some rather heavy-handed dialogue, we learn that Liz has just broken up with her boyfriend, that she has next to zero self-confidence, and that she’s a single mother.  She doesn’t think that there’s a man anywhere who would be interested in her.  Joanna responds by pointing out that there’s one man who appears to be very interested.  In fact, he hasn’t taken his eyes off of Liz since they entered the bar.

That man’s name is Ted (Zac Efron) and, at first, he seems like he’s too good to be true.  He’s charming.  He’s a law student.  He appears to love spending time with Liz’s daughter.  He looks like Zac Efron.  Perfect, right?

Of course, we know something that Liz doesn’t.  We know that Ted is Ted Bundy and that, eventually, he’s going to become one of America’s notorious serial killers, a symbol of evil so potent that, more than 30 years after he was executed by the state of Florida, he continues to get movies made about him.

Because we know who and what Ted is, we spend the first fourth of the movie cringing at everything that makes Liz happy.  For instance, Liz is shocked to discover that Ted apparently loves her daughter but we’re just like, “Oh my God, that’s Ted Bundy!  GET YOUR DAUGHTER AWAY FROM TED BUNDY!”  Liz thinks it’s romantic when Ted makes breakfast for her but we’re just staring at the big kitchen knife in his hand.  When Liz and Ted make love, only we notice the blank look on Ted’s face as he looks down at Liz and we find ourselves wondering what’s happening in his mind.

The film is told largely through Liz’s eyes and, with one exception, we never see Bundy actually committing any of his crimes.  (That’s a good thing, by the way.  We already know who Ted Bundy was and what he did.  There’s no need to sensationalize the very real pain that he caused.)  Like Liz, we find out about Bundy’s crimes through news reports and arrest records.  For instance, when Bundy is arrested for attempted kidnapping in Utah, Liz doesn’t find out about it until a story appears in the local Seattle newspaper.  When Liz demands to know why he didn’t tell her what was happening, Bundy gives her a bullshit story about how he’s being framed and how his lawyer is going to get the case thrown out.  We know that Ted’s lying but Liz believes him because …. what else is she going to do?  Is she going to believe that this perfect man who seems to love both her and her daughter is actually a sociopathic monster?

The film follows Bundy from one trial to another, as he’s charged with crimes across country.  It shows how this superficially charming law student became something of a media celebrity.  (When a reporter asks him if he’s guilty, Bundy grins and asks if the reporter is referring to a comic book that he stole when he was in the fifth grade.)  Bundy escapes.  Bundy is arrested.  Bundy escapes again.  Bundy eventually ends up being tried in Florida, where he revels in the attention.  When Liz loses faith in him, Bundy replaces her with an unstable woman named Carole Ann (Kayla Scodelario).  However, even while Carole Ann is dutifully delivering statements from Bundy to the press, Bundy is still calling Liz and begging her to believe that he’s innocent and he’ll soon be freed from prison.

Why is it so important to Bundy that Liz believe in him?  Is he just entertaining himself by manipulating her or, in his relationship with her, does he see the type of normalcy that he desires but knows he’s incapable of ever achieving?  Towards the end of the film, Liz comes close to asking Bundy if he was planning on killing her the first night that they met.  She doesn’t and it’s doubtful that Bundy would have given an honest answer but it’s still a question that hangs over every minute of this film (as does Liz’s physical resemblance to the majority of Bundy’s victims).

Though the film may be told from Liz’s point of view, she’s often comes across as just being a meek bystander, watching as the darkness of Ted Bundy envelops her world.  The film itself seems to be far more interested in Ted Bundy and his twisted celebrity.  Zac Efron plays Bundy as someone who knows how to be charming and who is good enough at imitating human emotions that he’s managed to keep the world from noticing that he’s essentially hollow on the inside.  Bundy has gotten so used to acting out a role that, even when he’s on trial for his life, he can’t resist the temptation to turn the courtroom into his own stage.  He demands to defend himself and, though he initially proves himself to be a good lawyer, his demands and his questions become progressively more flamboyant and self-destructive.  It’s as if he’s gotten so caught up in playing his role that he’s incapable of recognizing the reality of his situation.  He performs for the jury, the judge, and the television audience, treating the whole thing as if he’s just a character in a movie.  It’s only when he has no choice but to accept that he’s been caught and he’s never going to escape that Bundy finally shows some human emotion.  He cries but his tears are only for himself.  It’s a chilling performance and Zac Efron deserves every bit of praise that he’s received.

