Book & Film Reviews: JUNE 2012

"Charles Manson - An American Nightmare - Death To Pigs" (Book)
"Inside The Manson Gang" (DVD)

By Robert Hendrickson

Since the "Charles Manson - An American Nightmare - Death To Pigs" book and "Inside The Manson Gang" DVD by Robert Hendrickson are so intertwined, I decided to review them together. Robert Hendrickson is a name that is very familiar among Mansonphiles (those who are fascinated by the Charles Manson case). He is best known for directing the 1973 film "Manson", which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. Starting in 1969, Hendrickson spent two and a half years filming the Manson Family for the documentary. Now after all these years, Hendrickson has a new film AND a new book on Manson. While most new Manson "products" simply repeat the fabricated "Helter Skelter" motive ad nauseum, Hendrickson's book and DVD actually provide NEW insight into the murders.

The book, "Charles Manson - An American Nightmare - Death To Pigs" is a transcription of all the interviews that were filmed, with some additional commentary and biography information by Hendrickson (which helps break up some of the monotony of hearing “Family” members repeat the same rhetoric over and over again). While reading the transcripts, new facts emerge that put a new spin on the "trial of the century": There were conflicts of interest in regards to the lawyers; there were staged police photos; there is a Black Muslim influence; and the possibility that the murders could be a "performance art" commentary on the Vietnam War. While it is a somewhat tedious read through the transcripts and there are several typos (in addition to the “action descriptions” not always being clearly defined from the “speaking”), there are some hidden nuggets that make it all worthwhile. Hendrickson’s commentaries aren’t overbearing – he simply points out the most relevant comments to back up his theories.

Just what are these theories? The first one is: Did the Black Muslims in prison inspire Charlie in prison? Could this be one of the motives? The subject of the Black Muslim is brought up several times by Paul Watkins, Sandra Good and Phil Phillips (Charlie's cell mate at McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary). At one point Sandra Good says, "Islam. Yeah, that's it, it's coming. Islam is on the rise and Christianity is goin' down. The whole thought is becoming Islam.” It is really bizarre hearing the “Family” talk about the Muslims in this post 9/11 world. Was the use of the word "Pig" at the crime scene a coincidence - written in blood on the front door where ‘white devils’ would be massacred?

Secondly, Hendrickson also infers that the murders might have been devices to draw attention to the horrors of the Vietnam War. This brings a new meaning to Katie’ quote about carving ‘war’ on Leno Labianca's stomach, "Here's one man who won't send his son to war". Not referring to a black and white war, but the establishment's Vietnam. In one interpretation of this, the massacres could it be considered a bizarre type of “performance art”.

The book also points out a few surprises. Hendrickson admits that Merrick (a shady financier of the movie) told him that it was he and Lawyer Shinn (Charlie's business representative, while being Susan Atkin's attorney of record) who arranged access for Manson to grab the newspaper and show the jury the headline, "Manson Guilty Nixon Declares". And that Leslie Van Houten's lawyer Ronald Hughes was supposed to marry Nancy Pitman at Spahn in order for her to become legally emancipated. However, Hughes ultimately declined to do so and disappeared on November 30th, 1970. Then, a few days later on Dec 2nd Bruce Davis and Nancy Pitman turned themselves in to the police. Coincidence? Paul Crockett's interview is also very interesting - while I understood his deprogramming talk, I can see why the prosecution didn't use him – Crockett would not have fit the “Helter Skelter” motive on stand. And, Crockett mentions being, "suspicious that one of the members of the Manson Family was the Zodiac killer".

It is intimated that Ronnie Howard may have been planted in the jail to find out anything she could about the massacre, not by the cops, but by the mob. Two cops wanted five grand apiece of the $25,000 reward money from Ronnie. Is it possible that she traded the information to the cops for the mob's benefit?

The "Inside The Manson Gang" is the companion DVD, in which you get to see many of the interviews, as well as some other important scenes. From Barker ranch in early 1970, there is film of Gypsy, Kevin and Clem going through a bunch of clothes, outside of the old school bus. But in November of 1969 Bugliosi went to Barker and supposedly had ALL the clothes taken back to LA for the lab – and he stated this in public record. Just what were Gypsy, Kevin and Clem looking for? The DVD is just a tantalizing tidbit of the two and a half years of filmed done by Hendrickson. Hopefully, the rest of it will come out in some form or another eventually.

Ultimately, "Charles Manson - An American Nightmare - Death To Pigs" and "Inside The Manson Gang" are “must haves” for any Manson collection, if nothing more than having the historical documentation of the “Family”. And most importantly, while Hendrickson brings up some interesting points, he doesn’t beat you over the head with his theories, or sound like some crackpot conspiracy nut. That is a rarity in the knee-jerk, “Helter Skelter” world of Charles Manson media.

To read our interview with Robert Hendrickson click here

Review by Ronnie