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78 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Chilling True-Crime Classic! First-Class DVD!
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...
Published on April 21, 2004 by David Von Pein

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86 of 93 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What's With The Censoring???
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...
Published on June 10, 2004 by Kevin Doyle


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78 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Chilling True-Crime Classic! First-Class DVD!, April 21, 2004
By 
David Von Pein (Mooresville, Indiana; USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Helter Skelter (DVD)
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.
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86 of 93 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What's With The Censoring???, June 10, 2004
By 
Kevin Doyle (Orange County, CA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Helter Skelter (DVD)
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.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A CLASSIC REVISITED., August 20, 2004
By 
RALPH PETERS (CLOVIS, CA USA) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Helter Skelter (DVD)
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.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Long Awaited Helter Skelter, May 11, 2004
By 
Eddy Matten (Wrenshall, MN United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Helter Skelter (DVD)
It's taken years to finally get this tele-film released in it's entirety as seen on CBS in two nights during March of 1976. It's a good enough print but I was disappointed that there were no extras included on this Dvd. It would have been interesting to have a documentary etc included in the pkg.
Previously this film was released by Key video on VHS in it's edited down European theatrical release version. I say edited down because although an hour was cut there were also present a number of profane words that didn't make it to Tv and also the two murders they show snippets of were not over ghosted by Linda Kasabian (Marilyn Burns) sitting on the witness stand telling about the horror the night at Sharon Tate's house.
This new Dvd version is released just how CBS presented it back in 1976 for it's first airing. Steve Railsback still sends chills down your spine as Manson and George DiCenzo does admirable job as prosecutor Bugliosi as does the rest of supporting cast. I give the movie four stars but no kudos to Warner Home Video for releasing it rather plainly.
It will be interesting to see how the new CBS tele-movie also named "Helter Skelter" will hold up against this still frightening account of the Manson Family and subsequent murder spree that "scared the hell out of us all!"
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, the complete movie!!, February 4, 2004
By 
T. J. Boone (Pfafftown, North Carolina United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Helter Skelter (DVD)
Yes, this is the complete version of "Helter Skelter" at close to 200 minutes and not the heavily cut video release that most of us have. I, for one, can't wait to see this film again as it scared the Hell out of me in 1976. In my opinion, this is still Steve Railsback's best performance on screen.
Tom
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The death of love and peace, November 20, 2005
This review is from: Helter Skelter (DVD)
Social and legal commentators have written or said the love and peace movements of the 1960's died Aug. 9, 1969, when members of Charles Manson's "family" descended on the home of director Roman Polanski and his 8 1/2-month pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, and slaughtered her and four houseguests. Seven years later, CBS brought the book of Vincent Bugliosi, the successful prosector of the case, to the screen, and this version remains the definitive "entertainment" piece of the Manson saga, far superior to its 2004 remade counterpart. And no one has equaled much less surpassed actor Steve Railsback's sociopathological depiction of the real Manson. This telepic is graphic in its brief recounting of the Tate killings and, a night later, those of Rosemary and Leno LaBianca. The film's power, though, is in its account of the legal problems that faced Buglosi as prosecutor and serves to dispell the assumption that the case against Manson, et al, was open and shut. In his protrayal of Bugliosi, actor George DiCenzo brings respect to the real-life prosecutor who, with the trial judge and jurors, endured the antics and threats of Manson and family members through, what then, was the longest criminal trial in U.S. history. Actor Railsback's Manson gets ample support from his co-defendants, played to the chilling hilt by Nancy Wolfe (Susan Atkins), Christine Hart (Patricia Krenwinkle) and Cathy Paine (Leslie Van Houten). A footnote to this production is that it features Sondra Blake, then married to actor Robert Blake, as Ronnie Howard, who shared a cell with the real Atkins and "broke" the case after Atkins started bragging about her role in the seven killings. "Helter Skelter," so named from the Beatles' "White Album" song that Manson interpretted to be a "message" that the world was on the edge of an apocalyptic race war, remains an important commentary not only on the legal complexities of the case against the Manson clan, but it also touches on the vulnerability of those who either abandoned or been rejected by "normal" society and their exploitation by others seeking domination for whatever reason. A more than worthy "entertainment" piece, this production is well worth a viewing.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Finally out, and not a pale imitation like 2004, June 9, 2004
This review is from: Helter Skelter (DVD)
Well, it's finally out. About time, although it will probably be supplanted by the recent inferior CBS remake this year. Shame, really, as this is a closer version to the book than that horrible Sweeps Month attempt. After viewing both, I must disagree with the recent critics reviews. Railsback plays Manson far more convincing, and even though many complain now that DiCenzo plays a "paint-by-numbers" version of Bugliosi, Vince himself comes off very similar (in real life) to this version. Sorry, CBS, even having Vince at the end of your "event" did not help.
