1 9 7 6 (USA)
2 x 97 minute episodes
This two-part made-for-television miniseries – telling the shocking story of the Manson “family”, their ritualistic murders and the aftermath – aired on various CBS affiliates on 1 and 2 April 1976.
Helter Skelter provided a painstakingly detailed dramatisation of the savage and senseless murders of actress Sharon Tate and seven other innocent victims in Los Angeles in 1969 by a commune of freeloading hippies disturbingly devoted to extreme ex-convict Charles Manson.
With his gaunt frame, quavering voice, and relentless intensity, Steve Railsback captured the real Manson’s disturbing mixture of messianic charisma and psychopathic menace.
Even though he was onscreen for only one hour of the three-hour-and-twenty-minute running time, watching Railsback-as-Manson preach about the beauty of an impending race war and the glory of rattling the establishment by committing mass murder felt very much like looking into the eyes of pure madness.
Helter Skelter gave equal weight to the activities of law-enforcement personnel and to the macabre exploits of the killers and showing the occasional ineptitude of people investigating the murders, and the twisted joy Manson’s people took from following a man they considered to be a reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
The investigative stuff is compelling because of how many near-misses occurred before the Manson Family was finally incarcerated, and the courtroom stuff – with much of the dialogue used in the courtroom scenes taken directly from court transcripts – is dynamite.
Vincent Bugliosi, who successfully prosecuted the Manson family and wrote the book upon which the miniseries was based, initially served as a consultant on set. However, he continuously micromanaged George DiCenzo’s portrayal of him and interfered with filming so much that director Tom Gries had Bugliosi removed from the set.
The Beatles denied permission to use their song recordings for the miniseries. Portions of the songs Helter Skelter, Piggies and Revolution are played at various points but they were performed by a Beatles sound-alike band named Silverspoon.
Leslie Van Houten
Sgt. Manuel Gris
Phillip R. Allen
J. Miller Leavy
Steve ‘Clem’ Grogan
Anne Newman Bacal
Sgt. Hank Kruger
Edward Michael Bell
Leno La Bianca
Louise Caire Clark
Rosemary La Bianca
Stanley Ralph Ross
Mary Jo Thatcher
Lindsay V. Jones