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Helter Skelter
Helter Skelter
Actors: George DiCenzo, Steve Railsback, Nancy Wolfe, Marilyn Burns, Christina Hart
Director: Tom Gries
Genres: Drama, Horror, Television, Mystery & Suspense
UR     2004     3hr 4min

The investigation of two horrific mass murders leads to the capture and trial of the psychotic pseudo-hippie Charles Manson and his "family".


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Movie Details

Actors: George DiCenzo, Steve Railsback, Nancy Wolfe, Marilyn Burns, Christina Hart
Director: Tom Gries
Creators: Jules Brenner, Tom Gries, Lee Rich, Philip Capice, Curt Gentry, J.P. Miller, Vincent Bugliosi
Genres: Drama, Horror, Television, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Drama, Horror, Miniseries, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: Warner Home Video
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen - Closed-captioned,Miniseries,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 04/20/2004
Original Release Date: 04/01/1976
Theatrical Release Date: 04/01/1976
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 3hr 4min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 10
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish

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Member Movie Reviews

Bridgett A. (Anya) from BALTIMORE, MD
Reviewed on 8/24/2009...
THE BEST true crime movie ever made! The actors in this movie really bring the charactors to life and you almost believe they are the real persons involved in the crimes. Own this movie. By far the best movie ever filmed on the subject. Own the others also because they do compliment each other.
3 of 3 member(s) found this review helpful.

Movie Reviews

A Chilling True-Crime Classic! First-Class DVD!
David Von Pein | Mooresville, Indiana; USA | 04/21/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"1976's "Helter Skelter" is an intense and quite suspenseful TV movie, starring Steve Railsback, who is so good as Charles Manson, it's rather eerie. The film also stars George DiCenzo, as Los Angeles prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi. The tele-film is based on Mr. Bugliosi's best-selling true-crime novel of the same title.

The film is told in semi-documentary style (with DiCenzo doubling as narrator throughout the movie). It begins with a very spine-chilling scene in the early-morning hours of August 9, 1969, in Los Angeles, California. We hear multiple gunshots from a distance. Gunshots which emanated from nearby 10050 Cielo Drive, the home of movie director Roman Polanski and his pregnant wife, 26-year-old actress Sharon Tate.

The gunshots were fired by a member of Charles Manson's so-called "Family". And so began one of the most bizarre chapters in the history of crime -- a senseless massacre, claiming the lives of seven innocent people, that became commonly known as the "Tate/LaBianca Murders".

Manson's "zombie" killers racked up five murders at the Tate residence, and the next night went out and killed two more people they had never met, Mr. and Mrs. LaBianca, at 3301 Waverly Drive, in another part of Los Angeles (Los Feliz).

(In my own view, Manson and his team of brainwashed murderers should *really* have been charged with EIGHT killings in August 1969. Number eight being the unborn child of Sharon Tate.)

The film recreates the discovery of the two grisly murder scenes with nerve-wracking effectiveness, but without showing too much gore, which is all the better (as well as tasteful). But the fact that this was a 1976 made-for-TV feature no doubt limited the filmmakers with regard to showing material of an overly-graphic nature.

The story of the brutal killings and the lengthy court trial that followed is detailed very well in this rarely-seen, full-length (184-minute) DVD version of "Helter Skelter". The previous video (VHS) release of the film only ran a paltry 119 minutes, with (obviously) many scenes cut from the original print.

The movie was originally shown as a "2-Parter" on network television, with a total running time of 194 minutes (10 minutes longer than what we get on this DVD). But, despite missing ten minutes, we're not really losing any relative scenes or information. Because the ten minutes that are missing are simply "recap" scenes that were used for the network telecast in order to re-acquaint viewers with the storyline and previous "Part 1" scenes. Plus, also trimmed from the DVD version is a needless "end credits from Part 1" sequence. Therefore, this 184-minute version of the film *is*, in effect, the "complete" film (when taken in the context of a "one-part" motion picture, rather than a two-parter).

The icing on this movie's cake is the brilliant and highly-effective music score by Billy Goldenberg. Goldenberg's unsettling score evokes a feeling of uneasiness and is downright scary in many instances during the film.

Mr. Goldenberg was one busy music composer in the 1970s. He wrote musical themes to many TV shows during that era -- including: "Rhoda", "Night Gallery", "Banacek", "Kojak", "Harry O", and lots of others.

The DVD's aspect ratio is Full-Frame (1.33:1), as originally shown on TV. Video quality on this disc looks very sharp and clear. I am extremely pleased with the picture quality. There's an occasional blemish, artifact, or dust speckle, but not very many. Certainly not enough to create a distraction. In fact, even the nighttime images in the film (which can often look "grainy" on an older movie) exhibit excellent clarity here, with very little grain visible.

