Filmed and released while Charles Manson and his followers were still on trial for their notorious “Helter Skelter” murder spree, this odd little film exists somewhere on the spectrum between experimental cinema and exploitation flicks. Shot in moody black-and-white imagery, with the exception of one inconsequential color scene, the picture uses actors to depict scenes related to the Manson saga—even though the name “Manson” is never uttered. It appears the bulk of the picture was filmed without synchronized sound, so dialogue is dubbed in many sequences and eschewed completely in others. When combined with the clinical style of the direction and the inclusion of long scenes that lack dramatic tension (notably a hippie love-in), the weird sonic aspects of The Other Side of Madness create a trippy feel. Yet at the same time, there’s something totally square about the movie, since it begins with a disclaimer essentially saying that everything onscreen is based on secondary sources (read: hearsay), and since it ends with stern text warning viewers about the dangers of drugs. In between these peculiar declarations, The Other Side of Madness runs the gamut from absurdly tame (boring courtroom scenes) to fairly nasty (a meticulous re-enactment of the siege that climaxed with the murder of pregnant Hollywood actress Sharon Tate).
It’s awfully hard to tell what audience the filmmakers had in mind, seeing as how The Other Side of Madness has too many glimmers of artistry to qualify as a “ripped from the headlines” quickie, even though it’s plainly designed to capitalize on media attention. Oh, well. Director Frank Howard, who also served as cinematographer and editor, comes up with a number of evocative shots. In particular, the opening vignette of Manson’s “family” preparing for their night of crime while Manson watches from a shadowy corner is creepy, and the climax (including Tate’s murder) is stylish without becoming extraordinarily crass. Although the cast comprising amateurs and semi-professionals delivers acting that’s rudimentary at best, Howard wisely coaches his people to stand in place, speak flatly, and let context create meaning. The soundtrack is somewhat interesting, as well, not only for the Pink Floyd-esque atmospheric jams but also for the inclusion of an actual Manson tune, “Mechanical Man,” which the cult leader composed and sang. Occasionally marketed as The Helter Skelter Murders, this film will likely engender minimal interest from most viewers. Still, it simultaneously offers much more and much less than one might expect.
The Other Side of Madness: FUNKY