Unfortunately, the film itself doesn’t really tell us anything that we didn’t already know.  Director Joe Berlinger is best-known as a documentarian and he talks a “just the facts” approach to the story.  We don’t really get any insight into how a monster like Ted Bundy could come to exist.  Outside of Efron’s revelatory performance, there’s not much here that couldn’t be found in any of the other films that have been made about Ted Bundy.

(Interestingly enough, as I watched the film, it occurred to me that Ted Bundy was a monster who could have only thrived in a pre-Internet age.  For all the books and movies that portray him as being some sort of cunning genius, Bundy actually wasn’t that smart.  He approached two of early his victims in a public place and introduce himself as being “Ted,” usually within earshot of a handful of witnesses.  He was so brazen that the police even ended up with a sketch that pretty much looked exactly like him.  In all probability, the only way that Ted Bundy avoided getting arrested in Seattle was that he moved to Utah, where his crimes were unknown and the sketch wasn’t readily available.  Today, of course, that sketch and Ted’s name would be on Twitter and Facebook as soon as they were released by the police.  My friend Holly would probably retweet the sketch and say, “Do your thing, twitter!”  He would have been identified and arrested in just a matter of time.  Instead, Bundy committed his crimes at a time when news traveled slower and law enforcement agencies were not in constant communication with each other.)

The good news is that Extremely Wicked is not, as some feared, a glorification of Ted Bundy.  He’s a monster throughout the entire film.  Zac Efron proves himself to be a far better actor than anyone’s ever really given him credit for being.  It’s a flawed film but, at the very least, it’s also a disturbing reminder that sometimes, darkness hides behind the greatest charm.

 

 

TV Review: Twin Peaks: The Return Part 5 (dir by David Lynch)


Well, there’s one thing that you can definitely say for sure about not only Twin Peaks but also about every other film that David Lynch has ever made.  (And make no mistake — they may be calling this the third season of Twin Peaks but it’s obviously meant to be more of an 18-hour film than a traditional television series.)  Lynch moves at his own pace.  He knows where he’s going but, often, he doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to get there.

And, quite frankly, that can sometimes to be frustrating.  David Lynch requires patience on the part of the viewer and a willingness to have faith in his ability as an artist.  To a certain extent, the modern world almost seems to be set up to make things as difficult as possible for an artist like David Lynch.  We’re used to things being fast-paced.  We’re used to having immediate (if superficial) answers to any and all questions.  In a time when movies are dominated by hyperactive editing and overwhelming soundtracks, David Lynch has the courage to portray moments of silence and stillness.  It’s what sets him apart from other filmmakers.  It’s also the reason why this critically acclaimed director has always struggled to get his films made.  In 41 years, David Lynch has had ten films theatrically released.  Michael Bay directed his first film twenty years after the release of Eraserhead and he has gone to direct twelve more.

Part 5 of Twin Peaks is a perfect example of Lynch’s deliberate pace.  As I watched it, I found myself occasionally saying, “When is Cooper going to get normal again!?”  I mean, Kyle MacLachlan is doing great work as Dougie/Cooper but how many more times am I going to have to watch him get confused over the need to urinate?  That’s a joke that’s getting old.

Yes, I was frustrated.

But here’s the thing:

As frustrated as I may be by the whole Dougie/Cooper situation, I’m not going anywhere.  I trust David Lynch and, throughout Part 5, there were scenes that reminded me of why I trust David Lynch.  The man is a genius.  I’m thinking of the three women in pink nonchalantly watching as the casino pit boss got beaten.  I’m thinking of the close-up on Amanda Seyfried’s face after she snorted the cocaine.  I’m thinking of Russ Tamblyn ranting.

I will follow David Lynch anywhere.

As for Part 5, it opened with Lynch’s camera prowling through the streets of Las Vegas, a city that seems especially Lynchian.

Out at the Rancho Rosa Development, the two hitmen who were sent to kill Dougie are still sitting outside of the deserted house that Dougie used for his lost weekend with Jade.  They’re watching Dougie’s car.  One of them calls a woman and tells her that they still haven’t seen Dougie.  She does not take the news well.  She sends a message to Argentina, where it is apparently received by a black box sitting in a basin.

In South Dakota, the coroner has found something in the stomach of the body that was found underneath the head of Ruth Davenport.  It’s a gold ring, one that has an inscription: “To Destiny, With Love, James C.”  (I’ve listened to the line about the inscription about a dozen times and I’m pretty sure that’s what the coroner said.  If I’m wrong, please let me know.)