Features? Well, none, really, which is a shame, but what could you put on there? Geraldo's Manson special from over a decade ago? Pages and pages of court documents? The stupidest idea I heard was a "Where Are They Now?" bit -- honestly. Maybe the actors, yes, but the actuals? Please. The extra hour of footage, normally lopped off by TBS (who used to show it A LOT) and the other broadcasters is fine enough with me. Don't know what you could have added to this, as a director's commentary seems out of place, interviews with the cast -- well, memories tend to fade that far out. Footage of Manson speaking just adds to the bizarre aura he still has, and frankly I'm tired of hearing him speak what was once known as the English language (I don't know what to call what he does when he opens his mouth without offending many).
Nothing beats the book, but if you need visual, this is the best one. Not definitive; that's what books are for, remember? Not for the squeamish, for sure, as some of the material is very disturbing, but with the "extra" hour of material, the purchase is cheap and worth it. Besides, real life can be more distubring.
Almost 30 years later, it is still as close to the book as anyone will ever come. That's definitive enough for me.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great leap forward to DVD, April 22, 2004
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This review is from: Helter Skelter (DVD)
"Helter-Skelter", the excellent TV mini-series based on the Tate-LoBianco murders in 1969, has finally been released in its entirety on DVD and the result is worth waiting for. Technically, it's one of the better DVD's this reviewer has seen in quite a while. The format reproduces the 1.33:1 video aspect of the original TV film and the colors are true to life. The audio quality is clear and sharp. This DVD is a treat to watch and listen to.
The film relates the horrendous events of the nights of August 8-9, 1969, when seven people turned up murdered for seemingly no reason: five people (six, if you count Sharon Tate's expected child, two months away from being born) at 10050 Cielo Drive, the home Tate shared with her husband, the movie director Roman Polanski, and Rosemary and Leno LoBianco the next night in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles. The victims were shot and slashed to death, and political slogans were written on the walls and fridigaire in their own blood. There are no initial clues and no suspects, until the connection is made to a prisoner named Bobby Beausoleil who committed a similar homicide. Gradually, the trail leads back to a group of demented hippies living on a dilapidated ranch under the leadership of a charismatic drifter named Charles Manson. As the evidence builds and three young women are arrested, there is a lot of talk about "love" and "surrender" and "Charlie is Jesus Christ" to emphasize how completely these young people have fallen under Manson's domination, but the film pulls no punches and makes no excuses; this is a wolf pack of cold-blooded killers. This isn't some group of free-love hippies; these people can -- and do -- murder anyone who crosses them, including one of Manson's own defense attorneys, with about as much compunction as a killing machine.
George DiCenzo ably plays the dual roles of narrator and lead prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, who comes across in the film as more likeable and less full of himself than he does in his book from which this film was adapted. The actresses playing Susan Atkins, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel are all excellent; we look into their eyes and see hell. But whoever cast Steve Railsback in the role of Charles Manson deserves a special award for the casting coup of the decade. Railsback is unbelievable as Manson, with whom he shares an almost frightening resemblance, staring at the viewer with those insane eyes. Railsback actually has little to say in the film, compared to some of the other characters, but those mesmerizing snake-eyes say everything.
The film's coda is scary in itself; DiCenzo as the narrator, informing the viewer that California outlawed the death penalty that Manson and his crew so richly deserved and got, and that their automatic sentences of life imprisonment were up for parole review in 1978, or only two years from the date the film was shown on TV. Watching this movie again, and recalling the ghastly events of those two nights in August of 1969, we breathe a sigh of relief that almost 35 years later, the Tate-LoBianco killers are still behind bars.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable presentation of pure evil, July 9, 2004
By 
Daniel S. Russell "syzygy121" (Blacksburg, VA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Helter Skelter (DVD)
This is one of the videos I've been waiting for to come out on DVD for a long time.
I watched this lengthy film in one-sitting one summer when I was living alone. I remember turning the light on at one point when the plot began to take a sinister turn. I was grateful for that light when the movie ended and it was dark outside. I seem to remember sitting quietly after the credits were over, and I contemplated what I had just seen.
If you read my review of the Bugliosi/Gentry book, you'll see how powerfully the story itself affected me. Well, this presentation captures both the essence and the emotion of the narrative. It is both chilling and compelling. The acting, driven along by the astonishing Railsback, is among the best I've seen in a true-crime drama.
I'm so glad the filmmakers didn't cut as many corners as they could have. They retain the essential story line and characters to assure that those who have seen the film know almost as much as those who have read the book. Frankly a litany of all the ways the police proved themselves to be incompetent was a tedium I would gladly forego.
Both well-crafted and powerfully presented, this is a keeper, worth watching and re-watching.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting to a point, November 12, 2005
By 
This review is from: Helter Skelter (DVD)
This movie came out the year I was born, 1976, but I had heard about the "Charles Manson murders" all my life. I remember as a child hearing The Beatles song of the same name (which supposedly inspired the kooky Manson to start his little race war) and being completely freaked out by it. It was after I became a very dedicated Beatles fan that I learned that the song, written by Paul Mc Cartney, was actually a response to a song by The Who that was proclaimed to be the loudest, dirtiest, most raucous thing ever done in rock and roll up until that point in time. Mc Cartney decided to top it with a Beatles ditty.

