This is the original Manson documentary, featuring interviews with Family members like Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme and Paul Watkins, as well as Vince Bugliosi, the Los Angeles deputy district attorney and lead prosecutor for the Manson murder trial. Viewers get an inside look into what life was like in the Family thanks to footage shot on their home at Spahn Ranch. Other standout interviews include those with the cellmates of Susan Atkins — one of the three female Family members convicted of murder — who detailed her plans to murder other celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Frank Sinatra next. Manson was even nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary, though it lost to one about a different kind of charismatic preacher.
‘Helter Skelter’ (1976)
With taglines like “His name is Charles Manson. His disciples call him God. He preached death!” you know exactly what you’re in for with this campy CBS made-for-TV-movie based on Bugliosi’s bestselling book of the same name. Given the source material, much of the film takes place during the murder trial. To his credit, Steve Railsback is equally convincing and terrifying as Manson. Though it may appear dated now, the movie was incredibly popular when it first aired, even earning three Primetime Emmy nominations.
‘Charles Manson: Superstar’ (1989)
Buckle up — this is a weird one. The film’s aim appears in the first few minutes: “This tape is designed to deprogram the minds of those who are still thinking — those who have not yet been lulled into sedation by the soothing lies that surround us.” The problem is that if the filmmakers were trying to convince people that Manson was a normal, rational guy, that mission was not accomplished — mostly due to interviews with the man himself from inside San Quentin prison. In case that wasn’t enough, the documentary is partially narrated by Zeena LaVey, daughter of Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan, and the person behind the topless revue called “the Witches’ Sabbath,” where Atkins was a dancer before she joined the Family.
‘Manson, My Name Is Evil’ (2009)
The plot of this movie centers around a fictional member of the Manson jury: a straight-laced, sheltered young man who becomes infatuated with Leslie Van Houten — one of the three women eventually accused of murder for the deaths of Rosemary and Leno LaBianca. The Canadian-produced film draws parallels between the Manson murders and the 1968 My Lai massacre, when American soldiers killed more than 500 civilians in Vietnam, including pregnant women and infants. It’s part satire, part social commentary, and a little odd, but overall a different spin on a well-known story.
‘The Six Degrees of Helter Skelter’ (2009)
If you’ve ever wanted to take one of those tours in Los Angeles that visit locations associated with Manson, but have never had the opportunity, this documentary has you covered. which makes sense, considering it was produced in conjunction with Dearly Departed Tours, a company that specializes in showing tourists the macabre side of Los Angeles. (They’ve even had a five-hour tour of Topanga Canyon and Spahn Ranch scheduled for the 50th anniversary of the murders which sold out.) The draw of this film is being able to virtually visit more than 40 Manson-related locations in southern California from the comfort of your own couch — including footage Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor shot in 1993 while he was recording in the house on Cielo Drive where actor Sharon Tate and four others were murdered, shortly before it was demolished.
‘Life After Manson’ (2014)
This quick, 25-minute documentary focuses on Patricia Krenwinkel — a Family member who participated in both nights of murders in August 1969. If you’ve ever wondered how a person could get to the place of leaving their old life behind to wholeheartedly follow someone like Manson, this film will provide some background. Krenwinkel openly discusses her life before Manson, as well as what it was like to endure his abusive manipulation techniques, and why she considers herself to be an entirely different person than the 19-year-old who committed murder almost 50 years ago.
‘Manson Family Vacation’ (2015)
Unlike the other scripted films on this list, this movie’s plot isn’t a retelling of the Manson murders or trial. Instead, this film takes place in the present and stars Jay Duplass as your average family man whose adopted brother is obsessed with Charles Manson. When Conrad (the brother, played by Linas Phillips) makes a surprise visit to Los Angeles, he insists on dragging Nick (Duplass) around on a tour of the Manson murder sites. The final stop on their excursion is a remote house in Death Valley where Conrad supposedly has a job lined up with an “environmental organization.” At this point, Nick learns the real reason behind this trip and the truth about his brother.
‘Manson’s Lost Girls’ (2016)
In a surprise move, Lifetime made a movie about the women of the Manson Family that Variety described as “a credible account of that historical moment.” This time, former follower Linda Kasabian — who played chauffeur and lookout for both nights of murders in August 1969 — takes center stage. She was granted immunity for her role in the crimes for agreeing to testify against Manson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten in court (both in real life and this movie). With an impossibly attractive cast and plenty of sex, drama and violence, it’s basically everything you’d hope for from a Lifetime movie.
‘Manson Speaks: Inside the Mind of a Madman’ (2017)
This two-part documentary examines Manson’s claim that the Family was responsible for more than 35 murders. Armed with more than 26 hours of conversations with Manson, taped over a decade, a retired cold-case detective and an independent researcher investigate several unsolved murders that took place in November and December 1969 in an attempt to determine if they were the work of Manson or his followers. Highlights include interviews with Aesop Aquarian — a former friend-of-the-Family who is reluctant to share too much — and Windy Bucklee, a former Spahn Ranch worker who lived there at the same time as the Family, and says he almost shot Manson during an argument.
‘Manson: Music from an Unsound Mind’ (2019)
Manson made no secret of his ambitions to be a rockstar, famously befriending Beach Boys’ drummer Dennis Wilson. This documentary provides an in-depth look into his failed attempt to be a professional musician, starting with his love of music as a child. What really makes this documentary stand out, though, are the interviews. In addition to former Family member Dianne Lake — who was known within the Family as Snake — there are interviews with Manson’s fellow inmate from 1966, the Beach Boys’ producer who recorded Manson’s demo, as well as Anthony DeCurtis and David Felton from Rolling Stone.
‘Charlie Says’ (2019)
Another recent entry to the Manson movie canon, Charlie Says tells the story of the Family and murders from the perspective of three of his female followers. It flashes between the summer of 1969 and after the trial, when Atkins, Van Houten, and Krenwinkel are imprisoned for their crimes. This movie also stands out because it was written by Guinevere Turner, who was born into the Lyman Family — a commune lead by folk musician Mel Lyman, who Rolling Stone referred to as the “East Coast Charles Manson” in 1971.
Sources: IMDb, Rolling Stone