(CORRECTION: According to Dylan Lange, host of Dylan Knows, the inscription read: To Dougie With Love, Janey-E.  Thank you, Dylan! — LMB)

In his prison cell, Doppelganger Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) stares at himself in his cell’s tiny mirror.  He flashes back to the time he and Killer BOB shared a laugh in the Black Lodge.  He sees himself smashing his face into the mirror at the Great Northern.

In Twin Peaks, we are reintroduced to Mike Nelson (Gary Hershberger), who was Bobby’s best friend and fellow drug dealer during the first two seasons of Twin Peaks.  (He eventually became Nadine’s boyfriend during the time that she had amnesia and thought she was 16.)  Mike is a grown-up, suit-wearing professional now, sitting in an office that is decorated with the mounted heads of dead deer.  Mike is conducting a job interview with Steve Burnett (Caleb Landry Jones), who appears to be a real loser.  Mike informs Steve that his resume is the worst resume that he’s ever seen and then kicks him out of the office.

At the Sheriff’s Department, Doris Truman (Candy Clark) comes by to yell at Frank (Robert Forster) about something.  Honestly, I kinda tuned out this scene and I hope that Doris doesn’t become a major character.  If anything, Frank is even more laconic than his brother.

Back in Las Vegas, Janey-E (Naomi Watts) finally gets Dougie/Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) out of the house.  She has to tie his necktie for him.  As she tells him everything that he needs to do, Dougie/Cooper stares at her with a blank look.  It’s interesting that, as frustrated as Janey-E gets with Dougie/Cooper, she still tries to rationalize his strange behavior.

At the Rancho Rosa development, Dougie’s car continues to sit there.  The two hitmen drive by again.  They are followed by five more guys, who are all in a black car and playing their music super loud.

Janey-E drops Dougie/Cooper off at his place of employment.  Apparently, Dougie worked for Lucky Seven Insurance.  However, Dougie/Cooper is less interested in his job and more fascinated by a statue of a cowboy pointing a gun.  In an oddly beautiful scene, he imitates the statue’s pose.  Finally, one of his co-workers wanders by and tells Dougie to “get the lead out” because they have a meeting.  That co-worker is carrying 8 cups of coffee so, of course, Dougie/Cooper follows after him.

At the meeting, which is full of vapid insurance people, Dougie/Cooper reveals that he can now tell when people are lying.  Apparently, whenever someone lies, a green light flashes across their face.  When Dougie/Cooper offends another agent (played by Tom Sizemore, no less) by calling him a liar, their boss, the wonderfully named Bushnell Mills (Don Murray), defuses the situation by giveing Dougie/Cooper several case files to take home with him.

Out in the hallway, Dougie/Cooper needs to pee but, like a panicking Sim, has no idea what to do.  Luckily, one of his co-workers, assuming that the men’s room must be locked, sneaks Dougie/Cooper into the ladies room.

At the Silver Mustang Casino, Rodney Mitchum (Robert Knepper) and Bradley Mitchum (Jim Belushi) demand to know how Cooper/Dougie could possibly have won 30 jackpots.  Rodney’s way of handling it is to beat up the pit boss (David Dastmalchian) while three women in pink stand in the corner of the room and nonchalantly watch.

Back at Rancho Rosa, Drugged-Out Mother (Hailey Gates) is passed out so her son leaves the house and walks across the street, intent on investigating Dougie’s bomb-laden car.  Fortunately, before the kid can set the bomb off, the black car pulls up.  The five men jump out of the car and tell the kid to “get the fuck outta here!”  They’re planning on stealing Dougie’s car for themselves.  Of course, as soon as the engine starts, the car explodes and takes three of the car thieves with it.  The kid runs back to his house, where the junkie mom is just now starting to come out of her stupor.

At a nearby carwash, Jade (Nafessa Williams) is getting her car washed when she comes across the key to Cooper’s room at the Great Northern.  She drops the key in a nearby mailbox.

At the Double R Diner — it’s Norma (Peggy Lipton) and Shelley (Madchen Amick)!  25 years have passed and they’re still exactly where we left them.  Except that Shelley now has a daughter named Becky (Amanda Seyfried) and Becky’s married to Steve.  Becky comes by the diner to borrow money from Shelley.  Then she goes outside and snorts cocaine with Steve.  Lynch’s camera gives us a close-up of Becky’s face as the drugs temporarily takes away all of her problems.  In this scene, not only does Becky look like Shelley’s daughter (Madchen Amick and Amanda Seyfried really do look like they could be related) but there’s also a disconcerting resemblance to Laura Palmer as well.

