Thursday, November 19, 2020

The Other Side of Madness (1971) The Film Detective Blu Ray Review

The Other Side of Madness (1971) The Film Detective 11/24/2020

Directed By: Frank Howard

Starring: Brian Klinknett, Erica Bigelow, Paula Shannon, Debbie Duff

Disclaimer: The Film Detective has provided me with a copy of this film free of charge for the purposes of review. All opinions contained within are my own honest reflections. 

   In 1969 the world was rocked by the savage murders of Tate-LaBianca. The ghastly deeds were committed by a cult worshiping a hippie named Charles Manson. The media frenzy spawned a book Helter Skelter and, in the decades to come a series of films. The earliest film is Frank Howard's The Other Side of Madness (1971), also retitled The Helter Skelter Murders. 

    As pointed out in the booklet provided with this Blu Ray, Madness was filmed within months of the murders, therefore Howard was able to actually film at the Spahn Movie Ranch. Other films would have to recreate this as Spahn Ranch was burnt to the ground. Not only does this make for an important historical artifact but really adds to the films creepy and unnerving aura. The other thing that makes this feel a stand out from all the other Manson film's is how it's more about mood and tension, whilst also putting the viewers in the twisted mindset of Manson and his "family". This is achieved by wonderful Expressionistic and eerie black and white photography, the use of voice-over's and a stark documentary-like feel. Those expecting a paint-by-number version of the events of the Manson murders will likely be disappointed as the film takes a less splashy approach yet, Howards really builds a level of suspense and dread leading up to the crimes. Like, I really am gob-smacked in a good way that the filmmakers took a stylized angle and the film is disturbing not because of the blood or any shock value, but rather from steeping the film in atmosphere and a sense of thick dread. There is a moment in the movie where the camera pans in on a pregnant woman's (who is Tate but no names are mentioned) bloody belly and it is such a simple yet effectively bleak image without being super graphic. Madness has a kind of raw look and feel similar to George Romeo's Night of the Living Dead (1968), which no doubt was an inspiration at least visually. If I had to lobby a complaint I would say the actor playing Manson looks a bit genetic, and doesn't have display the erratic behavior he was known for. At first I didn't know if I really even wanted to review this movie. I understand people being fascinated by serial killers but, I also find it shall we say kind of stomach turning that so many people have make a folk-hero out of Manson, whose influence let to the murder of innocent people including a pregnant mother and her baby. But, having read this was the first film of it's kind peaked my interest and, though I still don't wish to glamorize Manson and his followers I decided to put that aside and focus merely on the film as a piece of art. In the end I'm glad I was able to take this movie on it's own terms because it's actually pretty interesting. Other bigger budget, more graphic films have been based on the Manson-murders and, I think sadly has over shadowed this film. It's worth checking out and, as I said it approaches the material in a wholly refreshing angle that doesn't just aim to gross out its audience. Check it out! 

Picture: Sadly, there is no info on this restoration but I can tell it's been sourced from original film elements. You can also tell the source they we working from was probably on the rough side. This is because as crisp and clear as the film looks there are some artifacts and scratches throughout. It's kept to a minimum though, and, as you can see by comparing this to the unrestored trailer (included as an extra) it looks much better by comparison. And honestly, the somewhat rough look of the film, coupled with its moody photography enhances the gritty doc-quality. 

Sound: Madness has a DTS 2.0. Dialogue comes through nicely. Some even so slight background distortion heard but not enough to be distracting. 

Extras: Extras include: The Other Side of Madness: An Interview with Wade Williams (15mins) This audio interview with producer Wade Williams and how he met director Frank Howard and more in depth info about the making of the film. A really worth while and interesting featurette and a valuable artifact for film fans and historians alike. 

The Mechanical Man: Wade Williams Meets Manson (4mins) Another audio interview with Wade Williams. As the title suggests the featurette is about Williams meeting Manson. It's a really wild story about the Wade getting music rights for two of Manson's songs for the movie. 

Also included is two original trailers The Other Side of Madness (1min 48sec) and The Helter Skelter Murders (1min 55 sec) which is the alternate title trailer. 

Includes a CD of actual songs recorded by Charles Manson. Also includes a booklet with a great essay by historian Alexander Tuschinski.

Overall/Final Thoughts: I typically only do the "final thoughts" on bigger releases but I felt like this release impressed me so much I wanted to express it further. Other Side of Madness is by no means a perfect film, its woefully low budget and, because of legal reasons (since the trial was still on-going as the film was being shot) nobody but Manson is identified by name. But what the film has a lot going for it.  It is  both rough and ready yet, is incredibly well shot and crafted. As an artifact it features some of the last location footage of The Spahn Movie Ranch before it was burnt to the ground. Hell, it even features maybe the only footage of the elderly owner of Spahn ranch. It's also worth repeating that this is the ONLY movie to film at the actual location where Manson and his family hung out. Taking this realism a step further actual Manson family members make cameos at the infamous ranch. B-roll footage of California also offers a rare glimpse of a bygone era that could have been ripped right from Tarantino's  Once a Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). This movie really is an oddity from the other Tate/Manson murders that would come before it, because it not only was first but, is the only movie to really take it to different areas. This is a really important Grindhouse film that is finally getting the attention it deserves. Shout out to Daniel Griffith and the Bollyhoo crew for crafting some great extras for this release. Well worth picking up in my opinion. 

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