Not depressed enough for the holidays? You can always check out Northwest Film Forum's offering for the week: Jim Van Bebber's stunningly graphic "The Manson Family. " Van Bebber's film...

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Not depressed enough for the holidays? You can always check out Northwest Film Forum’s offering for the week: Jim Van Bebber’s stunningly graphic “The Manson Family.”

Van Bebber’s film — “10 years in the making!” the press kit trumpets — is a nauseating mélange. It’s like he’s added marshmallows and peaches to a big vat of chili con carne. Each part is pungent, yes, but they just don’t belong together.

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The opening of the film invites laughter: It’s an ironic take on ’70s exploitation flicks. To tinkling, sentimental music, on washed-out film stock, we get various quick-cut images — an American flag, birds, flowers — which are suddenly, melodramatically drenched in blood.


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“The Manson Family,” with Marcelo Games, Marc Pitman, Leslie Orr. Written and directed by Jim Van Bebber. 95 minutes. Not rated; suitable for mature audiences (contains scenes of unrelenting graphic violence, grisly murders, sex and nudity). Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.



Then we’re shown — in 1996 — punk kids in a basement, making weapons and sending anonymous messages to “The Pig Producer of the Charlie Movie.” He turns out to be an “America’s Most Wanted”-type host named Jack Wilson (Carl Day), who is obsessed with the Manson family murders, which he often exploits for his show. Wilson is then sent an anonymous videotape, which he watches.

But what is he watching? We don’t know. What are we watching? There’s the faux-’70s exploitation flick, plus, on damaged film stock, ’70s-era interviews with faux Manson family members, as well as more modern interviews with same.

Eventually the quick-cutting settles down and the story unfolds about how these kids in 1969 went from hippie commune members to mass murderers, “forever poisoning the love generation,” in the words of Wilson.

The sex is graphic and the eventual killings even more so (no stabbing is missed), but perhaps the most graphic aspect of the film is the Manson family members’ hypocrisy (their self-serving interviews are contradicted by the dramatization) and their unrelenting stupidity. Watching, you get disgusted with humanity before the first murder even takes place.

Yet it’s still an ironic take on ’70s exploitation flicks, complete with overacting, blurred photography and unnecessary quick-cuts. So the horror of the acts draws us in as the presentation distances us. But to what end?

When pig sounds accompanied one bloody victim attempting to crawl away, my disgust shifted toward the filmmaker. Enough.

Erik Lundegaard: elundegaard@comcast.net