(Also, remember how Shelley used to say that she married Leo because of his car?  Well, Steve has a corvette of his own.)

Back in Vegas, Dougie/Cooper is still acting weird.  He doesn’t understand that, when riding an elevator, you’re supposed to get off when the doors open.  Some people get upset with him about that but Dougie/Cooper is more interested in going outside and staring at that statue.  Of course, Dougie/Cooper is still holding onto those case files.

At the Sheriff’s Department, Andy (Harry Goaz) and Hawk (Michael Horse) go through the Laura Palmer case files, searching for what’s missing.

In his trailer, Dr. Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) goes live online, delivering a rant about globalist corporate conspiracies and selling his gold-painted shovels so that his listeners can “dig yourself out of the shit.”  Nadine (Wendy Robie) and Jerry (David Patrick Kelly) listen appreciatively.

At the Pentagon, Col. Davis (Ernie Hudson) is informed that they’ve gotten another “database hit” on Garland Briggs’s fingerprints.  Apparently, in the years since his mysterious death, Briggs’s finger prints have shown up in 16 different locations.

At the Roadhouse, the kickass band Trouble is playing.  Meanwhile, a handsome but dangerous looking man (Eamon Farren) sits under a sign that says no smoking and smokes a cigarette.  When a Roadhouse employee tells him to put out his cigarette, the man hands over a pack of cigarettes.  Inside the pack are several hundred dollar bills.  So, apparently, the Roadhouse is still the center of the Twin Peaks drug trade.

When Charlotte (Grace Victoria Cox) tries to flirt with him, the man suddenly turns violent, grabbing her and taunting her with, “Do you want to fuck me, Charlotte?  Do you want to fuck?  I’m going to laugh when I fuck you, bitch!”  It’s a deeply unpleasant scene, as Lynch obviously meant for it to be.

The man’s name is not mentioned but, according to the end credits, he’s Richard Horne.  Presumably, he’s a member of the infamous Horne Family.  Is he a cousin?  Or maybe Jerry’s kid?  Or, even more intriguingly, Audrey’s son?  Whatever he is, Richard is bad news.

(And let’s not forget that, way back at the start of Part One, the Giant told Cooper to remember “Richard and Linda.”)

At FBI Headquarters, Tamara (Chrysta Bell) compares the finger prints of both Cooper and his Doppelganger.

At the South Dakota prison, Doppelganger Cooper finally gets his phone call.  The warden (James Morrison) thinks that they’ll be able to listen in on the call but Doppelganger Cooper has other plans.  After taunting everyone listening, Cooper pushes several keys on the phone, which somehow causes every alarm in the prison to go off.  While the warden tries to restore order, Doppelganger Cooper says, into the phone, “The cow’s jumped over the moon.”  As soon as Doppelganger Cooper hangs up, the alarms fall silent.

In Argentina, the black box changes into a small ring.

In Vegas, Dougie/Cooper continues to stare at the statue.

And so, the latest episode ends.  The story may be moving at its own pace but I can’t wait to see where else it leads.

Twin Peaks on TSL:

  1. Twin Peaks: In the Beginning by Jedadiah Leland
  2. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.1 — The Pilot (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  3. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.2 — Traces To Nowhere (directed by Duwayne Dunham) by Jedadiah Leland
  4. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.3 — Zen, or the Skill To Catch A Killer (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  5. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.4 “Rest in Pain” (dir by Tina Rathbone) by Leonard Wilson
  6. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.5 “The One-Armed Man” (directed by Tim Hunter) by Jedadiah Leland
  7. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.6 “Cooper’s Dreams” (directed by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  8. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.7 “Realization Time” (directed by Caleb Deschanel) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  9. TV Review: Twin Peaks 1.8 “The Last Evening” (directed by Mark Frost) by Leonard Wilson
  10. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.1 “May the Giant Be With You” (dir by David Lynch) by Leonard Wilson
  11. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.2 “Coma” (directed by David Lynch) by Jedadiah Leland
  12. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.3 “The Man Behind The Glass” (directed by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Jedadiah Leland
  13. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.4 “Laura’s Secret Diary” (dir by Todd Holland) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  14. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.5 “The Orchid’s Curse” (dir by Graeme Clifford) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  15. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.6 “Demons” (dir by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Leonard Wilson
  16. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.7 “Lonely Souls” (directed by David Lynch) by Jedadiah Leland
  17. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.8 “Drive With A Dead Girl” (dir by Caleb Deschanel) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  18. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.9 “Arbitrary Law” (dir by Tim Hunter) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  19. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.10 “Dispute Between Brothers” (directed by Tina Rathbone) by Jedadiah Leland
  20. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.11 “Masked Ball” (directed by Duwayne Dunham) by Leonard Wilson
  21. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.12 “The Black Widow” (directed by Caleb Deschanel) by Leonard Wilson
  22. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.13 “Checkmate” (directed by Todd Holland) by Jedadiah Leland
  23. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.14 “Double Play” (directed by Uli Edel) by Jedadiah Leland
  24. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.15 “Slaves and Masters” (directed by Diane Keaton) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  25. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.16 “The Condemned Woman” (directed by Lesli Linka Glatter) by Leonard Wilson
  26. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.17 “Wounds and Scars” (directed by James Foley) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  27. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.18 “On The Wings of Love” (directed by Duwayne Dunham) by Jedadiah Leland
  28. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.19 “Variations on Relations” (directed by Jonathan Sanger) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  29. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.20 “The Path to the Black Lodge” (directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  30. TV Review: Twin Peaks 2.21 “Miss Twin Peaks” (directed by Tim Hunter) by Leonard Wilson
  31. TV Review: Twin Peaks 22.2 “Beyond Life and Death” (directed by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  32. Film Review: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  33. Here’s The Latest Teaser for Showtime’s Twin Peaks by Lisa Marie Bowman
  34. Here’s The Newest Teaser for Showtime’s Twin Peaks by Lisa Marie Bowman
  35. 12 Initial Thoughts About Twin Peaks: The Return Parts One and Two by Lisa Marie Bowman
  36. This Week’s Peaks: Parts One and Two by Ryan C. (trashfilm guru)
  37. TV Review: Twin Peaks: The Return Parts One and Two (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  38. 4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Twin Peaks Edition by Lisa Marie Bowman
  39. This Week’s Peaks: Parts Three and Four by Ryan C. (trashfilm guru)
  40. 14 Initial Thoughts About Twin Peaks: The Return Part Three by Lisa Marie Bowman (dir by David Lynch)
  41. 10 Initial Thoughts About Twin Peaks: The Return Part Four by Lisa Marie Bowman (dir by David Lynch)
  42. TV Review: Twin Peaks: The Return Parts Three and Four (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman 
  43. 18 Initial Thoughts About Twin Peaks: The Return Part 5 (dir by David Lynch) by Lisa Marie Bowman
  44. This Week’s Peaks: Part Five by Ryan C. (trashfilm guru)

 

 

 

Lifetime Movie Review: Manson’s Lost Girls (dir by Leslie Libman)


MLG

I know way too much about the crimes of Charles Manson.

I realized that, earlier tonight, as I watched the latest Lifetime original film, Manson’s Lost Girls.  It was one of the better films that I’ve recently seen on Lifetime and it was certainly superior to NBC’s Aquarius, the TV show that tried to turn Manson into some sort of sexy anti-hero.  (Memo to NBC:  Walter White was a great anti-hero.  Charles Manson was just a grubby little serial killer.)  Manson’s Lost Girls was well-acted and it did a fairly good job of portraying the 60s without falling back on too many of the usual clichés (at no point was White Rabbit heard on the soundtrack), and it also did a pretty good job of portraying how certain lost people can be brainwashed by one cunning sociopath.

Yet, with all that in mind, I found myself watching the film and thinking, Where is Bruce Davis?  Where’s Clem Grogan?  What about Catherine Share, whose parents were both members of the resistance during the Nazi occupation of Germany just for their daughter to end up a brainwashed member of Manson’s Family?”  For whatever reason, the Family portrayed in Manson’s Lost Girls was considerably smaller than the real-life Family and seriously, how disturbing is that?  I mean, the 10-member cult in Mason’s Lost Girls was bad enough but, in real life, there were even more of them!  How disturbing is that!?  But, in retrospect, it’s even more disturbing that I knew enough about the Family to know that Bruce Davis, Clem Grogan, and Catherine Share were all missing from the film.

(Actually, I just looked at the credits on the imdb and I saw that Diana Irvine is credited as playing Catherine.  So, perhaps Catherine Share was included as a character and I just didn’t notice.)