The song "Helter Skelter" was, originally, a 27 minute track but was eventually cut down to 5 minutes because of time limits on radio airplay. It was never a call to arms or revolution. In fact, the term "helter skelter" is a British word for a carnival ride. (And thank you Bono of U2 for "stealing back" that song!)

Director/producer Tom Gries did a pretty good job of transferring Vincent Bugliosi's account of the trial onto the small screen (the DVD was a top notch, enjoyable viewing experience). I was disappointed, though, that the actors and actresses really didn't resemble the so-called "family." Only Steve Railsback remotely looked like Manson. (Although, I thought the actress playing Linda Kasabian looked very familiar. The end credits confirmed my suspicion: She was Marilyn Burns, who was in the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" two years before).

I did appreciate the trial scenes because it makes one think of the numerous, far out objections of one Irving Kanarek (Manson's attorney), who dragged the trial on far past the time that it should have lasted (costing California taxpayers millions of dollars in the process) to the nuisance of everyone involved. Why he wasn't disbarred during that trial, I will never understand (refreshing to know he got his in the end when the US Supreme Court disbarred him in 1990).

The movie accentuated the dedication of D.A. Vincent Bugliosi and the fact that the law profession could definitely use more lawyers like him. Although a bit too conservative for me, the bottom line is he's a very competent attorney who knows his law and practices it with the highest set of ethics.

In the end, this movie underlined how much the "victims" were forgotten during the course of the trial. They took a backseat to the carnival antics in the courtroom and would always be relegated to an afterthought (and sometimes not even that!).

Since the murders, Manson has been elevated to a cult hero, Sharon called every horrible name in the book (the rest of the victims' names nearly forgotten, except to those who knew and loved them), and many cruel rumors were circulated during the course of the investigation and trial.

But, as the saying goes, truth is always stranger than fiction. Those people (Sharon, Jay, Abigail, and Voytek) came back from having dinner. Sharon and Jay talked while lying on the bed in the master bedroom, Abigail was in her bedroom reading a book and Voytek was napping on the living room couch when a group of wackjobs - strung out on acid, following the orders of a pint-sized dork po'd because he couldn't get a record deal - decided to take their lives and ruin the lives of their families and friends forever.

Sad to think that Charles Watson, who helped stab a pregnant woman, now has 4 children himself until Sharon's mother, the late Doris, put an end to conjugal visits in prison for convicted murderers through her tireless campaign for victims rights. Poor Steven Parent was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time (much like Ron Goldman would be 25 years later) and equally vicious rumors circulated about Leno and Rosemary La Bianca.

The saddest part of all is that, nowadays, whenever you're seen with a photo of or book about Sharon Tate, for instance, people automatically think of C. M. and think something is wrong with *you* for wanting to know more about the "victims" of that horrible night in American history (people draw blanks with the rest of the "victims" names).

The time is way past due for the media to remember these people for the people that they were and not merely as "murder victims." The time has also come to remember that Roman Polanski, too, was a victim and to regard him in a more positive light than the animal who orchestrated his pregnant wife's murder.

Bugliosi's book should be required reading on how NOT to bungle a murder investigation (Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden could have definitely benefited!).
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Helter Skelter
Helter Skelter by Tom Gries (DVD - 2005)
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