The story behind Jim Van Bebber’s THE MANSON FAMILY is a pretty fascinating one. Van Bebber, an Ohio filmmaker, spent over a decade sporadically filming the movie – a low-budget, often hallucinatory look at Charles Manson and the cult he amassed during his heyday. Filming whenever he could, Van Bebber would work until he ran out of money, screen a rough cut of the film at festivals to raise more money and then go back to work. The process began somewhere around 1988 but it wasn't until 2003 that the finished film – pushed over the financial finish line thanks to David Gregory and Carl Daft – was released.
The result is a gonzo journey through fact and fiction – an acid-trip look at Manson’s influence nestled in a gleefully gory bookend about a TV journalist attempting to finish a documentary about Manson’s followers. During the decades it took to create the movie, Van Bebber, who wrote, directed, starred and self-financed the film, created a sometimes dense, often morally reprehensible and only occasionally restrained movie that really is like few other films of its kind. The Manson Family is muck-encased, blood-caked modern exploitation that transcends its financial limitations to become something really fascinating – equally for its content and for its origin.
Over the last ten years, Van Bebber has slipped into the fringes of horror – working hard for the last several years to finance his follow-up picture, Gator Green. Along the way, Van Bebber has built up his own cult of personality – acquiring rumors, whispers and legends along the way. Now, on the tenth anniversary of THE MANSON FAMILY, Van Bebber is ready to step back into the spotlight in a big way. A successful Kickstarter campaign helped finance a short film version of Gator Green in the hopes that it might raise interest in the final film. In addition, THE MANSON FAMILY is on the eve of a theatrical rerelease tour (including a stop at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema – Vintage Park on Friday, March 29) courtesy of Severin Films. A new high-definition transfer of the film will follow when Severin Films releases a Blu-ray this April.
To prepare for the screening, I did an interview with Van Bebber over the phone and – to put it bluntly – I’m wasn't completely sure what was going on. Right away, Van Bebber seemed to have adopted a character, occasionally slipping into a British accent and more often than not providing a rambling, incoherent answer that ended in a desire to fight me. I'm assuming this was all for a bit of fun (I've not been able to locate any proof that Van Bebber has joined The Troggs, for example). I since learned Van Bebber was doing his best Oliver Reed impression, as evidenced by this vintage video clip.