I've found that another good "test" of a DVD's picture quality (that's worked well for me) is the "Freeze Frame Test". Try "freezing" any image on the DVD. Does the stilled picture become blurry, distorted-looking, and fuzzy? If it can't be "frozen" without blurring (or minimal blurring), then I'd give that DVD video transfer a lower mark on the old "PQ Scorecard" than a more solid transfer where the picture can be paused and frozen in near-perfect clarity. "Helter Skelter", in my view, passes the "Freeze Test" very nicely. Non-moving images on screen can be paused with little or no blurriness resulting.

In short, this DVD offers up a very good Digital transfer for a TV-Movie made in 1976.

This snazzy-looking DVD version of "Helter Skelter" makes my ultra-poor, third-generation VHS copy of the film look mighty crummy indeed! Needless to say, that VHS video is now destined for the scrap pile.

The soundtrack offered up here is a 1.0 Dolby Digital Mono track; and it's quite adequate (although a small amount of "ghosting" is evident during some parts of the film). Mr. Goldenberg's shiver-inducing musical score comes through just fine via this mono presentation. And all dialogue sounds distinct, clear, and is easily understood.

Extra Features .... There are none (unless you want to count subtitles, which are included -- in English, French, and Spanish). But this lack of extras doesn't disappoint me greatly. Just getting this excellent TV film in top-quality Digital form on DVD is enough for me. (Although I would have *loved* a commentary by the real-life Manson prosecutor, Vince Bugliosi. But I figured that was too much to hope for. And it was.)

Menus .... The menus for "Helter Skelter" are "static" (non-animated) ones, with the Main Menu being accompanied by a variation of the eerie music score. Unfortunately, this is one of those discs where the movie begins playing all by itself after the Main Menu has been on screen for 30 seconds (which is common, it seems, with a lot of Warner Bros. DVDs).

If you're a fan of "true crime" tales, then this DVD should definitely find its way into your Digital Library. Part documentary, part thriller, part drama, part horror film, and ALL true -- "Helter Skelter" (1976) is a true nail-biter."
What's With The Censoring???
Kevin Doyle | Orange County, CA | 06/11/2004
(2 out of 5 stars)

"Bought this TV classic, which has been LONG OVERDUE for DVD release, and was EXTREMELY dissapointed to find it has been censored. Yes, censored. I have a copy of the original 2-part on VHS, and I was stunned to find out that this DVD release is censored.The cops raid Manson and his family at Spahn's Ranch and have gathered them up in a circle, with Charlie in the center. The cops bring in a handcuffed Shorty, who claims he's not part of the family. He offers to tell the police what he knows, which brings out jeers of SNITCH from the famlily. Charlie looks up an says, "It's not nice to snitch, Shorty." Shorty promptly replies, "Go f*** yourself, Charlie. This DVD version has Shorty instead saying "Horse manure."When Bugliosi is interviewing Paul Watkins (the man who first explains to Vince what Helter Skelter means), he says that people are "scared s***less." This is painfully dubbed over with a cough.The biggest dissapointment was in that during the trail, when Linda Kasabian is testifiying about the Tate murders, the scenes of carnage (which had previously been seen clearly) are shown with Kasabian and Bugliosi super-imposed.My question is, why? This DVD would have been an instant 5, but I felt as though I was watching a version of "Cannonball Run" on TV. This DVD release does not do this film justice. You do not get the full impact of this powerful film due to the censorship. Very puzzling."
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Its been more than 35 years since the Tate-LaBianca murders and the facts of those crimes may not shock people too young to remember that brief period of history or those so inured to mindless violence through the media since 1969. But to those of us who lived through those days, especially in Southern California's San Fernando Valley, the potency of the crimes and this remarkable tele-film still reverberate today.

The movie covers an amazing amount of factual ground and does justice to Vincent Bugliosi's massive, definitive account of the Manson Family and the era in which he operated. As a movie, it's a classic example of mixing documentary style dialogue with first-rate characterizations. Though Steve Railsback's frighteningly realistic performance allegedly typecast him, this actually adds to the impact of his superb performance--it was simply TOO good. George DiCenzo is appropriately business-like as Bugliosi at the start, then slowly grows more impassioned and frustrated as the travails of the justice system wind before him. All the "Manson Girl" roles are performed well, Marilyn Burns is poignant as Linda Kasabian, but special kudos should go to Nancy Wolfe as Susan Atkins. At the least, she should have gotten a supporting actress Emmy nomination, if not the award, for her stunning depiction of the robotic, demented Manson slave who was perhaps more frightening than the leader himself. Also noteworthy are Sondra Blake (yes, Robert's ex)as the brave Ronnie Howard and young Jon Gries as the caretaker initially suspected of the Cielo drive murders. All in all, this film stands the test of time and is even more impressive next to the sickly "reimagined" version that played on early 2004 television. Some classics don't need remaking. Just revisiting. "Helter Skelter" stands in this pantheon.