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Frank Howard
Brian Klinknett, Erica Bigelow, Debbie Duff
Writing Credits:
JJ Wilke, Jr.

A fictionalized view of the Manson Family murders.

Rated X.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 81 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 11/24/2020

• “The Other Side of Manson” Featurette
• “Mechanical Man” Featurette
• Trailers
• CD Soundtrack
• Booklet


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The Other Side of Madness [Blu-Ray] (1971)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 29, 2020)

Now dead for three years, Charles Manson remains an object of public fascination. For semi-contemporaneous view of the man and his cult, we go to 1971’s The Other Side of Madness.

Not that you’ll ever hear the full name “Charles Manson” uttered in Madness, or any reference to specific people. Indeed, the movie’s opening text scrawl simply refers to an “unknown band of hippie-styled characters” who “committed the most bizarre crimes in history”.

While we do occasionally get allusions to “Charlie”, that’s as far as Madness goes. Clearly all involved worried about lawsuits, as I can think of no other logical reason they’d make a movie about the Manson Family and the Tate/Lo Bianco murders with no specific mention of the actual people.

The opening text also alludes to a desire not to prejudice legal proceedings, and those were on-going during the film’s creation. However, it seems to me that if they really didn’t want to impact court cases, they wouldn’t have made the movie – or they would’ve just waited a little while.

Rather than offer a straight dramatic version of events, Madness goes with a mix of actor recreations and documentary-style footage. These attempts at verisimilitude – along with the opening text’s mention that the filmmakers used material from news reports - renders the attempts to distance from the real people all the more befuddling.

I skipped my usual “plot synopsis” because Madness offers a fairly avant garde affair. Rather than pursue the events in a standard manner, the film hops around in time and doesn’t pursue a particularly coherent narrative.

That said, Madness does use a courtroom framework as an excuse for flashbacks – often pointless flashbacks, that is. For instance, one witness just tells us of a big party, and we then view this shindig.

Does this advance the narrative at all? Not really. I guess it offers a slice of life among the Manson crew, but it feels like self-indulgent filler.

The same occurs when another witness relates the Manson view of women. Though this gets across Charlie’s kooky opinions, the scene itself runs too long and serves no purpose other than as a tease of soft-core porn.

From there we meet “The Starlet” (Debbie Duff), the movie’s unnamed stand-in for Sharon Tate. Another trial witness tells us of her beauty, and then we see seemingly never-ending shots of “Starlet’s” advertising and film work.

Look, I appreciate that Madness attempts an unusual take on the material, but it doesn’t work, especially if you don’t enter with a pretty good foreknowledge of the actual events. Viewers who come into Madness with a reasonable background can make sense of the “narrative”, but I suspect others will encounter little more than confusion.

Amateurish acting doesn’t help. Across the board, each and every performance here seems stiff and unnatural, without a convincing turn in the bunch. These render an awkward movie even less involving.

As the first film to examine the Manson Family and their crimes, Madness earns an interesting place in history. However, it fails as a film and winds up as nothing more than a cheap exploitation flick.

The Disc Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C-/ Bonus C-

The Other Side of Madness appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. As expected, this low-budget, 50-year-old movie came with a mix of problems.

Sharpness was mostly fine. Some shots lost definition, but the majority of the movie offered fairly appealing accuracy.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I witnessed no edge haloes, but print flaws became a concern. Throughout the movie, these presented specks, scratches, lines and other marks. Some scenes worked better than others, but the defects created a fair number of distractions along the way.

Though the vast majority of Madness was black and white, one scene offered color footage. When “The Starlet” acted in a movie, we briefly departed the monochromatic world of the rest of the flick. The hues looked surprisingly good, as they seemed well-rendered and lush.

Blacks came across as reasonably dark but low-light shots tended to be moderately thick. The image suffered from too many problems to rate above a “C-”.

Don’t expect a whole lot from the film’s DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack, as it offered a flawed presentation. Speech remained intelligible but showed a mix of concerns, as lines tended to be edgy and reedy.

Effects tended to be rough and harsh, whereas music was shrill and without much range. A fair amount of background noise also interfered, with a mix of pops. Even given the movie’s age and low-budget origins, this became a weak soundtrack.

Two featurettes appear here: “The Other Side of Manson” (15:50) and “Mechanical Man” (4:30). Both bring audio comments from producer Wade Williams.

In these, Williams discusses the project’s origins and development, cast and crew, sets and locations, the involvement of Charles Manson, and the movie’s release. Williams gives us a good overview of various subjects.

The disc ends with two trailers. One exists for the movie’s original release, while the second exists for its 1976 re-issue as The Helter Skelter Murders, a reworking obviously intended to capitalize on the popularity of the book and TV movie Helter Skelter.

A second disc brings a two-track CD for Madness. It presents “Garbage Dump” and “Mechanical Men”, two songs from Charles Manson. It’s unclear if Manson enjoyed any actual musical talent, but these tunes are awful.

Finally, the set includes a booklet. It presents photos and an essay from filmmaker Alexander Tuschinski. The booklet finishes matters on a satisfactory note.

Shot close in time to the events that inspired it, The Other Side of Madness creates an unusual take on the Manson Family and their actions. Unfortunately, it never becomes anything more than an amateurish attempt to exploit those events. The Blu-ray comes with erratic picture and audio as well as a few bonus features. Madness merits a look as a historical curiosity, but it flops as a film.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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