Manson Girl

cast: Kristin Hager, Gregory Smith, Ryan Robbins, Anjelica Scannura, and Don McKellar

director: Reginald Harkema

85 minutes (18) 2009
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
G2 DVD Region 2

RATING: 3/10
review by Jason D. Brawn

Manson Girl

Perry, a sheltered and god-fearing chemist, is selected to be a jury member for Charles Manson’s murder trial. Soon, he becomes strongly attracted to Leslie Van Houten, a member of Manson’s hippy cult, and later falls deeply in love with her.

The title refers to Van Houten, who was committed to serve life in prison for her involvement in the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, in 1971. Most of the film is really a fictionalised account of Leslie’s life, shortly before the killings, and in parallel we follow the story of Perry, who later becomes a member of the jury. But I wonder if Perry’s life was fictitious too.

This is a very poor intake of the Manson murder trial, which I felt was rather let down by the characters’ quirkiness. I found it very hard to believe how the director (Reginald Harkema) drew heavily from the book, Helter Skelter, which documented the Manson family prosecution in 1969.

I felt that more facts, surrounding the case, should have been added, and the character of Perry was rather dull. But what I did find believable was his father, who kept pressuring him to fight in the pending war in Vietnam War. Also, there isn’t much here on Charles Manson as the subject of this trial. There are many people who know a little about Charles Manson, and this film would have been the perfect intro.

In the scenes of Leslie flirting with Perry, during the trial, it’s clear she was mucking around with his head and making him more and more stupid. But it looked more like a rehearsal and it made the whole film unbelievable. I could see where Harkema was taking this film, which was to explain the hypocrisy of an American public that will reject the actions of the Manson cult, but still continue to endorse the mass massacres of the Vietnam conflict. But the director showed ambition and could I recognise his passion.

The title, Manson Girl (aka: Leslie, Evil Is My Name), I didn’t like and felt it should have tried focussing a lot on Leslie’s troubled past and the vulnerability that made her become an easy prey to Charles Manson. Final verdict…. it has a messy structure and is a terribly acted movie. It’s better to watch a decent documentary on the Manson family, for anyone interested in greater facts on the subject. What can I say, this is a missed opportunity.