THE OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS (1971) Film Detective. Release November 13,2020. B&W. 81 minutes. Region A.
Ltd Edition (1,500 copies) Blu Ray $29.99 https://www.amazon.com/Other-Side-Madness-BONUS-Blu-ray/dp/B08HGPPRRS/ref=sr_1_2?crid=22CB1CDJH7Z7V&dchild=1&keywords=the+other+side+of+madness+blu+ray&qid=1606010306&sprefix=the+other+side+of+madness%2Caps%2C168&sr=8-2
DVD $21.95 https://www.amazon.com/Other-Side-Madness-BONUS-CD/dp/B08HGRZRJ9/ref=tmm_dvd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1601923760&sr=1-1
Back before we had non stop reality show and true crime recreations , including entire T.V. networks and podcasts dedicated to same, there were a lot of films released in the late 1960’s and 1970’s that dealt with shocking murders, a few being made by Hollywood, but more often rushed and amateurish , concentrating on salacious details to pad out the running time, or just making things up around the few details that were known at the time.
THE BOSTON STRANGLER (Fox,1968) and IN COLD BLOOD (Columbia,1967) were two of the big budget studio pictures that set the tone about true crime recreations, having the benefit of big budgets and major studio backing. Independent filmmakers were not going to leave such a profitable subgenre go unmined.
THE ZODIAC KILLER (Adventure ,1971, which has been restored and released on Blu Ray by AGFA/Something Weird) was made with the idea that it might even capture the infamous murderer , making it quite unique , though wildly conjectured . GUYANA: CRIME OF THE CENTURY (1979) was another quite inaccurate and exploitive film based upon the Jim Jones/Jonestown massacre, that got distribution by a major studio (Universal).
Somewhat in between is THE OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS, now being released on DVD and Blu Ray by Film Detective in a 50th Anniversary Edition. The film was possibly the first* to deal directly with the Charles Manson cult , the savage murder of a pregnant Sharon Tate and four others in her home, and then two other murders soon after ( all taking place between August 8-10,1969). So savage and senseless were the killings , that it became an international fixation on the police search and eventual arrest and trials of Charles Milles Manson (né Maddox) and his insane cult followers.
Manson had spent at least half of his life in and out of institutions, he ended up in California in 1967. The changing mores and the urge of many to question authority as well as explore alternative ideas was perfect for a con artist like Manson. People who feel adrift often join gangs or cults to feel that they belong to something greater than themselves, and Manson was obviously able to convince several people, mostly women, that he was the solution.
Manson’s dogma was a Doomsday Cult that would result in a Race War (Manson was a White Supremacist), that would somehow end up with Manson and his true believers leading the remnants of the human race. A failed musician, he read dark meaning into the Beatles song ‘Helter-Skelter”. In British English, a helter- skelter is a fairground attraction consisting of a tall spiral slide winding round a tower, but the phrase can also mean chaos and disorder . The murders were supposed to start the war. Later, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, another cult member tried and luckily failed to assassinate President Gerald Ford.
On July 15, 1970, the trials of Manson, Leslie Van Houten, Susan Arkins and Patricia Krenwinkel began (Tex Watson was tried later). One of the people who was fascinated by the case and attended the actual trials was producer /film collector Wade Williams. Williams was so fascinated by the case that he somehow even got to interview Manson in prison, even buying the rights to two of his songs. He chose first time director Frank Howard(who also was the cinematographer and editor on this, his only credit) to helm the script written by J.J. Wilke Jr. (screenplay), Duke Howzer (additional dialogue). They gathered a cast of unknowns for whom the majority that this film would also be their only known film credit.
The film was shot in black and white to give it the look of a documentary, as had been used in IN COLD BLOOD or THE HONEYMOON KILLERS (Cinerama, 1970). The film chooses to jump back and forth from the courtroom (using actual court transcripts) to the events leading up to the murders, wherein Manson gathers his followers. There is a surreal moment wherein we are shown what to expect when the projected race war happens, with black militants murdering everyone in the suburbs(one wonders if this film was viewed by donald trump ?) , but it is rather clumsily staged.
The director fades into color for a brief sequence about Sharon Tate’s acting career. The costumes used are obviously referencing Polanski’s THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS (MGM ,1967). Interestingly, since the trials were still going on while the film was being made, the real names were not used , and thus Tate is only referred to as ‘The Starlet “. Debbie Duff, the actress who portrayed her, certainly has a resemblance to Sharon Tate. Duff is one of the few performers who had more than one credit (HONKY, Getty & Fromkess Pictures Corp,1971). The name Charlie is used several times, though actor Brian Klinknett (who appeared in SLIME TOWN BLUES, NB Releasing,1974) is only referred to as “Killer “in the credits.