When I was 16, I took a sociology class in high school.  One of the class assignments was to do a report on a subculture.  I did my report on vampires and the less said about that the better.  However, the hot and troubled guy who sat in front of me did his report on the Manson Family.  As a part of his report, he handed out a little booklet that had pictures of all the Family members in it.  I can remember looking through those pictures and thinking that Charles Manson looked scary and that Tex Watson was kind of hot, in a rebellious son of an evangelical preacher sort of way.  (Tex Watson spent a semester at North Texas State University.  Four decades later, I went to NTSU — or UNT as its now called.  Around the campus, you can find pictures of famous former students like Joe Don Baker, Peter Weller, Pat Boone, and Roy Orbison.  For obvious reasons, you will never find a picture of Charles “Tex” Watson.)  But, as I listened to the details of Manson’s crimes and his belief that the Beatles were sending him secret messages and that those messages justified murder, I found myself wondering how any of the fresh-faced people in those pictures could have possibly believed a word that Manson said.  It just seemed so weird and …. stupid.

(By the end of the presentation, Tex Watson no longer looked hot.)

And I have to admit that I was a bit intrigued by it all.  It wasn’t that I had any sympathy for those murderers.  But I found myself wondering how they could have done what they did.  I wondered how so many different people from different background could come together and all buy into the same stupid bullshit.  Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was struggling to understand the very nature of evil.  To most people, it was easy enough to say that Manson and his followers were evil but I wanted to know how they had become evil.  I wanted to understand why and, though I may not have wanted to admit it, I wanted to make sure that I never woke up to discover that I had made the same mistake of surrendering my free will to a some nut just because he was able to look at me and tell that I had issues with my father.

By telling the story of Linda Kasabian (played quite well by MacKenzie Mauzy), Manson’s Lost Girls attempts to answer that question.  Linda was a young mother who, after her drug dealing husband deserted her, found herself living on the Spahn Movie Ranch with Manson and the Family.  Linda spent a month with Manson.  At first, she felt as if she had a found a new home and a new family but soon, things started to unravel.  In hopes of bringing about a race war (and also looking for vengeance over his own failure to become a rock star), Manson ordered his followers to commit murder.  Linda witnessed the tragic and brutal murder of actress Sharon Tate and her friends.  After the murders, Linda fled the Family and she would later serve as the prosecution’s star witness in Manson’s murder trial.

Manson’s Lost Girls is told almost totally from Linda’s point of view.  It’s through her that we are introduced to Manson and his Family.  The film doesn’t quite succeed in giving us a definitive answer as to how Manson could get people to kill for him but, then again, there may not be a definitive answer.  Fortunately, Manson’s Lost Girls does provide hints.  In her narration, Linda emphasizes that Manson kept everyone perpetually wasted.  But, even more importantly, the film highlights that, for these brainwashed future murderers, the Family truly was a family.  They were lost.  They were rejected by conventional society.  And when they met Manson, they were given a chance to belong.  The film suggests that need to belong and to be a part of something greater than what they had left all the members of the Family vulnerable to Charlie’s manipulations.

Manson was played by Jeff Ward, who did a pretty good job in the role.  Wisely, the film didn’t overplay Manson’s charisma or attempt to turn him into some sort of supervillain.  (In short, it didn’t make the same mistake as Aquarius.)  Instead, it portrayed him as what he probably was — a grubby hustler with a massive chip on his shoulder.  As played by Ward, Manson is less a messiah and more an extremely lucky con artist.  Manson’s Lost Girls deserves credit for portraying Manson without a hint of glamour.

The film suggests that Manson’s rampage was largely motivated by his bitterness over not being able to get a record contract.  As I watched, I found myself what would have happened if Manson had gotten that contract.  Would he now be remembered as one of those obscure musicians from the 60s and 70s whose later career was made up of performing at fairs and cheap clubs?  Or, if he had found success, would he have eventually ended up as a mentor on an early episode of American Idol?

Far more importantly, I found myself wondering what the future would have held for his most famous victim, Sharon Tate?  Sharon gave a such good performance in Valley of the Dolls, one that suggested she was capable of a lot more than she had been given credit for.  Would she have continued to grow and develop as an actress?  And what of her unborn son?  If not for Manson and his followers, Paul Polanski would now be 46 years old.

Manson’s Lost Girls does not linger on the murders.  They largely happen off-screen and, for that, I’m thankful.  But, at the same time, it never shies away from the real-life tragedy of Manson’s crimes.  And, even if the film did not have all the answers, it did remind us why the questions must be asked.  In the end, Manson’s Lost Girls reminds us of what evil can come from surrendering our independence and our free will.

It’s a film that reminds us that no matter how lost we may be, we must always be careful about those who claim to have found us.  Instead of waiting for others to find us, we must find ourselves.

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