Calling this the summer of Manson feels queasy, so I won’t. But the 50th anniversary of mass murders perpetrated by the cult leader’s disciples has perhaps inevitably ushered in a new wave of programming, designed to probe — or more often just prod — Charlie’s infamous “family” and their crimes.
Oxygen’s two-hour documentary, “Manson: The Women” (Saturday at 7 p.m.), arrives almost exactly half a century to the day after Manson’s most heinous acts: the Tate-LaBianca murders, in which he dispatched a group of acolytes on a two-night killing spree across Los Angeles. The rampage, which took place Aug. 9 and 10, resulted in the deaths of seven people, including actress Sharon Tate, who was 8½ months pregnant at the time.
For some viewers, the documentary’s gruesomely detailed account of the crimes will prove too difficult to stomach. And who can blame them? After Quentin Tarantino’s subversive rewriting of the murders in this summer’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. . .,” a glut of Manson docs, and even an execrable schlock-shock riff (“The Haunting of Sharon Tate,” for some reason starring Hilary Duff), we’ve likely passed a point of diminishing cultural returns with this particular boogeyman.
But for anyone still morbidly curious about the young souls who fell so fully under Manson’s spell that they killed for him, Oxygen’s doc offers something of note: interviews with four women in his circle, including Dianne “Snake” Lake, Catherine “Gypsy” Share, Sandra “Blue” Good, and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme.
Through the film, a picture emerges of all four as wide-eyed youngsters, most at odds with their families, desperate to feel accepted by those they thought embodied the free-loving spirit of the times. That Manson manipulated his followers and preyed on their insecurities in order to control them is indisputable. But what makes Oxygen’s documentary interesting is hearing the women’s perspective, 50 years later. While some express remorse about the murders (which none were personally involved in carrying out), others remain eerily loyal, or at least sympathetic, to Manson.
“I didn’t feel bad that these people were dead,” recalls Good. “I didn’t even know they were alive.”
Adds Good, chillingly: “How can you point the finger at us and call us evil for being good soldiers and doing what needed to be done?”