The actual murders, which, while not gory, are staged with almost fetishistic attention to details. The poor acting detracts from the frisson that the film works so hard to create. One character, after escaping from his bonds, stiffly walks toward the insane killers saying, ‘What the hell is going on?” before being shot dead is a prime example. The film often has stretches without dialogue (which, given how bad some of the actors are, is a bit of a blessing), with the court room scenes doing most of the heavy lifting in that area.
Much of the score is by Sean Bonniwell ,but Charles Manson himself is heard singing his composition “Mechanical Man “, a monotonic recitation with twangy guitar joined halfway through by mournful chanting ,showing Manson was also delusional about his dreams of being a rock star. The new Film Detective release has a bonus CD of “Mechanical Man “and “Garbage Dump” for you to listen apart from the film to judge for yourself.
The film ends with a credit crawl that makes one think of REEFER MADNESS (G& H, 1936) with its warning about the need to control drugs, which completely avoids the complexity of cults.
In a 1970 Box Office article, producer Williams stated that the film was in post-production for a November ,1970 release. The film’s production company, Auric Ltd, had announced it would be in “Auramation”, a “special cellular film treatment designed to heighten or depress the emotions …by subliminal monochromatic suggestions.”. Checking out the Blu-Ray, I saw no subliminal effects, so it may have been either ballyhoo or dropped.
Of note is that some parts of the film were shot on the actual Spahn Movie Ranch, where the Manson Cult had lived from 1968-69. Indeed, some of the remaining Manson followers appear in the footage. Shortly after the scenes were shot, the Spahn Ranch burnt to the ground. The ranch, established in 1947, had been used in several films, including THE CREEPING TERROR (Crown Int.,1964). Spahn was 80 years old, going blind and living at his ranch when he allowed the Manson Family to move in, rent-free, in exchange for labor .He was unaware of their nefarious activities.
The film was submitted to the MPAA in October ,1971 and slapped with an “X’ rating. To give it a chance for wider distribution, some further cuts were made to the film, garnering a re-release an R Rating. No record of what was cut, but the film went from an announced 91 minutes at a Cannes screening to its present length of 81. The film’s original rating may have hurt its box office originally, so the later R rating probably was too little too late. In 1976, the film was retitled as THE HELTER SKELTER MURDERS. For a time, the film was banned outright in Los Angeles.
Released theatrically by Prestige Pictures (BLACKENSTEIN,1973), it sat virtually unseen after it is 1976 reissue until the ever- hungry video market was born, which was desperate for product, any product. Media Home Entertainment released it on VHS as THE HELTER-SKELTER MURDERS (1989) before Wade Williams took it back, releasing it on his Englewood Entertainment label in both VHS and DVD.
Now, Film Detective has made a new deal with Wade Williams to release his vast library in brand new restored versions for the current DVD /BLU RAY market. THE OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS is their first release to mark it is 50th Anniversary in 2021.
First off, they have gone back to the original 35mm camera negative, they have given a clean up and a new 4K transfer that is a vast improvement over the previous home video releases. Sound is in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Optional subtitles are available in either English or Spanish.
Then there are the extras
There is the already mentioned CD of Manson performing “Mechanical Man” & “Garbage Dump”, taken from the original 7” vinyl soundtrack.
Ballyhoo Motion Pictures has created two original featurettes for this release:
– ‘The Other Side of Manson: An Interview with Producer Wade Williams”-an interview with the producer.
– “Mechanical Man: Wade Williams Meets Manson” – the story of how he got to have a meeting with the madman.
Two Trailers: the original release and as THE HELTER SKELTER MURDERS.
A 12-page booklet packed in the case with liner notes by filmmaker Alexander Tuschinski (MISSION CALIGULA ,2018) examining the film and its history.
THE OTHER SIDE OF MADNESS is of interest to those who wish to study the infamous history of Manson and his followers, especially from the context of it’s closeness to the actual crimes and trials, as well as use of actual songs by the master monster himself and footage of the Spahn Ranch.
-Kevin G Shinnick
*-A film called THE COMMUNE (1970) was purportedly the first to deal with the actual crimes, but I can find no information about this picture .
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